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School Attendance Initiatives Don’t End With the School Year 

The Department of Human Services took steps to strengthen two initiatives recently as part of its continuing effort to help reduce chronic absenteeism among children receiving human services, and also underscored its participation in community-based efforts to increase school attendance among young people in general.

To reduce absenteeism among children in child welfare, the Department for the first time extended contracts through the summer with Youth Advocate Programs Inc. (YAP Inc.) of the South Side and Community Empowerment Association (CEA) of Homewood, so both providers could offer education enhancements and support to prevent truancy among school-aged youth in child welfare.

“Usually attendance efforts abate in the spring and restart in the fall,” said Adrianne Smith, DHS Contract Compliance Manager. “This year, programs continued to help children so they were prepared as they re-entered the new school year.”

At YAP Inc., 134 students participated in a program that included tracking summer school attendance; community service; a Young Adult Club to hone older students’ college prep and job skills; and a Walking and Health Club focusing on food choice and exercise. The program facilitated proper peer interactions, alternative coping skills and being part of a group that encourages the importance of school and shared an enthusiasm for learning. The summer ended with a Back-to-School Kickoff Picnic that included awards for students highlighting skills they worked on during the summer.

AT CEA, 30 youth were involved in time management, career awareness, money/math education, and health and wellness workshops.

In a related move, in August the Department hired Christina Kunkel as a School Intake Specialist to work with Focus on Attendance, a year-old program operating in the Pittsburgh Public School District.

She joins School Outreach Specialist Carlena Jenkins as a DHS liaison for the program, now operating at Pittsburgh King and Pittsburgh Manchester schools.

Focus on Attendance sprang last year from a workgroup, led by Judge Dwayne Woodruff of Allegheny County Children’s Court, which included representatives from DHS, the Courts, Child Watch, KidsVoice, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, CEA, YAP Inc., Pittsburgh Public Schools, legal organizations and other nonprofits. In addition to its regular school year attendance efforts, the program intervened over the summer with young people who were identified as missing school in kindergarten and first grade. 

Efforts included identifying and linking families to assistance of many kinds to help stabilize them so the chances increase that their children will attend school. Families were directed to food banks; finding employment or financial supports and building resumes; and back-to-school preparation such as getting required immunizations, proper clothing and haircuts. For children who move from school-to-school, providers ensured that enrollment paperwork was completed and requirements met. 

In addition to those initiatives, DHS is part of the United Way’s countywide “Be There” campaign addressing chronic absenteeism and poor school attendance, further demonstrating its commitment to mitigating the effect of these issues on children’s futures. Research has shown that chronic absenteeism -- missing at least 10% of the school year -- can cause children to face a plethora of negative impacts both as they grow and later in life. Absentees are less likely to graduate from high school, placing them at greater risk of poverty, homelessness and incarceration as adults.

“Encouraging positive school attendance is not a school issue or a community issue alone – it’s both,” said Samantha Murphy, Resource Services Manager/Education Liaison in the Executive Office. “DHS is being deliberate about aligning outreach/training efforts and resources around school attendance for the children we serve.”