The Chronic Truancy Initiative, in a Weed and Seed target area in a midwestern urban community, is a low-cost program for reducing truancy among chronic truants in elementary schools. It was developed by a steering committee of a few key stakeholders, including principals, the truant officer, representatives from a child and family services agency, a mental health agency, and the juvenile court. The goal of the initiative was to address poor attendance and other problems within families of identified chronic truants who missed 20 percent or more of school days during a specified time period (approximately every six weeks).
School principals reviewed attendance lists at regular intervals to identify youth for inclusion in the program. Five possible steps were taken with students who missed 20 percent or more of school days during the specified time period. First, their parents or guardians received a form letter informing them of the specific number of days their child had missed; the letter also stressed the importance of compliance with the state compulsory school attendance law, while noting potential consequences for noncompliance, including prosecution. Second, two weeks after the initial letter was sent to parents, attendance was reviewed by the principal for improvement. If attendance had not improved, the student was referred to the truant officer, who then contacted the family’s home by phone or visit. A parent or guardian was required to sign a written acknowledgement of the child’s nonattendance. Third, if further intervention was deemed necessary, the truant officer forwarded relevant information to the community mental health agency or the child and family services agency. A caseworker was assigned for follow-up and services. Fourth, if attendance did not improve after two weeks, a community policing officer made a visit to the home with the truant officer, who informed the parents or guardians of available services and potential consequences for noncompliance. Fifth, if attendance remained unchanged shortly thereafter, further steps were taken, depending on the age of the youth. Under the state’s compulsory school attendance law, a warrant was sought for parental prosecution for students younger than 12 whose parents or guardians did not cooperate with the school.
An evaluation of the Chronic Truancy Initiative found that the program significantly improved school attendance among the targeted chronic truants. Notably, attendance significantly improved following the first two stages of the initiative. A key feature of the program is that few school resources are required, mainly the time it took principals to review attendance records and identify youth for inclusion in the program. This activity could be managed by other school staff, specifically the truant officer.
National Gang Center: Promising program structure
Mr. Tim Bynum
School of Criminal Justice
Michigan State University
560 Baker Hall
East Lansing, MI 48824-1118
Phone: (517) 355-2197
McCluskey, C. P.; Bynum, T. S.; and Patchin, J. W. (2004). “Reducing Chronic Absenteeism: An Assessment of an Early Truancy Initiative.” Crime and Delinquency, 50(2):214–234.