Understanding school attendance using the conceptual framework of school refusal behavior
Dube, Shanta Rishi
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Excessive school absenteeism is associated with multiple negative outcomes that impact school systems. Children who miss excessive amounts of school are likely to manifest depressive symptoms and anxiety, engage in risk taking behaviors such as substance use, and drop out from high school. Therefore, understanding why students miss school and assessing associated emotional and behavioral factors may help develop appropriate services to overcome the problem. The objective for this study is to examine the distribution of functional profiles of school refusal behavior among children referred to school social workers for attendance problems and to evaluate specific emotional and behavioral factors associated with school refusal behavior. The Functional Model of School Refusal Behavior was applied to understand child-motivated school refusal. Using a cross-sectional design and sample of convenience, a functional assessment of school refusal was conducted among students referred to social workers for attendance problems. The School Refusal Assessment Scale was used to classify school attendance problems in the flowing categories: to avoid or escape negative stimuli, to pursue of parental attention, and to pursue other tangible rewards. Completed information was obtained for a total of 99 upper elementary and middle school students who were referred to school social workers for attendance problems. The distribution of functional profiles was 7% avoiding/escaping negative stimuli, 14% pursing parental attention, 42% pursing tangible rewards, 23% with mixed profiles, and 13% with no profiles. Children missing school to avoid negative stimuli had higher mean scores on emotional difficulties and peer relationship problems than children pursuing parental attention or tangible rewards. Moreover, the avoidance group had lower mean scores on prosocial behaviors and higher means scores on victimization than the other groups. These findings support the premise that children miss school for different reasons and, thus, school absenteeism is heterogeneous. The assessment of the functional profile for missing school can inform interventions and programs specifically designed for children’s needs to ameliorate school attendance problems.