$1 Million in Grants from Kaiser Permanente Northwest will address high absenteeism rates in schools

Kaiser Permanente Northwest has awarded more than $1 million in grants to seven local organizations to help stem the tide of chronic absenteeism in Washington and Oregon schools that has made them among the states with the highest absenteeism rates in the nation.

“Chronic absence is an important public health issue in our community,” said Ruth Williams-Brinkley, president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals of the Northwest. “Children who are chronically absent are more likely to drop out of school, and we know that the number of years a person attends school is a leading predictor of long-term health. For children in our community, long-term health is the foundation for a happy and healthy life.”

A report released in September 2017 by Johns Hopkins University and Attendance Works, using data from the U.S. Department of Education, shows that Washington and Oregon share the designation of states with among the highest chronic absence rates in the country. Chronic absence is generally defined as missing 10 percent of the school year. In Oregon, 21 percent of schools have extreme levels (meaning 30 percent or more of their students are chronically absent), compared with the national average of 8 percent. In Washington, 28 percent have extreme levels.

According to Attendance Works, children living in poverty are two and three times more likely to be chronically absent, and students from communities of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately affected.

“Chronic absenteeism isn’t about ‘skipping school’ or the occasional sick day,” said Colt Gill, deputy superintendent of public instruction for the state of Oregon. “There are many root causes, like physical and behavioral health issues, institutional inequities and housing and food insecurity. This initiative helps move the dialogue from counting days kids are absent, to understanding why and devising equitable solutions to help.”

Goals of the three-year initiative include:

  • Reducing individual, family, community and systems barriers to school attendance.
  • Improving community awareness of the importance of being at school (and knowledge about when students should attend school and when they should stay home).
  • Increasing connections to social and health services for students, teachers and school staff.
  • Identifying policies and systems that will support consistent school attendance.

The grant recipients, five nonprofit organizations and two education service districts, will each receive $150,000 over a three-year period. They include:

  • Adelante Mujeres, Washington County, Oregon: Adelante Mujeres will provide culturally specific programming services to middle and high school students to reduce chronic absenteeism and build a culture prioritizing school attendance.
  • Clackamas Education Service District, Clackamas County, Oregon: The Clackamas Education Service District will create an absenteeism and Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)/trauma learning collaborative model to implement in Clackamas County schools. Teams determined by each district will meet to receive professional development training in chronic absenteeism and trauma-informed strategies to improve student attendance, behavior and academic performance.
  • Education Service District 112, Clark County, Washington: ESD 112 will convene school leaders and staff, pediatricians, and behavioral health and national experts to implement a pilot project in six elementary schools in Cowlitz and Clark counties to address chronic absenteeism.
  • Latino Network, Multnomah County, Oregon: Latino Network will implement a culturally specific chronic absenteeism prevention program to enhance, connect and solidify existing resources in the Parkrose School District and to increase parents’ knowledge of health care screenings and illness prevention measures.
  • Oregon School-Based Health Alliance, Polk County, Oregon: OSBHA will leverage existing school-based physical and mental health services in an on-site school-based health center, to develop identification, referral and intervention systems for students who face barriers related to attendance.
  • Salem/Keizer Coalition for Equality, Marion County, Oregon: SKCE will provide workshops for Latino parents that encourage them to play an active role in their children’s education and promote regular school attendance, and will work with Salem-Keizer School District staff and administrators to build strong relationships with those families.
  • Self Enhancement, Inc., Multnomah County, Oregon: SEI will support a multitiered attendance initiative at David Douglas High School by providing culturally specific support for African-American students and their families.

Connection between education and health

Education is one of the leading determinants of a person’s lifetime health. On average, a college graduate is likely to live about nine years longer than someone who has not completed high school. The opposite is also true — adults with fewer years of education are more likely to die prematurely, engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, and have higher rates of diabetes and obesity.

As part of its mission to improve the health of the communities it serves, Kaiser Permanente Northwest is actively involved in identifying barriers to good health in children and solutions to address them.

In addition to the attendance initiative, Kaiser Permanente Northwest is engaging in a number of community grants and partnerships, including:

  • 3 to PhD: This partnership with Faubion School, Concordia University, basics and Trillium Family Services helps close the opportunity gap for Faubion students by providing wraparound services to the children and their families.
  • Trauma-informed, resilient school environments: In 2017, Kaiser Permanente Northwest awarded $800,000 to Washington State University for a three-year program that will support administrators and staff at several pilot schools in creating and sustaining a caring, compassionate, trauma-informed school culture.
  • Educational Theatre Program through Oregon Children’s Theatre: Kaiser Permanente has partnered with Oregon Children’s Theatre for the last 10 years to bring this vital program to the community. Through music, comedy and drama, live theater programs and artist-in-residence programs are offered to schools and communities free of charge. Plays focus on health and well-being, and themes of past plays include bullying, healthy eating, mental health and peer pressure.
  • Oregon Active Schools: This multiyear partnership with Nike and the Northwest Health Foundation aims to inspire a lifelong love of movement and bring the many benefits of physical activity to every child in Oregon.
  • Thriving Schools: Thriving Schools is a national Kaiser Permanente effort to create a culture of health and wellness for students, staff and teachers in K-12 schools. Through a focus on healthy eating, active living, social and emotional health, and school climate, Thriving Schools seeks to intentionally align and coordinate Kaiser Permanente’s clinical, workforce and community health expertise to benefit schools.

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 11.8 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/share.