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Catherine Falconer

2024–25 U.K. Harkness Fellow; Deputy Director of Health Equity and Inclusion, UK Health Security Agency 

Catherine Falconer headshot

Placement: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health 

Mentor: Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD, Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health 

Co-mentor: Robert Kahn, MD, MPH, Vice President, Health Equity Strategy and The Fisher Child Health Equity Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center; Associate Chair, Community Health, UC Department of Pediatrics; Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics 

Project: An Investigation into the Role of Health and Health Systems in Reducing Chronic Absenteeism from School 

Catherine Falconer, PhD, FFPH, is a 2024–25 U.K. Harkness Fellow in Health Care Policy and Practice. She currently serves as Deputy Director of Health Equity and Inclusion at the U.K. Health Security Agency. Falconer leads a team providing expert health protection advice and guidance to cover a range of high-risk and disproportionately impacted groups and settings including health and justice, inclusion health, and education and childcare. She also leads delivery of the UKHSA Health Equity for Health Security Strategy. 

Falconer is a passionate advocate for intergenerational equity and improving outcomes for children and young people and, in 2021, led the national COVID-19 response for children, young people and education settings. She has done specialty training in public health and public health roles across a range of organizations including local and national government, the NHS, and academia. She has a Ph.D. in child health from the University of Birmingham and a master’s in public health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Falconer is an Honorary Senior Consultant Lecturer at the University of Bristol and a current member of the NIHR Public Health Research prioritization committee. Outside of work she is a community governor at a school for children with a primary diagnosis of autism and speech, language, and communication needs. 

Project overview: The COVID pandemic had a devastating impact on the health, education, and well-being of children and young people, with a global doubling in the prevalence of psychological distress for this group and stark inequalities apparent. Universal, publicly funded education offers a unique opportunity to intervene in mental and physical illness and reduce disparities. Extensive school closures during the pandemic have contributed to a growing crisis of attendance. Chronic absenteeism (defined as missing >10% of expected sessions for any reason) has reached record levels, approaching 30 percent in the U.S. and over 20 percent in the U.K. While the causes are complex and multifaceted, these levels represent a measure of the adequacy of interventions to promote health and educational equity, and a multi-agency response across education and health will be required. This proposal seeks to understand the role of health systems in tackling chronic school absenteeism, a policy priority for both countries. 

The project will take a case-study approach, identifying U.S. health and education systems taking a multi-agency approach to tackling chronic absenteeism. It will identify effective strategies to link education and health data, explore examples of best-practice engagement with local, state, and federal stakeholders, and collate examples of multi-agency actions, policies, or tools. These findings will be used to develop and test a strategic tool kit for local health and education systems to understand and implement data linkage approaches, and the use of chronic absenteeism as a measure of system performance to drive improvements in population health and to avert inequalities.