New research shows that children who have suffered “substantial maltreatment and neglect” are four times more likely to miss school for extended periods than their counterparts.
The study of nearly 300,000 Australian children over 12 years, by the University of South Australia (UniSA), is the largest of its kind ever undertaken internationally and has been published in the journal Child Maltreatment.
It found that the children most at risk of chronic truancy – defined as 10 or more unexplained days absent in any term – are Aboriginal children and those whose mothers are younger, unemployed, who smoke, and are without a partner.
Lead researcher Dr Jason Armfield from the University of South Australia (UniSA) says almost 50% of children who have been abused or severely neglected had at least one school term of chronic truancy, compared to only about 10% of children with no involvement in the child protection system.
Dr Armfield says school absenteeism is substantially compounded for those children with seven or more “cumulative adversities”.
“Severely neglected children often lack appropriate parental care and support. In terms of schooling, this can mean caregivers are not sufficiently concerned whether they attend school or not,” Dr Armfield said.
The researchers found that truancy was more common among children who had been severely neglected as opposed to being sexually, physically or emotionally abused.
However, in a positive finding from the study, maltreated children who were identified by the Department for Child Protection before the age of five and placed into out-of-home care for three or more years were shown to have reduced absenteeism rates.
“This finding underlines the value of having a stable and supportive home environment, reinforcing that early intervention can be beneficial to children, reducing school absenteeism,” Dr Armfield said.
“Given the importance of children’s schooling to their future, this study highlights the need to do better with these vulnerable children and families who have come to the attention of the child protection system”.