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Responding to the evolving policy climate of de-criminalized truancy: 3 High-risk case study successes

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

School- and community-based responses to early indicators of children’s risk, like the unexcused absences that constitute truancy, should promote positive outcomes within economically disadvantaged school systems. Contextually valid responses must consider local or state policy that may criminalize school day infractions or implement disciplinary sanctions that remove students from regular school days (Hoffman, 2012). These policies contribute to the school to prison pipeline phenomena, where disproportionate numbers of children from disadvantaged backgrounds are incarcerated (Nance, 2016; Mallett, 2016).
In recent years, over a third of Hartford, CT students (n=7,470) qualified as truant under state statute, (i.e., > four unexcused school absences in a month or > 10 during the school year); moreover, 22.1% were chronically absent, compared to 9.9% statewide. Truancy is linked with juvenile justice system involvement. In 2016, Hartford had 466 truancy referrals to juvenile court, accounting for nearly 19% of the 2,525 statewide. Public Act 16-147, passed in Connecticut in 2017, created new requirements “to reduce juvenile justice involvement…in schools with high rates of school-based arrests, disproportionate minority contact, and a high number of juvenile justice referrals.” This changing policy landscape presents an opportunity to shape service provision and respond with school-based supports that prevent and reduce juvenile justice involvement. We present lessons learned from three CT programs to improve children’s outcomes:
Program 1: Aspire Connect Thrive (ACT) provides academic, social emotional development, and mental health supports to K-8th graders in two schools carrying a high trauma exposure rate in a disadvantaged community. ACT (n=210 students) is a longitudinal effort to reduce trauma symptoms and promote resilience at its treatment site, where 25% of students are categorized as chronically absent. ACT reports low levels of missing parent/guardian data indicating family engagement is far higher than typically seen in high-risk samples, where attrition and missing data rates often undermine treatment efficacy (Yohannan et al., 2017).
Program 2: The Truancy Prevention Project (TPP) is an intervention diverting high risk youth from future Department of Justice involvement in multiple Hartford public K-8th grade schools. TPP focuses on student accountability and family engagement for youth absent 10% of the school year (18 days/year) and at risk or not on track to meet grade level standards. Results indicate the average number of days a TPP student was absent prior to entering the program was 23.5 days; pre- and post-participation comparisons indicate 85% attended school for an average of 171 of 182 days after TPP engagement. Further, 64% of youth met their individualized academic goals, and 67% saw reductions in behavioral and disciplinary referrals.
Program 3: 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) are federally-funded after school programs offering academic enrichment opportunities to students attending high-poverty, low-performing schools. The present study (n=9,138) assessed the relationship between number of years between 2011-2017 students attended 21st CCLC programs in CT and academic, behavioral, and attendance outcomes. Results indicate that multiyear student participants had significantly higher rates of school day attendance and a nonsignificant but encouraging trend for reductions in mean number of disciplinary infractions.


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