A Different Approach to Addressing Truancy

By Navneet Pal, CFCC Student Fellow 2012-2013

The Truancy Court Program run by the Center for Families, Children, and the Courts uses therapeutic jurisprudence and preventive law to address the issue of truancy. Through this approach, teachers (and/or other school officials), judges, volunteers, mentors, and parents work together to help students overcome obstacles that lead to excessive absences. When we punish students, we don’t eradicate the reason behind their truancy, thus setting them up for an endless cycle of absences and punishments.

Truancy programs are in effect in other states. However, the programs are run differently within each state to address the underlying problems that are unique to every school, district, or county. For example, Kanawha County, West Virginia has taken a very different approach, where a student who refuses to attend school can be removed from his or her home and put in a shelter. Placement in a shelter is a last resort, only used when a student refuses to attend school. Prior to that step, the circuit court system, school officials, social agencies, and parents work together to help students overcome attendance issues. In Kanawha County, after a student has had five unexcused absences, parents receive a legal notice from the school system, and a meeting is scheduled with the student, parents, and the County Magistrate. Then, the student has a court hearing and is put on probation. The student is only put in a shelter after all these steps are taken and the student has still refused to attend school.

Not all students will benefit from the Truancy Court Program. Many might disregard the effort that others, such as parents, teachers, judges, etc., are putting in for them. Kanawha County’s answer to these students is taking them from their homes and putting them wherever space is available. Many problems can arise out of this situation: children who are in more need of shelters can be left out because truants are taking over the shelters’ resources, which is an issue within itself. Other problems occur when the truants are taken away from their families, communities, and schools and put in an unfamiliar environment. They may also fall behind in schools because of different curriculums – which may lead to more absences, placing the student in a never-ending cycle of truancy.

Students who have excessive absences may fall behind in school or drop out altogether. Those who drop out of school can end up becoming involved in illegal activities or in jail.  Therefore, truancy programs are important and helpful to students in most situations. Unfortunately, there are students, such as the ones being addressed in Kanawha County, West Virginia, who will not want to or be able to benefit from truancy programs. Placing them in shelters may scare them into changing their habits, but doing so may also harm other children (who are in need of shelter services), as well as put more obstacles in the truants’ paths, preventing them from attending classes and undermining the objectives of the truancy program.

West Virginia has implemented a statewide effort to battle truancy. A 2012 survey report from the state (link below) shows that the truancy initiatives have resulted in a reduction in the number of absences from school and an improvement in school achievements, among other successes.

Read about West Virginia’s Truancy Program & the survey report:

Read about Kanawha County’s truancy initiative:

0 thoughts on “A Different Approach to Addressing Truancy

  1. I agree that Truancy Court Programs (TCP) are beneficial for many students in the school systems. TCP seeks to address the underlying problems that take place in a student's life outside of school. Once these problems are revealed, members of the TCP team can provide students with the necessary support and services that will hopefully help cure their truant behavior. After working as a member of a TCP team for several weeks now, I do not believe shelters should be the last resort in resolving the truancy problem that faces many of our students. In fact, shelters avoid rather than address the problems that are the reason behind truancy. What will happen after these students leave the shelters? I personally do not feel as if anything will be accomplished from sending students to shelters other than forcing students to attend school. That does not solve the underlying problem. The article states that “the purpose of emergency shelters is to provide a supportive environment for children reeling from family dysfunction, physical or emotional abuse, neglect, the loss of family or a failed placement in a foster home.” There are other ways to provide students with supportive environments other than removing them from their own homes. Perhaps schools could provide students with the appropriate support either through guidance counselors/social workers or after school programs that help students realize there are people who care about their education and future.

  2. This was an interesting read. I believe that truancy court programs are beneficial. But I think the way it is implemented is what determines the positive outcome for truant students. By placing a student in a shelter (even if it is a last resort option) it may detract from the point of getting the student involved with the truancy court program, which is to stop and prevent truant behavior. Perhaps providing another alternative to home removal may be advantageous for those involved with the truancy court program in West Virginia. As you mentioned in your post punishing students does not eradicate the behavior. But perhaps getting the student to understand the consequences of their behavior and making them take control in remedying the situation will be better. Only time will tell.

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