The objective of this study was to assess the efficiency of a package of motivational stimulation techniques in reducing school truancy rates among adolescents. The program was carried out between March and June 2007 and it comprised 8 group counseling sessions per week, each session lasting one hour. The techniques used combined intrinsic motivational stimulation strategies, motivational interviewing and solution-focused counseling, with strategies focusing on extrinsic methods, such as successive approximation of behavior, behavior contracts and reinforcement techniques. Participants were adolescents, aged 16-17 years, divided into two groups, 19 students in the experimental group, and 19 in the control group. Our data indicated a 61% decrease in truancy rates for the experimental group, a significant difference compared to the control group, where no drops in truancy rates were observed. The results of this non-randomized pilot study suggest that group interventions such as the one described here can prove to be useful in reducing adolescent truancy, and deserve further investigation in controlled randomized studies.
Keywords: truancy, adolescent, motivational interview, solution-focused counseling
Truancy is one of the major problematic issues in education in many countries and, more recently, in Romania too. It is a major problem since it can entail school abandonment, it can lead to criminal activities and it is an opportunity for students to get involved in delinquent actions related to violence, alcohol and drugs.
Research shows that, at an individual level, truancy is associated to emotional problems (Reid, 1984), substance abuse (Miller & Plant, 1999) and a high rate of adolescent pregnancy (Hibbett & Fogelman, 1990). In addition, truancy is associated with family problems including abuse and neglect, physical and mental health disorders, financial difficulties (Elizondo, Feske, Edgull, & Walsh, 2003). At the community level, chronic truancy has been associated with delinquent behavior ranging from vandalism to criminal violence (Kaplan, Peck, & Kaplan, 1994; Miller & Plant, 1999; U.S. Department of Education, 1996).
The American literature focusing on interventions to reduce truancy shows an evolution from unidimensional to multidimensional castigation models (Fantuzzo, Grim, & Hazan, 2005). Among measures used for preventing truancy, in the United States we mention:
- In New York, Court of Justice action is the first intervention measure (Walls, 2003);
- In Georgia, there are alternative school for truants (McGiboney, 2001);
- In some states, the driving license is conditioned by school grades;
- Some schools offer to ensure waking up measures, and one school actually distributed alarm clocks;
- In some schools there is a person in charge of contacting the parents and the Youth Court;
- In Minnesota, the Truancy Intervention Program comprises 3 stages (Walls, 2003): (1) an informative session about the laws and the legal consequences of truancy; (2) the signing of a legal attendance contract involving the student, the parents and school representatives (including the counselor); (3) submission of the contract to the Youth Court.
In several states, the parents of truant students are liable to jail in the absence of a noticeable improvement in their child's behavior (Pascopella, 2003) since they are considered to bear the main responsibility for their child's school attendance. It was nevertheless observed that sending parents or students into detention was not very productive, since such measures are traumatizing for families, they entail high costs and they often keep children away from school (ABA, 2001; Garry, 1996; Mogulescu & Segal, 2002;).
The question is: "when can we talk about truancy?" In the USA, the conditions to be fulfilled differ from one state to another. For example, in Arizona, a student is truant if he/she skips at least one class a day without having a good reason, or at least 5 days during the entire school year. …