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03 April 2020

A study of almost 300,000 Australian children over 12 years has revealed that those who have suffered “substantial maltreatment and neglect” are four times more likely to miss school for extended periods than their counterparts.

Lead researcher  Dr Jason Armfield from the University of South Australia (UniSA) says almost 50 per cent of children who have been abused or severely neglected had at least one school term of chronic truancy, compared to only about 10 per cent of children with no involvement in the child protection system.

The children most at risk of chronic truancy – defined as 10 or more unexplained days absent in any term – are Aboriginal children and those whose mothers are younger, unemployed, who smoke, and are without a partner.

Dr Armfield, a Senior Research Fellow in the Australian Centre for Precision Health at UniSA, says school absenteeism is substantially compounded for those children with seven or more “cumulative adversities”.

The study is the largest of its kind ever undertaken internationally and has been published in the journal Child Maltreatment.

The researchers found that truancy was more common among children who had been severely neglected as opposed to being sexually, physically or emotionally abused.

“Severely neglected children often lack appropriate parental care and support. In terms of schooling, this can mean caregivers are not sufficiently concerned whether they attend school or not,” says Dr Armfield.

One bright note is that maltreated children who were identified by the Department for Child Protection before the age of five and placed into out-of-home care for three or more years had reduced absenteeism rates.

“This finding underlines the value of having a stable and supportive home environment, reinforcing that early intervention can be beneficial to children, reducing school absenteeism.

“Given the importance of children’s schooling to their future, this study highlights the need to do better with these vulnerable children and families who have come to the attention of the child protection system,” Dr Armfield says.

Notes for editors

School absenteeism associated with child protection system involvement, maltreatment type, and time in out-of-home care” is published in Child Maltreatment. The other authors are Emmanuel Gnanamanickam, Ha T. Nguyen and Leonie Segal from UniSA, James C. Doidge from University College London, Derek S. Brown from Washington University at St Louis, and David B. Preen from the University of Western Australia.

Media contact: Candy Gibson office +61 8 8302 0961 mobile: +61 434 605 142
email: candy.gibson@unisa.edu.au;

Lead researcher Dr Jason Armfield office: +61 8 8302 1757
mobile: 0405 159 040 email: Jason.Armfield@unisa.edu.au

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