Truancy: The Extent of the Problem
Chronic absences from school affect more than a student's grades. Absenteeism and truancy are often indications of deeper issues affecting the student, the school and the community as a whole. Some school districts estimate that as many as 75 percent of chronic truants eventually drop out of school. As a result, many states have extensively studied truancy and chronic absenteeism to determine the factors that contribute to them, the risk factors often associated with truancy, and how to prevent students from skipping school.
Factors Contributing to Truancy
There is no single reason for students becoming truants. However, many factors can lead to a student's decision to repeatedly skip school. These factors can come from the school and its facilities, from the student's home life, or from personal issues the student is experiencing.
The state of America's schools can play a role in students' willingness and motivation to attend. When students feel unsafe, unchallenged, or unimportant at school, they may decide not to attend. School-related factors contributing to truancy include:
- Poor supervision and maintenance of school facilities
- Safety issues, such as teachers and school officials failing to address behavioral problems
- Harsh punishments for minor infractions, such as automatic suspensions or an automatic "F" for being late
- Lack of notification to parents when a child is not attending or performing as expected
Similarly, many issues at home can make a child less likely to attend school. These factors include:
- Abuse or neglect by the child's parents or guardian
- Substance abuse by family members
- Parents' lack of interest in education
- Financial issues, such as single parents working multiple jobs to make ends meet
Finally, a student may be struggling with personal issues that prompt him or her to avoid school, such as:
- Low self-esteem, often due to poor grades
- Undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues or learning disabilities
- Substance abuse issues
- Lack of goals
Risks of Truancy
Truancy is seen by most experts as a bellwether indicating that a child is more likely to engage in other risky behavior. Truancy often acts as a "gateway" behavior that can lead to students trying drugs and alcohol, engaging in other criminal acts such as vandalism and theft, and ultimately dropping out of school altogether.
Strategies for Addressing Truancy
To help students avoid heading down the truancy path, many schools, organizations and government agencies have worked to develop strategies for keeping children in school. Rather than imposing ever-harsher penalties on students that usually increase truancy rather than prevent it, most successful truancy prevention programs address the factors contributing to truancy. Most truancy prevention programs include:
- Increased parental involvement, usually through notification of a child's truancy, joint counseling with the child and his or her parents, and family mediation
- Diversion from the court system through alternative programs, such as counseling and community service
- Individual mentorship
- Increased training for law enforcement officials on how to better handle truancy cases
Legal Ramifications of Truancy
Despite the shift from punishing truants to diversion and counseling programs to help address the root causes of truancy, some students still end up in juvenile court due to their chronic truancy or poor performance in alternative programs. Although truancy laws vary by state, every state has some way to enforce truancy statutes, often by punishing chronically absent students. Truants could be put on probation or ordered to perform community service. In severe cases, judges may even sentence truants to serve in a juvenile detention facility.
Additionally, many states seek to sanction a truant's parents or guardian. States may allow judges to fine parents, order them to take parenting education classes, or participate in family counseling.