Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

Case Manager Perspectives on the Effectiveness of an Elementary School Truancy Intervention

Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

Case Manager Perspectives on the Effectiveness of an Elementary School Truancy Intervention

Article excerpt

A strong association between truancy and subsequent offending has been demonstrated in the academic literature, and some experts have referred to truancy as the gateway to youth crime (Garry, 1996). For instance, truancy may be the first sign in a progression of behaviors that leads to antisocial outcomes with far-reaching consequences (Teasley, 2004). A 2009 study found that truancy in elementary school increased the probability of persistent serious offending in adolescence by more than 300 percent (Van Domburgh et al., 2009). Moreover, a longitudinal study that tracked participants for twenty-six years found that truancy in the first grade increased the probability of adult violence for both males and females (McCord & Ensminger, 1997). Truancy has also been linked to a host of other short- and long-term outcomes such as educational deficits, dropout, substance abuse, lower paying jobs, and an increased risk for living in poverty (Baker, Sigmon, & Nugent, 2001; Bell, Rosen, & Dynlacht, 1994; Sutphen, Ford, & Flaherty, 2010; Teasley, 2004; Yeide & Kobrin, 2009).

The National Center for School Engagement defines truancy as any unexcused absence without the expressed permission of a parent, legal guardian, or school staff member (Seeley, 2006). Hundreds of thousands of youth are truant from school every day and truancy remains one of the most problematic issues in schools across the United States (Baker et al., 2001; DeKalb, 1999).

The passing of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 represented progress toward truancy reduction because the federal government mandated attendance tracking for the first time in U.S. history (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). However, positive effects have been mitigated due to the inconsistencies among states regarding the legal definition of truancy that prevent truancy data from being aggregated at the national level (Seeley, 2006; Smink & Heilbrunn, 2005). Some states such as Louisiana and Wisconsin define truancy as five unexcused absences in a semester (Louisiana Children's Code, 1990; Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau, 2000), whereas Florida statutes define truancy as twenty-one total absences in a school year (Levy & Henry, 2007), and South Carolina defines truancy as either three consecutive days or five total days missed (Smink & Heilbrunn, 2005). The variability in these definitions creates inherent problems in understanding the extent of truancy across the nation.

As stated above, the Louisiana Children's Code (1990) defines truancy as five unexcused absences in one semester and mandates school attendance for youth between the ages of seven and eighteen. Louisiana law also requires the school to notify the child's parents on the third unexcused absence. Parents of elementary and middle school children found in violation are subject to fines, community service, parenting classes, or family counseling.

Most educational systems treat truancy as a discipline problem rather than addressing its underlying causes such as mental health disorders, family issues, and school or neighborhood problems (Egger, Costello, & Angold, 2003). Typically, school administrators and other professionals ignore truancy until the behavior becomes chronic or persistent (Baker et al., 2001; Dembo & Gulledge, 2009). Therefore, Dembo and Gulledge (2009) assert that, due to its close association with juvenile offending, truancy deserves more attention from criminologists; researchers; policy makers; and school administrators, counselors, and social workers.

The Louisiana legislature directly addressed childhood truancy for the first time in 1999 with the passage of the Truancy Assessment and Service Centers (TASC) Act (1999). This legislation sought to reduce truancy among elementary school students and thereby prevent school dropout and juvenile delinquency. It was determined that truancy represents the mechanism through which high-risk children could be most easily identified (Schroeder, Guin, Chaisson, & Houchins, 2004). …

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