Practice Goals/Target Population
Truancy is a problem for school systems across the nation and other countries. All truancy programs have a short-term goal of improving attendance; many also have longer-term goals of raising grades and graduation rates. Different interventions are designed to meet the needs of different populations. For instance, universal programs target all students in an elementary school, while indicated programs target youth with chronic attendance problems.
Most interventions to reduce truancy draw on a risk/protective factors framework A variety of characteristics have been identified that can contribute to the problem of truancy at the school, family, community, and individual levels (Baker, Sigmon, and Nugent 2001; Heilbrunn 2007; Hammond, Smink, and Drew 2007; OJJDP and USED N.d.). School factors include, among others, inconsistent and ineffective school attendance policies, poor record keeping, not notifying parents/guardians of absences, and an unsafe school environment. Family and community factors include, among others, negative peer influences, such as other truant youth; financial, social, medical, or other needs that pressure students to stay home to help with family; teen pregnancy or parenthood; and lack of family support for educational and other goals. Individual factors include, among others, a lack of personal and educational ambition, poor academic performance, low school attachment, unmet mental health needs, and poor relationships with other students.
Interventions designed to address truancy can include a variety of components. Klima, Miller, and Nunlist (2009) identified the following program components included in their review of truancy interventions:
- Academic remediation/tutoring
- Career/technical education
- Case management
- Contingency management
- Monitoring attendance
- Parent outreach
- Youth development
There are many different types of interventions, settings, and approaches/strategies for truancy reduction. Broad categories include systems change, court-based programs, school-based programs, and community-based programs. Many programs include elements from different program types to successfully meet the needs of local communities.
Systems change approaches generally involve the modification of existing policies and procedures that hinder localities from addressing absenteeism and truancy. For instance, many school districts specify suspension as a punishment for truancy, which ends up “pushing out” students. A change in such policies can support truancy-reduction programs to achieve positive outcomes. For instance, in-school suspension policies, detention, and use of alternative school programs each allow students to continue their academic progress in the school setting, rather than having unsupervised time outside of it (Seeley and MacGillivary 2006).
Court-based programs leverage the power of the court to coordinate and oversee the delivery of services that are identified for the truant youth, and often for the family as well. Programs can differ in how long they run, the number of times the youth/family appears before the judge, the role of a social worker or case manager, the representatives included, and the types of services overseen by the court. Many systems have established diversion programs that offer services after a petition has been received, but before a youth is adjudicated. These programs have various levels of connection to the court, some even being labeled “truancy courts.”
Other programs are school-based. These programs aim to identify truancy and absence problems before they reach a chronic level and patterns become entrenched and harder to reverse.
Finally, some communities address truancy through community-level programs. These programs recognize that chronic truancy is not an individual or family problem alone, but is a community problem that can best be addressed by collaboration among various systems in the community.
For information on components that may influence the effectiveness of truancy programs, please see “Other Information.”