Truants and Curfew Violators.
Truants and Curfew Violators
Status offenders also include truants as well as curfew and liquor law violators. Truants are those who absent themselves from school without school or parental permission. The national data on truancy rates are problematic for several reasons: One school district can define truancy differently than another district; sociodemographic characteristics of truants are not normally maintained, even by individual schools; and no consistent, central reporting mechanisms exist for data compilations about truants. For instance, one state may define a truant as a youth who absents himself or herself from school without excuse for five or more consecutive school days. In another state, a truant may be defined as someone who misses one day of school without a valid excuse.
Truancy is more likely to occur in urban schools than in suburban schools. Research suggests that truancy is a “gateway activity” (McNamara, 2008b, p. 47) for further problem behaviors ranging from gang behavior to substance abuse. For example, Chiang et al. (2007) found that about two-thirds of all male youth arrested while truant tested positive for drug use.
Truancy is not a crime. It is a status offense. Youth can be charged with truancy and brought into juvenile court for status offense adjudication. Truancy is taken quite seriously in many jurisdictions.
Several states have developed formal mechanisms to deal with the problem of truancy. The Family Court system of Rhode Island has established truancy courts to increase status offender accountability relating to truancy issues. Chronic truants are referred to the Truancy Court, where their cases are handled. The process involves the truant youth, the parents/guardians, a truant officer, and a Truancy Court magistrate. The purpose of the Truancy Court is to avoid formal juvenile court action. Youth can do this by obeying the behavioral requirements outlined, which include (1) attending school every day, (2) arriving to school on time, (3) behaving in school, and (4) completing classroom work and homework. Failure to comply with one or more of these requirements may result in a referral to Family Court or placement in a program administered by the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. The youth might be subject to increasingly punitive sanctions if the truancy persists following the Truancy Court hearing.
The Truancy Court also requires parents to sign a form that permits the release of confidential information about the truant. This information is necessary to devise a treatment program and provide any counseling or services the truant may require. Thus, the Family Court is vested with the power to evaluate, assess, and plan activities designed to prevent further truancy, and various interventions are initiated to enhance the youth’s awareness of the seriousness of truancy and the importance of staying in school.
Delaware has a truancy prevention program that is available throughout the state. Five judges deal with truant youth and their families, and they utilize an approach similar to the drug court model. The same judge works with the youth and the family throughout the process. Parents are encouraged to be responsible for their children, and the court collaborates with a number of social service agencies to work with the family and offer services to family members. Research suggests that this approach has been effective in reducing truancy in the state, and in helping youth stay in school (McNamara, 2008b).