Influence of early childhood burns on school performance: an Australian population study

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Abstract

Objectives

To determine the influence of burn injuries on childhood performance in national standardised curriculum-based school tests.

Design

Birth and health records of 977 children who were hospitalised with a burn injury between 2000 and 2006 in the state of New South Wales, Australia, were linked to performance scores in the National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy test, a compulsory nationwide curriculum-based test (CBT) and compared with children who were not hospitalised for burns and who were matched for birth year, gender, gestation and socioeconomic status.

Main outcome measures

Test scores in years 3 (ages 8–9), 5 (ages 10–11) and 7 (ages 13–14) in numeracy, writing, reading, spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Results

Mean age at first burn injury was 28 months (median: 20, range: 0–140). Children with burns were significantly more likely to have younger mothers (28.5 vs 29.6 years) (P<0.001), be indigenous (OR 2.5 (95% CI 2.1 to 3.1)) (P<0.001) and have siblings (OR 1.2 (95% CI 1.1 to 1.4)) (P<0.001). They were also less likely to meet national minimum standards in most domains of testing until year 5, even after adjustment for parental education levels, parental smoking, maternal age and indigenous status. Each 10% increase in total body surface area burnt was associated with a decrease in year 5 scores by 37.0% in numeracy and 71.9% in writing.

Conclusions

Most childhood burn injuries occur before the start of formal schooling. Children who are hospitalised for burns perform more poorly in CBT even after accounting for family and socioeconomic disadvantage. Rehabilitation of children with burn injuries must address school performance to decrease any long-term negative societal impact of burns.

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