Special health care needs and poor health status impact children’s school functioning

By Cynthia Reuben, MA
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics

This study examined the relationship between child health and poor school outcomes.

What did you do in your research?
We analyzed data from 59,440 children (aged 6-17 years) from the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health. Child health was assessed using the Children with Special Health Care Needs (CSHCN) screener and a question on the child's general health status. CSHCN were classified into two groups: 1) less complex needs (medication use only), and 2) more complex needs (use of other special health care services). Children whose health was reported as poor, fair, or good were described as having "less than optimal health." Indicators of school functioning included: special education use, problem reports, repeated a grade, lack of school engagement, and missed school days (more than 10 days of school due to illness in the past year).

What did you find out?
There was an increased risk of all the negative school outcomes among children with more complex special health care needs (SHCN) compared to children without SHCN. Children with less complex needs had an increased risk of only one school outcome (many missed school days). Similarly, children in less than optimal health were at an increased risk of all negative school outcomes compared to children in optimal health. These relationships were still present even after controlling for the child's sociodemographic characteristics.

What are the take-home messages?
The CSHCN screener and the general health status question identify related, but distinct, groups of children with poor school functioning outcomes.

To learn more about these findings contact Patricia Pastor.

Full Journal Article
Reuben, C.A., & Pastor, P.N. (2013). The effect of special health care needs and health status on school functioning. Disability and Health Journal, 6(4), 325–332.