Education

Committee targets truancy, absenteeism with school-based health care

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jan. 8, 2018 8:40 am

QUINCY -- Quincy School Board member Mike Troup sees a variety of ways a school-based health care program can benefit students and their families.

Maybe it is volunteers meeting students at bus stops to hand out doughnuts and fuel excitement about the coming school day. Or making sure every student has a winter coat, a hat and gloves. Or a health clinic based in a school.

"There are multiple reasons why children aren't attending classes every day," Troup said at a recent School Board meeting. "When you start looking at what the causes and reasons are -- and they aren't the same for everybody -- and you find a solution for these five, these 10, 20 over here, we're going to see some improvements."

An advisory committee -- made up of stakeholders from Quincy Public Schools and the community -- began meeting at the start of this school year to learn about both community and school district needs tied to health care as a way to address truancy and chronic absenteeism.

QPS Director of Student Services Carol Frericks said no decisions have been made on what the program will look like, but a school-based clinic is one option.

"We are definitely learning together as a group of community agencies that serve students and families about how to discover the root causes to some of our concerns and how to address them in partnership," Frericks said.

"Health care providers in the community are very good at working together to address different issues. This is one important to the schools," aid Julie Shepard, director of care coordination for Blessing Hospital and a committee member. "From the provider point of view, there are quite a few health care providers and options in the community. Is there a creative way we can take advantage of those resources?"

One key may be helping students and their families better access available resources -- including Quincy's two federally qualified health care centers, SIU Center for Family Medicine and Clarity -- so they are not missing school.

Shepard said Blessing, Transitions and Quincy Medical Group had success using a grant to hire community health workers for people who needed more assistance than the care coordination program could provide -- a potential option for the school-based program to help parents overcome barriers to care so their children can access services.

"Not only do we have a lot of health care access, we also have a lot of social service agencies in the community," Shepard said. "Sometimes people don't know services are available, how to access them or have trouble filling out the applications, but having someone to help them with those needs is very beneficial."

The effort targets a growing need in the district.

"We have approximately 60 percent free and reduced student population, but I don't know that most people realize that some 75 percent of that is free," Troup said. "When the community has a relatively low unemployment level, yet 60 percent of our student body is in this category, we've got bigger problems in the community."

Next up for the group is "hot spotting," or strategic use of community-wide, not just school district, data to help identify why students miss school, then to reallocate resources to areas of highest need.

"We want to gather community data so we can look more closely at the areas that are considered areas of need in our community related to the concerns that we have as a school district," Frericks said. "You can see the connection between having teams in the community to provide service related to health so students can attend school and learn."

The goal, committee members say, is launching some type of school based health care program for the 2018-19 school year.

"It's workable to have some type of intervention in place by that time frame," Shepard said. "Maybe we try something, analyze how it's going, see if we need to do something else or something different."

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