Trajectories of school refusal: sequence analysis using retrospective parent reports

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2024 Apr 11. doi: 10.1007/s00787-024-02419-5. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

School refusal (SR) is a form of school attendance problem (SAP) that requires specific mental health care. Despite improvements in the definition of SAPs, the course of SR is not well characterized. To explore three-year patterns of SR course in children, as reported by their parents, we deployed an anonymous web-based survey. We defined SR onset as the absence of ≥ 2 school weeks during one academic year, combined with emotional distress. We defined standard SR trajectories using sequence analysis of parents' recollection of three consecutive years of school attendance. We obtained 1970 responses, 1328 (67%) completed by a parent and meeting the definition of SR. Of these, 729 (55%) responses included three years of school attendance recollection. We identified five prototypical trajectories of SR: two profiles for children: beaded absences (n = 272), and rapid recovery (n = 132); and three for adolescents: prolonged recovery (n = 93), gradual decline (n = 89), and rapid decline (n = 143). We found five distinct trajectories of retrospective recall of SR course. Through pattern recognition, this typology could help with timely identification of SR and implementation of evidence-based interventions to optimize outcomes. Prospective replication of these findings and their field application is warranted.

Keywords: Course; Outcome; School attendance problems; School refusal; Sequence analysis; Trajectories.