Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mentor Based Truancy Programs

Other states are having success with mentor-based truancy programs that focus direct attention on the problem areas of truancy, are less expensive, and enlist the participation of community partners to reach troubled youth. We support the implementation of this type of approach to solving truancy in our most troubled school districts. We believe that it is important to preserve the distinction between excused and unexcused absences as the Memphis program below does. Preserving this distinction is the best way to foster a positive working relationship between parents and school administrators in their districts and allow parents an active role in the process of drafting district policy at the school board level.

The Memphis program provides earlier intervention than was present in Nebraska before the passing of LB 800 last year by defining criminal truancy as being absent from school for five days without excuse. Nebraskans have good reason for being concerned that our former truancy law was ineffective, especially in urban areas that suffer from high levels of delinquency and drop out rates. Under the former law the county attorney was not brought in until the student had twenty unexcused absences, which in most cases meant they had many more than that in total absences and had missed so much school that they were in serious trouble academically if not already in the juvenile justice system because of delinquent criminal behavior. The Memphis statute is a much more aggressive law then our former law and would intervene earlier in school absences that most often lead to delinquent behavior.

Results of the Memphis, TN D.A. Mentor Program for reducing truancy:

Clear Success: The data show a clear reduction in truancy rates that are specifically linked to the Truancy Reduction Program. Prior to intake, the students in the program had a truancy rate of 0.105—that should be understood in the following way. Prior to intervention by the DA’s office and the Order Regulating Conduct, these students had unexcused absences 10.5% of the time. For every 100 school days, these students were truant 10.5 days. Following intake, the truancy rate drops considerably to 0.068. The rate further drops once a mentor match is accomplished to 0.056. In summary, the DA’s Truancy Reduction Program shows a marked improvement in truancy rates for youth in the program.

The Benefits of Volunteer Mentors: The D.A.’s Office has formed a partnership with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which will hire a Mentor Recruitment Coordinator for the truancy-based mentoring program. The coordinator position will be funded for one year by the grant money awarded by the Plough Foundation. The grant will also help fund administrative and office supplies for the program. “Our truancy-based mentoring program works. But we have struggled in recruiting adult volunteers to meet the demands of students in need of mentors,” admitted District Attorney Gibbons. “Frankly, recruiting mentors is a full-time job, and we are grateful to the Plough Foundation.

Overview of the D.A. Mentor Program:
The University of Memphis Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice

The District Attorney General’s office determined that juvenile delinquency prevention and deterrence could be achieved by firmly addressing truancy directly. In Tennessee, truancy is defined as having five unexcused absences. The following section provides a summary of how the program process functions. Once a student in a target school has five unexcused absences, the Advocate notifies the DA’s office. A letter from the designated truancy prosecutor is sent to the student’s parents or guardians. The parents are given an opportunity to review and explain any absences that were incorrectly deemed unexcused. If there are no reasonable excuses for the absences, the matter is required to be heard in court. Once the issue is presented in court, the Juvenile Prosecutor meets with the student and his or her parents to discuss prosecution options and possible intervention strategies, including the mentoring program.

Regardless of whether a student is placed in the mentoring program, all students are subject to an “Order Regulating Conduct”. Involvement in the DA’s Truancy Reduction Program is completely voluntary. Most parents are encouraged by the additional support available through the truancy program and the majority agrees to participate. The purpose of the program is not to prosecute truant students or parents, although prosecution under state statute may be warranted in some cases and aggressively pursued for parents and students not in compliance. Rather, the goal is to identify at-risk truant students and to offer an early intervention strategy that affirms parental responsibility, provides academic support and encouragement to students, and strengthens the relationship between local law enforcement and the school system in an effort to make the community safe.

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