Approaches To Truancy Prevention Intervention

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Truancy is often an early warning signal of family problems or difficulties at home and is generally the first encounter a minor has with the juvenile justice system. Truant students are at risk for numerous personal negative outcomes including educational failure, social isolation, substance abuse, low self-esteem, unwanted pregnancy, unemployment, violence, and adult criminality and incarceration. High School dropouts cost society over $200,000 each over a lifetime in government-funded social services expenditures and incur more in criminal justice costs than high school graduates. [3] As of 1997, 41% of prison inmates and 31% of individuals on probation over the age of 18 had not graduated from high school or earned a GED, compared to 18% of the adult population. [4] 

Truancy prevention programs may be school-based or court-based and often attempt to address the underlying factors that lead to chronic truancy including school factors, family and community factors, and student characteristics through collaborative methods that bring together students and parents with school officials, counselors, mediators, attorneys, police or probation officers, and/or outside services. [5] Programs to address chronic truancy include early-intervention programs, diversion programs to address the needs of the child or family without the filing of a Person or Child in Need of Supervision petitions, and programs that provide alternatives to traditional court sanctions for chronically truant students who have already had a PINS petition filed against them. Many programs include elements of each of these types or provide a graduated response for students who continue to be chronically truant.

I. Multi-Approach/Hybrid Models

Truancy Intervention Project (TIP) - Fulton County, Georgia [6] 

The Fulton County Truancy Intervention Project, serving 400 children annually, was developed in 1991 as an ongoing collaboration with Fulton County Juvenile Court, Atlanta City and Fulton County Public School systems, Atlanta and Georgia Bar Foundations and community-based outreach programs. Kids In Need of Dreams, Inc. (KIND) was formed in 1993 as a private-sector partner that recruits and trains volunteers, primarily attorneys, and organizes community resources. In October 2005, the project adopted the name Truancy Intervention Project (TIP) Georgia. TIP has two types of program adaptations, a court-based model and a school-based, early intervention model.

The primary element of the court-based TIP model is the utilization of volunteer attorneys in court petitions, either truancy petitions for older children or educational neglect petitions in the case of children under age 11 considered too young to be held personally responsible for their education. When a student is found to be chronically truant, after school-based remedies have been utilized, the school social worker files a truancy petition or educational neglect petition. A volunteer attorney is found to act as the child's lawyer and Guardian ad Litem in court petitions related to the truancy and a child adjudicated truant may be required to receive counseling and attend education programs and school regularly. Non-attorney volunteers may serve as guardians ad litem to inform the court of the best interests of the child in educational neglect cases. The attorney/volunteer continues to serve a supervisory role, acting as a mentor and role model for the child. The Georgia Bar Foundation provides "seed grants" to help with start-up costs to establish TIP programs that include some attorney involvement. The program is mutually beneficial to students and volunteers as attorney volunteers receive Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit for attending the required training seminar.

The early intervention model addresses chronic truancy at the school level before court involvement, by pairing children and families with trained volunteers to provide services that address the root causes of truancy. Volunteers attend initial meetings at the school, work with the school, child, and family, serve as a role model to the child, and make weekly contact to monitor progress. Additionally, TIP hosts three special events during the year for children involved in the program and their families: a holiday "adoption" program (volunteers from Atlanta law firms provide gifts from wish lists made by children and their families), "Winners for Life" (a June event that culminates a semester-long attendance incentive program that provides students with five or fewer absences with tickets to a sporting event or amusement park), and a "Back to School" Kickoff (all of the children, families and volunteers are treated to lunch in Grant Park and a trip to Zoo Atlanta, while children are also given school supplies to start the new year).

The use of attorney volunteers to represent children in court and as mentors has resulted in a program that has been met with high levels of success. The creation of a separate Juvenile Court calendar in which one judge hears all truancy cases and one judge hears all educational neglect cases ensures a timely response to cases. Of approximately 2,000 children referred to TIP since 1992, 75% have had no additional contact with the juvenile justice system.

Truancy Intervention Program (TIP) - Ramsey County, MN [7] 

The Truancy Intervention Program developed in 1994 as a three-step graduated process to respond to truant youth aged 12-16 but has since expanded to include youth aged 6-18. The first step occurs after three or more unexcused absences and requires a parent to attend a large-group meeting at the school conducted by an Assistant County Attorney who explains the Minnesota Compulsory Education Law, the legal and social consequences of poor school attendance, and the 3-step TIP process, to which the student will be referred if attendance does not improve. The second step is a School Attendance Review Team (SART) hearing in which the student, parent, a school social worker or counselor, an Assistant County Attorney, and a probation officer meet to develop a formalized, written attendance contract that may include referral to appropriate services such as social service agencies, mental health evaluations, counseling, etc. If a student continues to miss classes, a TIP attorney will file a truancy petition with an expedited hearing in juvenile court. The child typically admits to being a chronic truant and is adjudicated a "child in need of protection or services." Dispositions generally include a 6-month period of supervised probation, an order to comply with services arranged by a probation officer, and an order to attend school and may include cancellation of driving privileges until age 18, court-ordered community service work, a fine of up to $100, and/or out-of-home placement.

The Ramsey County TIP 2000-2001 Year End Report indicates that it has been very successful, resulting in a 47% deduction in the number of truancy petitions filed in juvenile court. Of the 2,192 students referred to TIP during the 2000-2001 year, approximately 82% improved their attendance, only 668 received SART hearings, and only 309 were referred to juvenile court. [8] The program has been successful in improving parental involvement with schools, reducing the caseloads of judges and probation officers, and simultaneously decreasing the length of time for a court hearing from 4 months to 2 weeks and improving attorney attendance at hearings by requiring the juvenile court to dedicate 2 calendar days per month to truancy hearings. The program has been criticized by some school officials as significantly increasing the work load of school staff by requiring their involvement in dealing with truancy issues, rather than suspending truant students or referring them directly to the County Attorney's Office. As a result, the program is only able to function when it has a high level of support from school staff and collaboration between all parties involved.

II. Early Intervention/Prevention Programs (Pre-Court Programs)

Early intervention programs aim to instill the value of education and school attendance in children and to address underlying family concerns that may be affecting school attendance before a petition has been filed and often while the child is young enough that parents still exercise substantial control over the child's school attendance.

Truancy Prevention Through Mediation Program (Ohio) [9] 

The Truancy Prevention Through Mediation Program is a school-based program, geared primarily toward elementary and middle school students, that invites the parents of students who have accrued a certain number of absences to a mediation session with a mediator and school representative (usually the child's teacher) and, in some cases, a truancy officer, the school principal, school social worker, and/or a representative from the department of social services. Participants jointly create a prevention strategy based on the underlying problems contributing to truancy. If the plan is not followed, parents may be required to attend a second mediation or may be referred to court, with resulting fines or jail time for the parent. The program has been highly successful in substantially reducing absences for young children (the average number of absences fell from 15 to 4 for kindergarteners and 13 to 2 for first-graders) and has been most successful in areas where a fast-track system has been implemented to bring referred cases to court quickly. Since the program deals primarily with parents, it has typically not been used in high schools where parental control over a minor's school attendance is significantly diminished.

Broward Truancy Intervention Program (Broward County, FL) [10] 

The Broward County Truancy Intervention Program, began in 1997, operates collaboratively between the state attorney's office and the Broward County School Board. After three unexcused absences a letter is sent to parents notifying them of their child's absences and, after five unexcused absences, a second letter is sent to parents and a list is sent to the state's attorney's office of those students. A "student services coordinator" arranges a meeting with the assistant state attorney assigned to the truancy unit, parents, a school social worker, and a representative from the school (principal or vice principal) at a local police department after a student's tenth unexcused absence. As a group, they explore factors that may be contributing to the truancy and the child or family is referred to services as needed. Misdemeanor charges may be filed against a parent who fails to attend the conference or if absences continue, although only 160 cases have been filed out of thousands of cases brought through the system.

III. Alternative Programs to Traditional Court Involvement

Alternative programs also accept that truancy is often caused by a complex variety of family, social, school, community, and emotional factors, but are often used in middle schools and high schools to divert cases away from court intervention and back toward schools which provide greater educational support.

Abolish Chronic Truancy (ACT) and Truancy Mediation Program - Los Angeles, California [11] 

Abolish Chronic Truancy (ACT) combines elements of pre-court, early-intervention models for elementary students with a Truancy Mediation Program for older students. ACT is a program of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office that places prosecutors in elementary schools to inform parents of their legal responsibility to ensure their child attends school, to connect families to community resources that can help overcome barriers to school attendance and, if necessary as a last resort if a child continues to be truant, to prosecute the student or parent. The Truancy Mediation Program allows the District Attorney's Hearing Officer Program to work with school districts' School Attendance Review Boards to provide students and parents the opportunity to enter a District Attorney School Attendance Contract rather than face prosecution. Such contracts typically require students to attend school with no unexcused absences, to correct behavioral problems, and to follow all SARB and other hearing officer directives.

Truancy Intervention Program - City of Fremont, California [12] 

The City of Fremont Truancy Intervention Program is a collaboration between the department of human services, the police department and the school district and is modeled on truancy centers, but emphasizes a counseling component. Children are brought to the clinic either by police officers, if they are found out in the community during school hours, or assigned school resource officers (SROs) who are notified by the school when it sees a pattern of unexcused absences. The officer fills out an arrest report and the child speaks with a Youth and Family Services counselor to discover the underlying causes of truancy until a parent arrives. At this point there is an intervention and assessment session with the parent and a verbal plan is developed to improve the child's attendance. Approximately half of the students are enrolled in counseling and receive four additional counseling sessions and counselors continue to monitor the student's progress with the school.

Court Unified Truancy Suppression Program (CUTS) - Phoenix, Arizona [13] 

Under the CUTS program, a CUTS probation officer who works solely with the program is assigned to each school. After three unexcused absences, the parents are sent a warning letter by the school and required to attend a meeting. If the student continues to be absent, the school issues a truancy citation and a non-judicial diversion hearing conducted by the CUTS officer occurs on school premises within two weeks. School personnel (e.g., an administrator or counselor), the child, and parents attend the hearing and work together to assess needs upon which services are provided. Students are also assigned "consequences," such as tutoring sessions, writing an essay, work hours, or attending a class, that must be completed within 60 to 90 days. In 2000, approximately 74% of students completed their consequences, 97% regularly attended school after the program, graduation rates increased by 14%, and drug offenses decreased in schools with the program. Those that were non-compliant with the program or continued to miss school could be referred to court and have their driver's license revoked.

Truancy Mediation Program - Utah [14] 

Truancy mediation for students in grades 1-9 consists of a "team approach" that provides the student, parent, and school staff an opportunity to sit down with volunteer community mediators rather than being referred to juvenile court so that all involved can have a say in how best to solve the problem of the child's chronic truancy. The Court's Administrative Officer trains mediators and helps schools and courts to implement the program. In evaluation forms conducted after mediations, at least 95% of those involved indicated they were satisfied with the process and 75-86% of students improved their attendance.

ACT Now Truancy Program - Pima County, Arizona [15] 

The ACT Now Truancy Program is a program of the Pima County Attorney's Office in partnership with the Center for Juvenile Alternatives (CJA), law enforcement, school administrators, teachers, parents, and students. When a student is absent from school for an unexcused reason, an attendance officer at the school sends an advisory letter to parents informing them of the legal ramifications of failing to ensure that their child attends school. The school refers students who are chronically truant to CJA, which, along with the Pima County Attorney's Office, works to identify students who are chronically truant. Through the ACT Now Truancy Program, CJA provides alternative terms and conditions in place of prosecution that may include a referral to Teen Court, counseling, educational programs, or parenting skills training. The Pima County Attorney's Office prosecutes parents who fail to comply with the diversion program.

IV. Post-Court Petition Programs

Post-court petition programs work to accommodate individual needs and address the underlying causes of truancy after a petition has been filed in court, rather than utilizing traditional, punitive approaches such as judicial probation or out-of-home placement in a setting such as a juvenile detention center.

Truancy Intervention (Pilot) Project - New Britain, Connecticut [16] 

The Connecticut Truancy Intervention Project was modeled on the Fulton County, GA program and is sponsored by the Connecticut Bar Association and the Connecticut Bar Foundation jointly with New Britain Public Schools. The public school system identifies students who are chronically truant and files a Family with Service Needs (FWSN) petition in juvenile court. A juvenile probation officer meets with children who meet the criteria for the program and their families to get approval for program participation. The child is placed on non-judicial supervision for 6 months during which time an attorney volunteer tries to identify the underlying causes of the child's truancy, assists the child and family with connecting to appropriate resources, and monitors school attendance.

Seventeenth Judicial District Truancy Reduction Project - Adams County, Colorado [17] 

Under the Truancy Reduction Project, schools file truancy petitions in court against students who continue to be absent despite school efforts and individual counseling. Families have the option of working with the truancy case manager (TCM) or having the case sent back to court. The TCM develops a family treatment plan after meeting with the child and family at the child's school and contacting school staff and appropriate service agencies. Conditions of the plan may include counseling, community service, and urinalysis for the child or conditions imposed on family members. The TCM monitors the case for twelve weeks and, if the child begins to attend school more regularly (as occurs in 85% of cases), the case is dismissed and the child and family are invited to an award ceremony at the courthouse. The remaining 15% of cases are referred to the magistrate judge who may place the child out of the home or sentence the parents to jail.

V. General Truancy Awareness Programs

Jacksonville United Against Truancy (JUAT) [18] 

Founded in 2000, Jacksonville United Against Truancy focuses primarily on raising awareness about the issue of truancy in the community through community events and providing information to families in need of assistance in dealing with a truant child. JUAT has produced brochures in four languages and established October as Truancy Awareness Month in Jacksonville. The program is a collaboration begun by the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville and includes Duval County Public Schools, the City of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the Youth Crisis Center, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Jacksonville Housing Authority, Lutheran Social Services, Atlantic Beach Police Department and Neptune Beach Police Department.

Additional Resources:

American Bar Association. "Model Truancy Prevention Programs."

National Center for School Engagement Program Registry.

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. "Tool Kit for Creating Your Own Truancy Reduction Program." February 2007.

Smink, Jay and Mary S. Reimer. "Fifteen Effective Strategies for Improving Student Attendance and Truancy Prevention." National Dropout Prevention Center. May 2005.