• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Wednesday 17th December, 2014

Restorative approach to truants shows promise when matched with family support

strong>In compulsory education systems the law provides a final resort when children and young people fail to attend school regularly. But a response to chronic truancy based on restorative justice and tailored family support appears more constructive than seeking a court order.That is the conclusion suggested by a study in and around the city of Spokane by researchers from Washington State University. They found that youth who had persistently truanted were significantly more likely to graduate from high school or obtain an equivalent qualification after being referred to an innovative intervention known as the West Valley Community Truancy Board (WVCTB).Chronic non-attendance and failure to complete high school are known risk factors for many adverse outcomes; in addition to low educational attainment and poor economic prospects, they include drug use, criminal involvement and imprisonment. In the United States, it has been estimated that each year’s dropouts from high school cost the economy more than $240 billion in lost earnings and tax contributions over the lifetimes of those young people who fail to graduate.“Multisystemic” preventionMany factors contribute to truancy, ranging from lack of parental supervision, parental substance abuse and negative attitudes to education, to attending a particularly large school, low morale among teachers, ineffective attendance policies, bullying and students feeling a lack of socially or academically disengaged. The multiple risk factors associated with truancy and the different contexts in which they can arise, create an obvious case for “multisystemic” prevention.In Washington State, the WVCTB works with young people and their families who are facing juvenile court intervention following between five and seven “unexcused” absences from school during a month, or ten such absences during a year. Although the school districts where they live are legally required to file truancy petitions to the court, these are immediately “stayed” to allow the community truancy board to intervene.As part of a broadly “restorative” approach, students and their families attend a conference with the community board, whose members include school administrators, and volunteers from social service agencies and businesses, as well as juvenile court probation counselor. Together they discuss barriers preventing the young person from attending school regularly and agree a contract of specific steps to improve future attendance.Check and ConnectBeyond this, the program employs a specialist probation counselor from the juvenile court to work in schools, overseeing each contract and applying a well-evidenced approach known as Check and Connect to mentor individuals, monitor their progress and arrange home-school support. As a preliminary to deciding what support is likely be needed, the counselor assesses young people for concerns such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, family issues and problems at school. Assessments and support can be adjusted in the light of events, including any further truanting.The researchers compared the educational attainment of 132 students referred to the WVCTB from four high schools with those of 66 students with similar truancy records at three other schools that had not attended a community board, or experienced the Check and Connect approach. Although not a randomized controlled trial, the “quasi-experimental” design of the study included careful matching between students in the intervention and comparison groups, to ensure they were similar in their ages, background characteristics and circumstances.Students’ records were checked four years after the original WVCTB referrals to discover whether students had graduated from high school, obtained an equivalent General Educational Development (GED) qualification, were still continuing in school, had dropped out, or had transferred out of the area. Excluding students who had moved away, the results showed that 82 per cent of the WCVTB group had graduated or obtained a GED, while 18 per cent had dropped out. In the comparison group, 64 per cent of pupils had graduated or obtained a GED while 36 per cent had dropped out These are promising results. They also leave the way open for further studies –on a larger scale and using randomized intervention and control groups – to further investigate the effectiveness of truancy prevention that combines a restorative approach with multisystemic support. It would also be useful to assess other outcomes in addition to educational qualifications and to examine how the results were related to the extent and range of risk factors in the lives of students who truant. ************ReferenceStrand, P.S. & Lovrich, N.P. (2014). Graduation outcomes for truant students: An evaluation of a school-based, court-engaged community truancy board with case management. Children and Youth Services Review, 43, 138-144.

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