Until recently, research on the effects of family risk factors on children has mostly focused on the infant, toddler, and preschool years—without much knowledge about how these issues affect children once they enter school.
But a new report finds that children in families experiencing multiple risk factors—such as poverty or having a teenage mother—are more likely to have high absenteeism during their early years in school than children without those risks.
Using data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, researchers from the National Center for Children in Poverty in New York City analyzed the effects that family circumstances have on school attendance.
“In every grade, children experiencing any risk were more often chronic absentees—that is, they missed 10 percent or more of the school year—than those who did not encounter any risks,” they write in the report, released in late January.
They found that while the effects of those risks on attendance diminish over time, they spike again when children reach 5th grade. Those in poor health or who are ethnic or racial minorities were more likely than others to be exposed to “cumulative risk.”
The researchers also found different attendance patterns associated with each risk factor.
For example, 22 percent of kindergartners born to mothers under 18 years old missed 10 percent or more of the school year, compared with 10 percent of those whose mothers gave birth after age 18.
Also in kindergarten, 25 percent of children with mothers on welfare were chronic absentees, compared with 9 percent of children with mothers not on welfare.
Children of unemployed mothers were more prone to repeated absences than those of working mothers—19 percent, compared with 8 percent.
“The findings,” the report says, “point to the urgency to identify and provide supports to vulnerable children early in their formal schooling careers in order to steer them toward successful early learning trajectories.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 05, 2008 edition of Education Week