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Chronic Absenteeism: When Children Disappear
The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate Newfoundland and Labrador
Child and Youth Advocate’s Message
Many children and youth in Newfoundland and Labrador are routinely absent from school without excuse or reason. Once they become disconnected from school, it can be hard to reverse. These children often lose their social connections, they drop behind in the curriculum, they miss opportunities to participate in school activities, and eventually they may disappear from school completely. There is a long list of root causes for these absences. Although this is not a new issue, it is a very troubling one which affects students across all grades and can have lasting impacts throughout their lives.
I have undertaken this systemic review in order to explore this issue further, and to develop recommendations for immediate action. This review shows how children who are absent have needs and require responses from many different government services, and not just schools. We must stop defining this as a classroom issue and leaving it to the schools as to how best to deal with the child who does not attend school. Children’s absences are often the symptom of a deeper issue and need. Insisting a child show up for school will not address any of these underlying needs including mental health issues, neglect, family or school violence, learning disabilities, or boredom with curriculum. A collective approach is required for success. Children and their families are dynamic and their needs can sometimes be quite complex. A simplistic approach to chronic absenteeism will not serve children well. They are counting on all of us to take meaningful action now.
The encouraging news is that there are immediate opportunities to work together for improved responses with children who are chronically absent. If it chooses, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is positioned to advance this work through the new mental health and addictions strategy, through the education action plan, and through new child protection legislation. These developments present opportunities for meaningful change for children and youth. This report demonstrates that there is enough research, existing practice models, and best/or promising practices to guide action now.
Jacqueline Lake Kavanagh
Child and Youth Advocate
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