What is Truancy?
Truancy is any unexcused absence from school. State laws vary on the number of absences and the criterion age of the offender, but all states recognize truancy as criminal behavior. Truancy is considered a status offense – an act that is a crime due to the age of the offender. Truancy is a concern for all communities; some metropolitan areas report thousands of unexcused absences each day, creating a substantial problem for schools, law enforcement, and the larger community.
Causes and Consequences
Truancy is recognized as a serious issue because it is often the result of one set of problems and the cause of others. Truancy is frequently the result of deep-seated problems with substance abuse, physical abuse, mental and physical illness, or poverty serious enough to impair a child’s ability to attend school regularly. With excess time on their hands, many truants get in trouble with the law and develop substance abuse problems that further inhibit their ability to attend school. Missing school causes students to fall behind in their studies, making a return to class harder with each day missed.
Causes can be categorized in three realms: school factors, home and community factors, and personal factors. School factors include poor record-keeping that makes truancy difficult to spot early on; a lack of effective and consistently applied attendance policies; an unwelcoming atmosphere or uninteresting curricula and teaching methods; and inadequate identification of special education needs. Home and community factors include family health and financial problems; parents who do not understand the importance of education; pressures arising from teen pregnancy or parenting; and safety concerns during the commute to school. Personal factors include a student’s intrinsic motivation, own physical and mental health and future orientation. While truancy among elementary aged children is generally due to family issues, among middle and high school youth personal factors play a bigger role.
Truant behavior is extremely costly to society. In the short run, truants often engage in criminal behavior. Crime carries with it a cost to the victims and to the community in terms of law enforcement and corrections expenditures. In the longer run, chronic truants are highly likely to drop out of school. Studies show that each high school dropout costs over $800,000 over the course of his or her life. These costs are incurred as a result of lost income taxes due to unemployment and lower salaries, and higher social service expenditures and criminal justice costs.
A wide range of options is open to schools and communities interested in combating truancy. Programs that reduce unexcused absences generally fall into one of three categories: school or district programs, court programs, and community programs. School districts can begin by involving parents in school activities before truant behavior ever becomes a problem, and immediately notifying parents of problems when they arise. Many schools have school attendance review boards that bring together parents, truant students, school representatives, and perhaps social service or mental health representatives to discuss the importance of school attendance and work out an attendance plan. Many courts have reorganized to form special truancy court dockets within the juvenile or family court. Consolidation of truancy cases results in speedier court dates, more consistent sentencing, and makes court personnel more attuned to the needs of truant youth and their families. Community programs bring together schools, law enforcement, social service providers, mental and physical health care providers, and others to help stabilize families and reengage youth in school.
Visit the rest of our website to learn about effective practices to combat unexcused absence, and to connect with others working to reduce truant behavior in communities across the country.
Contact NCSE for technical assistance in evaluating school practices or in developing responses to attendance problems. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance!