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Going Beyond to Make Sure No Student Is Left Behind

School is too important for any student to miss out.

So, when a fourth-grader in New Castle County, Del., failed to show up to class for three straight days, our care coordinator, Dwane Budheah, went into action.

Dwane had been alerted by our data-sharing program, known as Data Access for Student Health (DASH). It’s the product of an extraordinary partnership between Nemours Children’s, Colonial School District and Delaware Health Information Network.

Dwane immediately contacted the student’s mother and learned that her child had been suffering stomachaches. He connected her to our school-based health center right at her school, where she was quickly able to get an appointment with a provider and behavioral health clinician.

The mystery was soon solved: The student had been suffering anxiety over the death of a family member. The two school-based clinicians worked together on a plan, including counseling, referral to a specialist, and resuming previously prescribed medication, to help the student feel better and get back to class. 

Our pilot program at the Colonial School District in Delaware began in 2021, and was modeled after a successful project to reduce chronic school absenteeism in Washington, D.C. 

Here’s how it works: At the start of the school year, parents give their permission to allow their child’s school to share information through the Delaware Health Information Network. If a student misses three consecutive days or a total of 10 days during a school year, the student’s primary care provider gets an alert. 

The warning system can play a big part in students’ and families’ fortunes. More than 6.5 million U.S. children — roughly 13% of all students — miss 15 or more days of school each year, potentially with life-long consequences. Researchers have found that chronic absenteeism can lead to academic failure, substance abuse and even lower life-expectancy. 

“Without DASH, we might never have learned there was a problem,” says Dwane. “Because we had this system in place, we were able to get the student on a better track.”

We’re not just concerned about chronic school absenteeism. We believe it’s our mission to do something about it. Some of the top reasons for gaps in attendance have to do with mental health issues, as was the case with the student in New Castle County, and with chronic illnesses such as asthma and with dental emergencies. All of that is right in our focus as we continue to go “well beyond medicine” to improve the health of all children.