Conditional Welfare Grants to Address Truancy and Child Educational Neglect: United States' Experiments and Ecuador's Mandates

Article excerpt

"If our American way of life fails the child, it fails us all."1

I. INTRODUCTION

Although greatly underreported,2 "neglect is the most common type of child maltreatment,"3 and occurs more frequently in poor families than in those of better means.4 Child neglect can include lack of access to education (educational neglect),5 as, for example, "allowing chronic truancy [or] failing to enroll the child in school as required by law."6 Researchers have borne out the many negative impacts that truancy, including as a manifestation of educational neglect, have on children's future lives. Relatedly, the high school dropout rate is recognized as an important factor for evaluating child well-being.7 Truancy, more generally, is one of the primary ways educational neglect manifests itself, triggering mandatory reporting by educational figures.8 Since truancy directly manifests itself to school figures, it is one of the more easily observed signs of child neglect and represents a prime target for interventions.

Both Ecuador and the U.S. place a high value on education, but only the former's federal constitution recognizes it as a fundamental right, and equates denial of that right with a form of proscribed child neglect.9 The U.S. Constitution, on the other hand, gives no mention to education of youth, instead leaving it to state and local governments, and, to some extent, families."1 Rather than federal mandates as in Ecuador, the U.S.'s federalist government has wide variations amongst states in terms of policing truancy and neglect.

Notwithstanding numerous important differences between the two nations, policies to reduce truancy are either underway experimentally, or have been firmly established, in each. Programs providing cash payments conditioned on regular school attendance recognize the potential of relatively small per child investments, and address various indirect costs to society." These costs add to the already stifling economic drag of child poverty due to lower earnings, higher crime rates, and greater health problems.'2

The long-standing Bono de Desarrollo Humano ("BDH") program in Ecuador, and the nascent public-private partnerships established and funded under U.S. federal government programs, form the basis of this comparative discussion of conditional assistance programs aimed at reducing truancy, educational neglect, and their negative downstream effects to children and society. In doing so, similarities and differences between the two nations' legal and policy foundations for such initiatives are outlined and discussed under their respective constitutions, and legal and institutional structures.

Throughout this paper, the two nations' existing systems to address truancy and educational neglect are also compared within the broader context of child welfare systems. Finally, a recommendation is made that a uniformly and nationally implemented system like Ecuador's BDH program be initiated in the U.S. as a federally funded mandate. This would, in some respects, mimic the U.S. food stamps program, and could be administered under existing systems with minimal transformation. Such a program represents a more cost-effective means of reducing truancy and educational neglect in the interests of long-term and sustainable economic development and child well-being.

II. TRUANCY AND EDUCATIONAL NEGLECT AS CHILD WELFARE PROBLEMS

Neglected youth risk low high school graduation rates, adult drug abuse, and adult criminality at rates 25%, 50%, and -30% higher, respectively, than their non-neglected counterparts." Pre-high school truancy also strongly correlates to high school dropout rates.14 Maltreated youths, therefore, risk "physical, psychological, and behavioral health problems,"15 both as juveniles and as adults.16

Although poor parents are not "necessarily poorer parents, their children come under the scrutiny of the child welfare system at much higher rates given poor families' lack of resources for successful parenting,"17 including ensuring adequate schooling. …