The Ability School Engagement Program (ASEP), developed in Queensland, Australia, is a truancy reduction program. The program is a police–school partnership that seeks to improve the legal understanding of truant and antisocial behavior for students and their parents by 1) raising awareness of truancy laws; 2) fostering perceptions of the legitimacy of the laws; and 3) empowering participants to willingly re-engage with school, and thereby increase their school attendance and reduce truancy.
The program involves youths, between 10 and 16, whose attendance in the three previous school terms is 85 percent or less, and who have no legitimate explanation (such as medical illness) for their absences from school. Youths and their families are drawn from one police district partnering with 11 schools that fall within the same geographic area as the police district.
Program Theory and Activities
A third-party policing (TPP) approach is used to frame the ASEP intervention (Mazerolle 2014). TPP involves a partnership between police and other non-police entities such as school representatives, who use legal provisions to address crime and disorder problems, including truant behaviors. For this program, police and school leaders explain Queensland’s legal response to truancy, also known as the Queensland Education Act 2006. The act mandates that schools respond to non-attendance through a four-stage legislative process, which includes 1) a warning letter sent to the parent or guardian of the truant youth; 2) a formal meeting with the parents to discuss their legal responsibilities; 3) formal notice from the principal warning the parent of formal prosecution; and 4) if all previous attempts are unsuccessful, prosecution action and subsequent financial penalties against the parent.
The ASEP program also adapts a family group-conferencing approach (Connolly and Masson 2014), which involves a facilitated group discussion of the problem being addressed, the effects of the negative behavior or event, explication of the contributing factors, and development and agreement of specific actions to improve future outcomes. Using this conferencing model, ASEP creates a facilitated forum for parents, students, police, and school representatives to meet at a mutually agreed upon location to discuss the issues contributing to persistent and unauthorized school absences. Using procedurally fair practices, the program seeks to 1) identify psychosocial issues contributing to a young person’s non-attendance at school, 2) raise awareness of truancy laws, and 3) create an action plan to support families’ efforts to re-engage students with school. The action plan can include the development of home routines to support school attendance, provision of school-based tutoring, and referrals to social support agencies to address complex psychosocial issues.
The program requires that a police officer monitor the action plan for 6 months and then conduct a short exit meeting, approximately 6 months after the family conference. Monitoring includes informal, ad hoc phone calls; home visits; and in-person attendance checks during school hours.
Four trained conference facilitators from the Department of Communities with experience in group conferencing for youth- justice and child-protection cases conduct the conferences. A police officer and school representative (i.e., guidance counselor, school principal) also actively participate to talk with youth and their families and to explain the effects of truancy and the relevant law. All school, police, and social representatives receive training on their roles in the conference.
Mazerolle and colleagues (2017) found that the experimental group that participated in the Ability School Engagement Program (ASEP) had statistically significant decreases in official school absences, compared with the control group.
There were no statistically significant differences between the experimental and control group in self-reported truancy.
Try to Go to School More
The experimental group reported more willingness to attend school more often, compared with the control group. This was a statistically significant difference.
Rate of Crime Indices
Bennett and colleagues (2017) found there was a greater increase over time in offending among the control group, compared with the experimental group. This was a statistically significant difference.
Mazerolle and colleagues (2017) used a randomized controlled trial to examine the impact of the Ability School Engagement Program (ASEP). The implementation of ASEP was evaluated to determine whether youths who participated in the program exhibited greater decreases in truancy and self-reported greater willingness to attend school or improve school attendance behavior, compared with truant youths who received the standard approach to managing truancy.
A program-dedicated police officer and designated school representatives from 11 highly disadvantaged schools that fell within one police district in Queensland, Australia, recruited youths and their parents to participate in the trial. To be eligible for the study, at least one legally responsible parent who could provide consent had to be willing to participate in a program conference and agree to complete follow-up surveys.
Recruitment was conducted on a rolling basis, and eligible and consenting participants were randomly assigned to the experimental or control groups following the completion of a baseline survey. Of the 319 eligible for the study, 102 truant youths and their families consented to participate in the study between October 2011 and May 2013. A statistician external to the project team used a random number generator to assign the 102 youths to either the control or experimental group. Fifty-one youths were assigned to the experimental group and 51 to the control group. Analysis of both groups at baseline indicated that the groups were equivalent on demographic factors such as age, gender, school level, family background, and truancy behaviors (specific information on the sample characteristics are provided in Study 2). In total, 98 students were included in the final analysis, with 50 in the experimental group and 48 in the control group.
The study measured official absences, self-reported truancy, and increased attempts to go to school more often. Students’ school absences were collected from the Queensland Education Department’s database, and a rate of absenteeism was calculated for each student, with partial-day absences counting as 0.25 or 0.5 of a day, as appropriate. Baseline absentee data was collated across three school terms prior to the date of their random assignment. For high school students, absenteeism was calculated using the proportion of unexplained or unauthorized absences. Since unexplained absences were not frequently recorded for primary school students, absences were calculated using the proportion of absences of any type. Post-intervention data was drawn from the three school terms immediately after receiving business as usual (for the control group) or the group conference and exit from the program (for the treatment group). Self-reported student perceptions of truant behaviors and willingness to attend school were collected through face-to-face surveys. Surveys were conducted immediately prior to random assignment. For the control group, follow-up surveys were administered 3 months after random assignment, and 6 months after random assignment; they were conducted 6 to 9 months after the exit meeting for the experimental group. Follow-up surveys were adapted from the Communities that Care survey (Bond et al. 2000).
Bennett and colleagues (2017) used the same study sample as Mazerolle and colleagues (2017) to examine the impact of the ASEP program on measures of crime.
For the full study sample, Bennett and colleagues reported that the average age of students was 13.0 years. A little more than half of the sample (53.0 percent) was male. Most of the sample was in secondary school (57.8 percent). Most of the sample (85.3 percent) was born in Australia, and 12.8 percent were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Status. The language spoken at home for most of the study sample (85.3 percent) was English, and 66 percent came from a single-parent household. While there were some differences between the control and experimental groups prior to random assignment, those differences were not statistically significant.
The study measured the rate of offending post-intervention. Official police data for all 102 students was collected and focused on all crime incidents recorded in the Queensland Police Records and Information Database (QPRIME), including arrests, cautions, and warrant records from January 1, 2007, to February 15, 2015. A review of criminal histories indicated that 20 (19.6 percent) students had a total of 90 recorded crime incidents, either pre-or post-intervention. There were no statistically significant differences in crime incidents between the control and experimental groups prior to random assignment. The rate of offending was calculated by dividing the number of crime incidents by the number of days available to offend between the family conference or standard truancy response and the date that the criminal history was pulled from QPRIME.
There is no cost information available for this program.
Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:Study 1
Mazerolle, Lorraine, Emma Antrobus, Sarah Bennett, and Elizabeth Eggins. 2017. “Reducing Truancy and Fostering a Willingness to Attend School: Results from a Randomized Trial of a Police-School Partnership Program.” Prevention Science
Bennett, Sarah, Lorraine Mazerolle, Emma Antrobus, Elizabeth Eggins, and Alex R. Piquero. 2017. “Truancy Intervention Reduces Crime: Results from a Randomized Field Trial.” Justice Quarterly
, published online April 21, 2017.
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:
Bond, L., L. Thomas, J. Toumbourou, G. Patton, and R. Catalano. 2000. Improving the Lives of Young Victorians in Our Community: A Survey of Risk and Protective Factors
. Victoria, Australia: Centre for Adolescent Health.
Connolly, M., and J. Masson. 2014. “Private and Public Voices: Does Family Group Conferencing Privilege the Voice of Children and Families in Child Welfare?” The Journal of Social Welfare & Family Law 36(4):403–14.
Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:Targeted Truancy Interventions
These interventions are designed to increase attendance for elementary and secondary school students with chronic attendance problems. The practice is rated Effective for improving attendance.Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
| ||Education - Attendance/truancy |