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Practice Profile

Targeted Truancy Interventions

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Effective - More than one Meta-Analysis Education - Attendance/truancy

Practice Description

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.

Practice Theory
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.

Practice Components
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
  • Counseling
  • Mentoring/advocacy
  • Monitoring attendance
  • Parent outreach
  • Youth development

Practice Settings
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.”

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Effective - More than one Meta-Analysis Education - Attendance/truancy
Synthesizing results across 16 studies, Maynard and colleagues (2012) found that truancy interventions demonstrated a significant overall positive and moderate mean effect size (0.465) on attendance. While overall the interventions improved attendance by an average of 4.69 days, the authors note that the post-intervention absenteeism rates remained above desirable levels. Klima and colleagues (2009) synthesized the findings from 35 outcomes across 22 studies (some studies assessed multiple sites or programs with multiple outcomes). The authors found that, overall, interventions designed to increase attendance and enrollment demonstrated a significant positive, though small, effect (0.191).
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11990 - 2009161725
Meta-Analysis 21973 - 2007353745

Meta-Analysis 1

Maynard and colleagues (2012) conducted a meta analysis to assess the impact of indicated truancy interventions on increasing attendance (or decreasing absenteeism).  A comprehensive search was conducted to locate relevant published and unpublished studies produced between 1990 and 2009 in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Studies included programs in school-, court-, and community-based settings (studies in residential facilities and psychiatric day programs were excluded). To be included, studies needed to focus on students in primary or secondary educational institutions who were chronically truant. Interventions targeted either the student and/or the parent and included a variety of components (e.g., counseling or other therapeutic intervention, behavioral intervention, mentoring, and pharmacotherapy).

Maynard and colleagues identified 16 studies.  Five studies utilized a randomized design (RCT), and 11 used a quasi-experimental design (QED). (The authors also identified and meta-analyzed the results of 12 single group pre-posttest (SGPP) design studies; because the SGPP design does not meet the minimum inclusion criteria for, the results are not reported here.) All included studies were conducted in the U.S.  Of the 16 studies, four were published in a peer-reviewed journal; the remaining studies were unpublished and disseminated as dissertations or theses (10 studies) or reports (two studies).  In addition to increasing attendance, a number of outcomes were included across studies, such as grades/Grade Point Average, behavior, achievement, and attitude toward school. These outcomes, however, were not assessed in the meta-analysis.

A total of 1,725 students participated in the treatment and comparison groups; of these, 902 students received the treatment and 823 were in the comparison condition. The majority of these participants were in middle school (31 percent) or high school (31 percent); elementary students were the target of intervention in only two of the studies. The mean age for students across samples was 13.73 years. Race/ethnicity was reported in 11 studies. For those reporting, Caucasian was the predominant group in five of the studies, African American in three, and Hispanic in three.

Authors reported the overall mean effect size for attendance outcomes. Mean effect sizes and their confidence intervals (CI) for each study were also reported. The authors assumed a random effects model across the studies. The researchers determined that the mean effect size for randomized control trials (RCTs) (g = .57) did not differ significantly from the mean effect size for quasi-experimental designs (QEDs) (g=.43). However, there was significant variance in effect sizes between studies, ranging from g = .00 to g = 1.175. A moderator analysis was conducted, but no moderators demonstrated a significant relationship with treatment effect.

Meta-Analysis 2

Klima and colleagues (2009) conducted a meta analysis to assess the impact of truancy interventions on increasing attendance or enrollment. The evaluation studies were published between 1973 and 2007. To be included in the meta-analysis, evaluations needed to include a comparison group equivalent on key variables (such as attendance patterns and academic achievement). Studies with high attrition or a single group pre/post-test design were excluded from the analysis.

The search for program studies identified 877 possible candidates; only 22 studies met the criteria for methodology and relevant outcomes. These 22 studies included data on 35 independent samples for the attendance outcome. These studies included a number of program types—alternative educational, mentoring, behavioral, youth development, and academic radiation programs—as well as alternative schools. The 35 samples included 3,745 participants in the treatment groups; the number of participants in the control groups is not reported. No information on the race/ethnicity or other demographic information is reported for the studies included in the meta-analysis.

Authors reported an overall weighted mean effect size for all studies using a random effects model, but no individual effect sizes or CIs were reported for individual samples or studies. The authors also reported an overall weighted mean effect size by program class (e.g., academic remediation programs, alternative educational programs, and so forth).

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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Other Information

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Maynard and colleagues (2012) conducted a moderator analysis to determine whether treatment effects varied by program type (school-, court-, or community-based), focal modality (group, family, mentoring, alternative education, and behavioral contracting), duration of treatment, collaborative interventions, or multimodal interventions. They found no significant differences in mean effect size between school-, court-, or community-based programs. Nor was there evidence to suggest that collaborative and multimodal interventions were more effective than single modal interventions. The length of treatment also did not demonstrate a relationship to the overall mean effect size; shorter-term interventions produced statistically similar effects compared with longer-term interventions. The authors note that these findings must be interpreted with caution because of the low number of studies included for each variable tested. In the moderator analysis conducted by Klima and colleagues (2009), three types of programs were associated with improved attendance—alternative educational, behavioral, and school-based mentoring programs. They found no significant effects for youth development, academic remediation, or alternative school programs.
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Maynard, Brandy R., Katherine Tyson McCrea, Terri D. Pigott, and Michael S. Kelly. 2012. “Indicated Truancy Interventions: Effects on School Attendance among Chronic Truant Students.” Campbell Systematic Reviews 10.

Meta-Analysis 2
Klima, Tali, Marna Miller, and Cory Nunlist. 2009. Targeted Truancy and Dropout Programs in Middle and High School. Olympia, WA.: Washington State Institute for Public Policy, Document No. 09-06-2201.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Baker, Myriam L., Jane Naby Sigmon, and M. Elaine Nugent. 2001. “Truancy Reduction: Keeping Students in School.” Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Hammond, Cathy, Dan Linton, Jay Smink, and Sam Drew. 2007. Dropout Risk Factors and Exemplary Programs: A Technical Report. Clemson, S.C.: National Dropout Prevention Center/Network and Communities in Schools, Inc.

Heilbrunn, Joanna Zorn. 2007. Pieces of the Truancy Jigsaw: A Literature Review. Denver, Colo.: National Center for School Engagement.

(OJJDP) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, USDOJ, and (USED) U.S. Department of Education. Truancy Prevention: Empowering Communities and Schools To Help Students Succeed. Web site [now defunct]. Rockville, Md. (accessed Aug. 29, 2008).

Seeley, Ken, and Heather MacGillivary. 2006. School Policies That Engage Students and Families. Denver, Colo.: National Center for School Engagement.
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Related Programs

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Following are programs that are related to this practice:

Positive Action Effective - More than one study
The program is designed to improve youth academics, behavior, and character, and can be used by schools, families, or communities. The program is rated Effective. Treatment students reported less substance use, problem behaviors, and violent behavior than the control group. There was a 41 percent reduction in bullying behaviors. Findings regarding sexual activity and disruptive behaviors were not statistically significant.

Functional Family Therapy (FFT) Effective - More than one study
A family-based prevention and intervention program for at-risk youths ages 11 to 18. The program is rated Effective. The treatment group had lower recidivism rates; and when the program was delivered by high-adherent therapists the results were even more significant. The program had a positive effect on youth by reducing risky behavior, increasing strengths, and by improving functioning across key life domains.

Aban Aya Youth Project Promising - One study
A school- and community-based program developed specifically for African American youth to avoid conflict and reduce drug/alcohol use. The program is rated Promising. Boys receiving one of the treatment conditions showed less of an increase in provoking behavior, school delinquency, substance use, and early sexual activity/risky sexual activity than those receiving the control condition. There were significant program effects for all problem behaviors for boys receiving community intervention.

Harlem (NY) Children's Zone – Promise Academy Charter Middle School Effective - One study
A charter middle school that seeks to give students in grades 6–8 a well-rounded, high-quality education. The program is rated Effective. The results of the study showed that enrollment has the potential to eliminate racial gaps in both math and English Language Arts test scores between white and African American middle school students in New York City. There were improvements in math, ELA scores, and fewer absences.

Dallas (Texas) Anti-Gang Initiative Promising - One study
A policing initiative that used intensive patrol and enforcement of curfew and truancy ordinances to reduce gang-related activity and violence among juveniles in Dallas, Texas. The program is rated Promising. There was a statistically significant decrease in violent gang-related offenses. There were no statistically significant reductions in gang-related offenses reported to police.

SNAP® Under 12 Outreach Project Effective - More than one study
A multisystemic intervention for boys under age 12 displaying aggressive and antisocial behavior problems. This program is rated Effective. It was associated with a significant decrease in children’s delinquency and aggression scores as well as a significant reduction in children’s levels of behaviors such as rule-breaking, aggression, and conduct problems. However, there was no significant effect of the program on the total numbers of convictions.

Gang Reduction Program (Richmond, VA) No Effects - More than one study
A comprehensive, multiyear initiative to reduce gang crime and violence among youth through a combination of strategies. This program is rated No Effects. The program did not have a significant effect on drug-related incidents or offenses, serious violent incidents or offenses, or school dropout rates in the target area. Additionally, the program did not have a significant effect on gang-related incidents, school attendance, or graduation rates in the target area.

Richmond (CA) Comprehensive Homicide Initiative Promising - One study
A problem-oriented policing program that offered a broad collection of enforcement and non-enforcement strategies, including a middle school mentoring program, designed to reduce homicide in Richmond, California. This program is rated Promising. It had a significant impact on homicide reduction in Richmond.

Boys and Girls Club – Project Learn Promising - One study
A non-school program that aims to improve the educational performance of economically disadvantaged adolescents through the provision of out-of-school educational enhancement and enrichment activities. The program is rated Promising. The average grades of treatment youth were significantly higher than control and comparison group youth. The treatment group had significantly fewer days missed, but there were no significant differences between the groups at any follow-up point in the frequency of

Gang Reduction Program (Los Angeles, California) Promising - One study
A comprehensive, multiyear initiative to reduce youth gang crime and violence through a combination of strategies. This program is rated Promising. It was associated with a significant decrease in the number of calls reporting shots fired and gang-related incidents in the target area. However, it did not have a significant effect on the number of calls reporting vandalism or gang or non-gang related serious violence incidents or on attendance levels of elementary, middle, or high schools.

Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® (TOP®) Promising - More than one study
This is a school-based program to prevent school failure and teen pregnancy by engaging teens for at least 9 months in curriculum-guided discussion and community service learning. The program is rated Promising. Participants experienced significantly lower levels of teenage pregnancy, course failure, and school suspension than students in the control group.

CASASTART No Effects - More than one study
A community-based, intensive case management model that aims to prevent drug use and delinquency among high-risk adolescents, ages 11 to 13. This program is rated No Effects. It had a few significant effects on behavioral outcomes, but did not have a significant effect on youths’ drug use or involvement in property crime. An evaluation showed negative effects of the program on prevalence and frequency behavioral measures for female participants.

School-Based Mentoring Program for At-Risk Middle School Youth Promising - One study
Offered one-to-one mentoring program to at-risk students in 7th to 9th grades in an urban middle school setting to reduce their discipline referrals and school absences and to improve their school connectedness. This program is rated Promising. The program was associated with a significant decline in the number of office disciplinary referrals and a significant increase in school connectedness. However, the program had no significant impact on unexcused absences.
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Practice Snapshot

Age: 5 - 18

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, Hispanic, White

Targeted Population: Truants/Dropouts

Settings: Courts, School

Practice Type: Academic Skills Enhancement, Cognitive Behavioral Treatment, Group Therapy, Individual Therapy, Mentoring, Truancy Prevention, Wraparound/Case Management

Unit of Analysis: Persons