The success of our schools performing its primary functions of teaching, educating, and socializing the young is predicted on regular school attendance. Truancy is rated among the major problems facing schools today (Garry, 1996). Schools in some larger cities have reported absenteeism rates as high as 50 percent per day (Allen-Meares, 2004). The issue of truancy compromises schools’ primary function and places our young people at risk. According to the Bilchik, truant students have the potential to lead a lifetime of unemployment, crime, and incarceration (Garry, 1996).
Truancy is often a symptom of a deeper problem. Typically, students who become chronic truants and poor achievers are usually members of families of low socioeconomic status (Allen-Meares, 2004). Students who are of a low socioeconomic status may inhibit a home environment that is less likely to be conductive for learning. There are many influences on truancy. Some of the possible influences are directed towards families that do not value education, education background of primary care taker, lack of parental involvement, inadequate social support from the family, negative relationship with parents, broken family, poor academic achievement, child unhappy at home, peer-group pressure, and students being bullied (Allen-Meares, 2004, DuBois, Eitel, & Felner, 1994, and Lin & McBride, 1996).
When students are not in the classroom, they are missing out on valuable learning time. When one-fourth of all students miss almost one day a week, there is a problem with poor achievement. The absent student cannot learn effectively and the rest of the class will probably lose learning time when the teacher slows the pace to allow them to catch up. Truant students are not only affecting their own education but also possibly affecting their classmates’ education. For many students, poor achievement is just the beginning of how truancy is impacting them. Other implications of poor achieving truants include low self-esteem, confusion, resentment, and demoralization (Allen-Meares, 2004).
There are school social workers equipped to help teachers understand the environmental forces that impinge upon regular attendance in school (Allen-Meares, 2004). Social workers work from the ecological perspective, and are in a position to assist the student’s school in understanding what their needs are in being motivated to be academically successful. Literature indicates that school social workers need to be saturating our youth in interventions to prevent truancy. Much of the literature on truancy focuses on middle and high school youth; a common theme identifies the attendance patterns of older students who did not begin in middle and high school but at a much younger age (Grootes & Faidly, 2002). It would be beneficial for youth to experience interventions for truancy heavily in elementary school.
Absenteeism usually shifts at some point in a student’s career, from being a symptom of a problem to becoming defined as “the” problem itself (Grooters & Faidley, 2002). High mobility is another factor to be linked to truancy and poor school achievement; frequent moves are much more prevalent in poor families (Allen-Meares, 2004). Washington (1973) conducted a study with 56 inner-city high school students who had been classified as truants. The purpose of this study was to examine the causes of truancy and categorize the reasons why students were motivated to be absent from school. Truants “adjustment to school work” proved to be the primary reason for excluding themselves from school. Truants recognize their academic weaknesses, such as their underdeveloped reading, writing, and speaking skills, disinterest in present course content, and frequent fear of and experience of frustration and failure with difficult course work (Washington, 1973).
Corville-Smith, Ryan, Adams, & Delicandro (1998) presented a study of the relationship between students’ attendance and the personal characteristics of the student, the student’s family relations, and school variables in a sample of 54 high school students. Absent students perceived their families to be less cohesive than the regular attendees, felt fewer acceptances by their parents, and their parental discipline was inconsistent and ineffective. Other findings from the study suggest that absent students were less likely to perceive school experiences favorably, felt inferior academically, experienced family conflict, and were less likely to be socially competent in their relations in class. Family problems were unlikely to be confined to the home and spilled over into the school, affecting student’s concentration, grades, and relationships with teachers and classmates (Corville-Smith, Ryan, Adams, & Dalicando, 1998). Benda (1987) supports that parental values and ambitions play a large role in children’s school attendance and that a supportive family is the most important source of a child’s attitude toward school attendance.
Baer (1999) indicates that the transition from childhood to early adolescence consists of major changes in a number of psychosocial dimensions. Pubertal timing and the degree of change such as the transition to junior high school bring a heightened potential for problems such as use of drugs and alcohol, the increase of school drop out, decline in academic motivation, and decreased interest in school generally. During this time of change the student is in need of being supported by all those involved with them. The author discussed how students making the transition to junior high school could be complicated by the development changes taking place.
Children tend to spent more time at home than any other place. Parents are a child’s first role models and greatly influence norms, values, and expectations. Parents can serve as productive models or as destructive models that behave in negative or rejecting ways and set demands that contribute to their children becoming truant (Cnaan & Seltzer, 1989). Research points out that truant children often receive insufficient parental attention and see this as a contributing factor to truancy (Cnaan & Seltzer, 1989). They also add that frequent relocation, performing domestic chores, and staying at home to resolve domestic conflicts contributes to truancy.
The social culture of school itself may put excessive stress on youth pushing them toward truancy. Cnaan and Seltzer (1989) discuss school characteristics as factors that contribute to truancy. Teachers inadequately trained to meet the needs of truant children, and the use of expulsion and suspension are part of this social culture. Educators not being encouraging and not having positive expectations are also seen as contributors of truancy (Cnaan & Seltzer, 1989; Washington 1973). Individual factors need to be looked at when addressing truancy. Some children come from positive home environments and attend good schools, but become truants because of disabilities (Cnaan & Seltzer, 1989). Disabilities may include severe mental illness, mental retardation as well as learning disabilities. These issues are prevalent and growing within our schools. Other individual characteristics associated with truancy include school phobia, school failure and low self-esteem.
A child is not only a product of family and the socialization agents of society, but also a reflection of Their environment (Cnaan & Seltzer, 1989). Environmental factors include peer-pressure, no value placed on education, availability of drugs and alcohol, neighborhood safety, and students being bullied (Cnaan & Seltzer 1989; Allen-Meares, 2004). Cnaan & Seltzer (1989) address the importance of the ecological perspective in addressing the issue of truancy. Factors that contribute to truancy affect urban students differently than rural students, inner city students differently than suburban students, black students differently than white students, boys differently than girls, and elementary school students differently than secondary school students. In addressing truancy every student must be assessed individually and not viewed the same because truancy is the common factor. Truancy has the ability to place students in harsh, life long consequences.
When students are not in the classroom they are missing out on valuable learning time and the absent student cannot learn effectively. Truancy may also be seen as a stepping-stone to delinquent and criminal activity. Garry (1996) reported many studies have documented the correlation between drug use and truancy; the University of Maryland found that 51% of female juvenile detainees not in school at the time of their arrests tested positive for drug use. Serious social problems, such as illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, political powerlessness, alienation, social deviance and crime, intergenerational dependency, and racial discrimination, stem from truancy (Cnaan & Seltzer, 1989). As discussed earlier, the truant student falls behind in their school or is not able to do the work because of not being academically prepared. They are more prone to drop out than catch-up (Garry, 1996). Truancy is a major barrier to learning. Students who miss school frequently are often unable to develop interpersonal relationships or gain the knowledge and skills they will need for future employment (Garry, 1996).
Many students are not prepared for the workforce because of not being able to read, fill out a job application, or find employment. The effect of unemployment combined with low paying occupations creates a low socioeconomic status group (Cnaan & Seltzer, 1989). The overwhelming majorities of truants are not able to acquire significant political power in a democratic society, and they are among the most passage clients of various welfare services (Cnaan & Seltzer, 1989). Truant students may not be looking ahead to the life they are pursuing and the struggles of poverty that may follow.
Another consequence of truancy is self-destructive behavior. Garry (1996) discussed the risk of truants becoming involved in drugs, alcohol, and violence leading to incarceration. Truants can find themselves alienated from their support systems. Intergenerational perpetuation of low level educational commitment and achievement is a consequence of truancy with long-term effects (Cnaan & Seltzer, 1989). Truancy can be a vicious cycle touching many lives. Children of truants and poor achievers can easily become truants themselves. Therefore, with the severity of these implications, there is a great need for interventions to combat truancy.
Research on dropouts indicates schools need to intervene earlier when addressing problems with student attendance. Much of the literature relating to truancy focuses on middle and high school youth, a common theme identifies the attendance patterns of older students did not begin in middle or high school, but at a much younger age (Grooters & Faidley, 2002). As stated earlier, it is important to view truancy through the ecological perspective. The interventions that are chosen to be implemented with truant students should address and involve the family, the social culture of the school, and the community. Encouragement and positive feedback for improved attendance assist in shaping the student into becoming a regular attendee.
Epstein and Sheldon (2001) provide strategies on how to increase and sustain student attendance. Their study found that communicating effectively about attendance with parents, providing a school contact person for parents to call, and rewarding students for improved attendance were three activities consistently associated with increased average daily attendance and reduced chronic absences. This intervention was designed to improve school-to-home and home-to-school communications, and to recognize good attendance. In doing this, parents had clear information about school attendance policies and the importance of attendance for student report card grades and classroom learning. Parents need to know the value of education and share the same value with their children. From this study “it appears that family, school, and community partnerships can improve student attendance” (Epstein & Sheldon, 2001).
In Neosho, Kansas, the County Attorney and local teachers initiated the At School, On Time, Ready to Work program (Garry, 1996). This program recognizes that the problem of truancy is not only with the child, but also with the families, schools, and community. The program provides intense supervision of the child, support and group therapy to the child, and support and education services to the parents of the child. The results of these interventions determined, that 12 middle school students enrolled during the school year 1994-1995, only one child became the subject of court petition, and the other students stayed out of the custody of the Department and Rehabilitation Services, with no reports of committed offenses over the summer.
Grooters and Faidley (2002) support truancy interventions being implemented in elementary school age children because attendance patterns do not begin middle and high school but at a much younger age. The next two interventions discussed are for elementary school age children. These two interventions are very different from each other. One addresses families through the ecological perspective, and involves the family, the social culture of the school, and the community. While the other one focuses on the child and culture of the school.
The Des Moines (Iowa) Public Schools (DMPS) initiated an attendance improvement program called Project REACH. REACH emphasizes improving attendance in the early years (grades 1, 2 and 3) of elementary school before long-term attendance patterns of poor attendance are established (Grooters & Faidley, 2002). REACH was developed through the Department for Human Services and DMPS and had community support and active involvement from District Five Judicial Court Judge, the Polk County Attorney’s Office, the Restorative Justice Center (mediation branch of the County Attorney’s Office), and the Youth Hall Center.
The school social workers were placed in a priority role of helping families who were dealing with attendance issues, as the issue of attendance frequently becomes the entry point in helping families with other issues that are affecting the lives of the children (Grooters & Faidley, 2002). Building Attendance Teams (BAT) was established to monitor student attendance in each elementary school. BAT communicated and worked with the school social worker on a regular basis to ensure that communication was established with parents of children who were developing excessive absences. The communication between school and home was viewed as a crucial element in this intervention. Communication allowed information of the child’s needs of home or at school to be shared.
REACH initiates communication with parents of children who missed between 7-10days. It is standard DMPS policy to send letters to inform parents of their child’s attendance when their child has missed 7 days and 12 days of school. BAT decides what further contact is to be made with the family and how it will occur. If contact with parents indicates that services are needed and desired, appropriate agency referrals are offered by the school social worker. It is the goal for Project REACH that though concentrated, high priority attention to students who are accruing frequent absences, increased involvement with the family and identification of their needs will bring a reduction in absences and assist the family in functional home and school success (Grooters & Faidley, 2002).
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