Chronic Absence Resources

Here you will find tips and tools to help you address chronic absenteeism at your school. One way to get started is to take this SBHC Self-Assessment.

1. Work with Administrators and the Attendance Office

Establish a mechanism for working with administrators and the attendance office to identify students who are chronically absent and have them referred to the school-based health center (SBHC). If you are able to participate in the school’s analysis of attendance data, you may find the following tools useful; if you are not able to participate in that process for privacy reasons, you may want to share the tools with school partners.

Tools for Collecting and Analyzing Student Attendance Data

2. Participate in the School’s Absenteeism Intervention Team

This team should use an interdisciplinary process to identify and respond to the needs of chronically absent students. Such teams may be focused on attendance (e.g. School Attendance Review Team, or SART) or may address students’ needs more broadly (e.g. Coordination of Services Team, or COST). If your school does not have such a team, the health center should consider spearheading this effort.

Learn More About SARTs:

  • A School Attendance Review Team (SART) is an interdisciplinary intervention team, including teachers, administrators, and student support personnel (e.g., counselors, psychologists, nurses, and other school-based health center staff). Any student with frequent absences should be referred to the SART, which is responsible for developing an individualized plan for improving the student’s attendance. SART meetings should engage the student (if age-appropriate), as well as parents or other family members. If attendance does not improve after SART intervention, students are referred to the district or county level Student Attendance Review Board (SARB).
  • The California Department of Education website provides several resources for SARTs. These include a detailed list of school attendance improvement strategies as well as concrete resources for SARTs to use and/or adapt.
  • Many school districts guide schools in establishing and running a SART, so it is important to review local requirements. That said, you may find San Francisco’s Every Day, on Time: Stay in School Initiative Attendance Improvement Manual helpful. Section 3 provides tools for SARTs, including sample parent letters, meeting agendas, and agreements/contracts. Note that some school districts have specific requirements for SART processes, so it is important to review your district’s SART policies before adapting any of these materials.

Learn More About Related State-Level Efforts:

  • Reducing chronic absence is now a top priority for California State Superintendent Tom Torlakson.  At  an April news conference in San Diego announcing  11 model districts recognized for their successful efforts to improve attendance, Torlakson exclaimed that “combating [chronic absence] is one of the best strategies for having students succeed, fighting the dropout rate and saving money,”    Recognizing the importance of paying attention to absences for any reason, Torlakson explains “While we need to address problems with truancy, we cannot overlook students and families that may need support due to health or emotional problems, or who may simply not realize the importance of regular school attendance, even in kindergarten.”
  • This emphasis on reducing chronic absence is now reflected in the California Department of Education’s newly released 2012 SARB Handbook. Offering concrete guidance about best practice and policy to school administrators and attendance workers, the handbook:
    • Stresses the importance of early identification
    • Offers a three-tiered approach to improving attendance
    • Provides sample letters to parents of chronically absent students
    • Recommends that attendance boards develop a policy that requires schools with unusually high levels of chronic absence to develop plans for improving attendance.

3. Conduct Health and Psychosocial Assessments

Conduct health and psychosocial assessments of chronically absent students and then either deliver indicated services or refer them to additional services not provided by your school health center. When possible, help patients and families make appointments with outside providers to ensure access to care. One successful example of a nurse practitioner-led effort to conduct assessments with chronically absent students is outlined in this research article: Does Contact by a Family Nurse Practitioner Decrease Early School Absence? 

4. Interview Chronically Absent Students and Families

Interview chronically absent students and families to better understand the barriers to school attendance that they are experiencing and the types of incentives and supports that will re-engage them in school. This is particularly important for high school students, as they are more likely to make their own decisions about whether or not they will attend school, so attendance incentives should be determined by the teens they target.

5. Consult with School Administrators on Disciplinary Policies

Consult with school administrators on disciplinary policies to promote progressive disciplinary policies that address the causes of misbehavior rather than suspending or expelling students.

6. Conduct Home Visits

When you can’t reach chronically absent students or their families at school, conduct home visits to make personal contact. When possible, perform home visits in partnership with another school or health center staff member. When you find a student or family member at home, establish a non-threatening, non-judgmental approach by conveying your concern about the student’s absence, and inquiring as to how you might be able to help him/her attend school more regularly. It is not important to enter the home; even a brief conversation at the door and a personal invitation to come to the health center will help to build trust with the student and family.

Home Visiting Resources and Training Opportunities

  • Drawing on the work of other educational agencies, San Francisco Unified School District compiled a brief but helpful Guide to Team Home Visits. SFUSD also shares its home visit notification and documentation forms, which are available on its website in English, Spanish, and Chinese.
  • The School Practitioner’s Concise Companion to Preventing Dropout and Attendance Problems includes valuable information on home visits. Chapter 6, Home Visits, is available for free online.
  • Strategies is a nationally recognized alliance working to strengthen California’s families and communities. Strategies helps schools and other organizations partner effectively with families and communities by providing high quality training, coaching, and other services. Strategies offers Home Visiting Trainings to practitioners across the state.
  • The Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project (PTHVP) is a nonprofit organization based in Sacramento. PTHVP provides training, consultation and resources to schools and school districts across California and the nation, with the goal of bringing parents and school staff together to support student success.

7. Provide Case Management

Provide ongoing, individual case management for chronically absent students and families.

Case Management Resources and Training Opportunities

8. Reflect on your Efforts

Take this SBHC Self-Assessment.