Truancy and “Absentee” Parents: An Anecdotal Comparison from the Parenting Trenches

By Brittany Strickland, CFCC Student Fellow 2014-2015

During a recent Truancy Court Program (“TCP”) team meeting, some law students expressed frustration about the lack of parental involvement in the Truancy Court Programs. Ideally parents should be at the table to discuss truancy with the TCP team and their child each week. After working with students and hearing their stories, however, I understand why many parents cannot attend.

It is often said that truancy is just the “tip of the iceberg.” As such, the TCP model provides resources that are intended to address the underlying issues that result in truancy. Focusing on the result while ignoring the source is often ineffective. In many cases parental input would help the TCP team name and resolve the causes of a particular student’s truant behavior. Parents can provide clarity and detail that their young children simply cannot, and lack of parental input can be extremely frustrating for those of us trying to identify and address the root of truancy. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that these parents want the best for their children, even though they may not be in a place to provide the best.

I struggle with “absenteeism” in my personal life as well. I am a single mom of three, and I am a full time law student. I often spend 15 hours or more at school each day. During finals I have even less time to check my children’s homework, sign tests, or answer emails from teachers. Despite fitting the highly organized, typical law student “Type A” personality almost perfectly, my schedule is almost always out of synch with my children’s schedule. I miss music recitals and chaperoning school trips. Thanksgiving, which was once my favorite family holiday, is so consumed with preparation for my final exams, that I usually just pick up carryout. My ex-husband enjoys the large family meal with our children with the hope that Thanksgiving can be in my home again after I graduate.

I have a large network of support to help my family during law school, and I still struggle to find equilibrium between my education and my children’s education. Even with a bevy of resources at my disposal, it can be extremely difficult to make sure that the individuals with whom my children interact at school know that they have an invested parent rooting for them at home. As an “absentee” parent myself, I empathize with parents who also struggle with this balance. This is especially true when I discover that they are faced with a lack of resources, including homelessness, unaddressed substance abuse, lack of reliable transportation, households run by single parents, and limited employment and childcare options.

I want my children to succeed and do well regardless of whether I miss their school functions, and I absolutely believe that this is true for TCP parents, as well. It is extremely frustrating when there is a lack of parental involvement. The most productive approach, however, is to start with the premise that all parents want the best for their children; some may lack the supports that are necessary to provide the best. As long as the TCP remains committed to building strengths for parents and students alike, regardless of whether parental participation reaches ideal levels, the TCP will continue to effectively combat truancy by addressing the issues beneath the tip of the iceberg.

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