Partnerships to Reduce Truancy

Truancy has become a critical issue for many communities. Studies and common sense indicate that students who are regularly truant are also more likely to drop out of school. The evidence is also clear that a very high percentage of dropouts (as high as 95 percent) end up serving time in prison. Students who are truant are more likely to be arrested for the commission of crimes while truant and are more likely to become victims of crime when they leave the safety of their school to roam the streets. In many cases, these students create problems for schools while they roam the neighborhoods and victimize students who are on their way to and from school.


A number of communities around the nation are having significant success with a relatively new approach to combat truancy — a partnership between school system personnel and the law enforcement community. These communities have found that by drawing on the strengths of both disciplines, the rate of truancy can be reduced dramatically. While each discipline is limited in effectiveness when acting alone, the partnership between the two is a powerful one.


An Idea Whose Time Has Come


Recent examples of such partnerships have been developed in Oklahoma City, Okla., Truancy Habits Reduced Increasing Valuable Education (THRIVE); Rohnert Park, Calif., Stop, Cite, and Return; Milwaukee, Wis., Truancy Abatement and Burglary Suppression Program (TABS); and in Macon, Ga., with the Return to School Program.


There have been a number of other high-quality programs that tailor a law enforcement/school partnership to fit the needs and resources of the individual community. Many of these programs have demonstrated significant success that can be replicated by other communities around the nation.


Each program has different specific techniques that best fit the community where they were implemented. They also require commitment from the participating agencies, and each requires support from the courts to augment the social services that only the school system can provide.


In recent years, several highly respected law enforcement publications have published articles relating to law enforcement/school partnerships to reduce truancy. Police executives around the country are being informed about the value of these programs and are becoming more receptive to them. Because of this, school administrators may find local police officials to be more open to this concept.


In recent years, the federal government has recognized the value of these programs in respect to long-term crime reduction. A number of truancy reduction programs have been implemented with the assistance of federal grant funding. These grant-funded programs have repeatedly demonstrated success, increasing the chances that such a program can receive federal grant support.


Making It Work


Effective truancy reduction partnerships of this type normally rely heavily on the use of citations requiring the parent and/or student to appear in court. Because a monetary or community service consequence is attached to the violation, parents are frequently motivated to make their child’s attendance at school a priority. Once parents learn that they can no longer allow their children to remain out of school without a significant consequence, they tend to take an active role in helping the school resolve the problem.


Parents who face such consequences tend to pay closer attention to the information provided by school staff regarding how they can help get the child back in school. Once parents begin working with school staff and police personnel, improvement is more likely to occur. As word spreads in the community that the police and courts are supporting schools in reducing truancy, many parents begin paying attention to their child’s attendance rates before the situation becomes chronic enough to require intervention by the team.


One challenge that needs to be addressed in any truancy reduction program is the way that chronicallytruant students are re-integrated into the school setting. These students often need additional attention to get them back on track academically. The program should include well-thought-out efforts to help students adjust to the school setting, once they return. Considerable efforts may be required to help students who have been absent from school more than they have been in attendance.


There are obstacles. The lack of meaningful requirements for home-schooling sometimes allows parents to bypass the truancy reduction program by claiming that they are going to home-school their children. In some areas, court officials may need to be educated on the importance of making compulsory attendance law violations a priority in already overloaded court calendars. Such obstacles are often encountered with juvenile justice initiatives, but they should not stand in the way of a well-designed program.


Truancy reduction initiatives are a key component to reducing current problems with today’s youth. They are also an effective way to reduce future crime problems in our communities.


About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at www.safehavensinternational.org.

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