Methods: The nonprobability sample of elementary school children (N = 6088) was enrolled in 16 program sites in a community-based truancy prevention program in one state in the Deep South. The intervention provided intensive case management for high-risk participants after children were referred at 5 unexcused absences and assessed for school-related and psychosocial risk factors. A majority of children were African American (64%) with a larger proportion of boys (57.7%) than girls (42.3%). Over half (51%) of participants were in kindergarten (K) through 2nd grade. Binary logistic regression analyses were conducted to determine which characteristics best predicted on-time grade level at 3 years out among a subsample of the high-risk children (n = 2864).
Results: Model fit to the data was modest. Findings showed that race and grade at program admission were significantly associated with on-time grade attainment at 3 years out. African-American participants were less likely to be on time for grade than participants not of African-American ethnicity. Participants in kindergarten were less likely to be on time than children in higher grades of elementary school. Children assessed as unmotivated by their teachers were less likely to be on time for grade at 3 years out than children who were not assessed as unmotivated. Other findings showed that participants who completed educational services were less likely to be on time for their grade than participants who did not receive educational services.
Conclusion: This study is unique in that it examined a large sample of young children in grades K to 5. Implications for school social work practice include forming collaborations with teachers to intervene with children who exhibit school disengagement characteristics. Social work education can impart understanding of risk characteristics of children in early grades that are associated with school non-completion. Future research in the school environment is warranted to determine practices to engage children in school, particularly for children of color.