Methods: We used the full universe of statewide data on children for whom there were reports of educational neglect from September 2, 2000 to June 1, 2001 in Minnesota (N=696). We then located the education records on 623 of these children for the 2001 and 2002 school years to examine changes in attendance. For our second research question, we used multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) for all time-points through the 2006 school year to examine trends in school attendance for 502 of the original children. Additional findings in relation to positive and negative attendance trajectories are described using log odds ratios for particular sub-groups.
Results: For our original study and research question, we learned that 71.9% of children (N=448) experienced improvements in their attendance one year after child welfare involvement and that these differences were consistent regardless of gender, race, or geography. For our follow-up study and second research question, we observed that students whose attendance initially improved exhibited significantly better school attendance over time compared to those whose attendance did not improve, or worsened (F=9.264, 1, 486, p=.002) and that this was more true for younger children. In exploring predictors to attendance patterns, we learned that multiple school disruptions (risk ratio: 1.91, p<.001, 95% CI) were almost twice as likely to have negative attendance trajectories and that students with subsequent child welfare reports were half again as likely to have positive attendance trajectories (risk ratio: .52, p<.01, 95% CI).
Conclusions and Implications: Our findings support research that indicates that attendance interventions in the earliest grades are most effective (Chang & Romero, 2008) and that family-centered approaches like child welfare services may appropriately address the ecological causes of early school attendance problems. More rigorous research should be conducted to isolate the factors of child welfare involvement that are most effective and for which age groups. We also propose that policymakers consider other family-centered interventions that may be as, or more effective than child welfare, particularly in light of current fiscal crises facing most child welfare agencies that may impact the ability of staff to act upon any but the most egregious cases of harm or neglect, and the fact that many agencies are now triaging “out” less serious allegations such as educational neglect through Alternative Response processes.