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Success Stories

Rhode Island Truancy Court

The Rhode Island Truancy Court program was started in 2000 by Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah as a pilot project in one high school and one middle school. The program consists of sending one magistrate and one court aide to a school to hold court sessions. Juveniles and their parents appear for court, where they are arraigned and given the opportunity to stay in the truancy court or to have their case sent to the formal court for trial.

Juveniles who successfully complete the truancy court requirements by the end of the school year (i.e., attend school every day on time and do all class work and homework and behave) have their cases dismissed. Many children choose to participate in the truancy court program to avoid a juvenile record. During each court session, the truancy court team (which usually consists of guidance counselors, teachers, mental health treatment providers, the parents, and the truant officer) reviews the juvenile’s attendance and compliance with court mandates. If the child does well, he or she receives positive reinforcement such as applause or compliments. If the juvenile does not do well, he or she faces consequences ranging from detention to removal from the home. Rhode Island Truancy Courts operate in 21 communities and 59 schools. Each year, 60 to 80 percent of the youth in the court improve their attendance; the majority improve their grades.

“Liz” represents the types of success stories seen in Rhode Island. Liz and her family moved to this country in 2000 and settled in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Liz attended the Calcut Middle School and entered the truancy court there in February of 2000 because she missed 28 days of school. Liz was the oldest of five children. Her mother required a Spanish interpreter during each court session. At first, Liz and her mother were extremely hostile to the court. Liz was failing all of her classes and refused to do work, despite the fact that she received individualized attention in a self-contained classroom. Often, Liz’s mother would threaten to move back to the Dominican Republic so as to not have to deal with the court. The court sessions were held weekly, and Liz received positive feedback when she did her work and consequences when she did not comply with the court requirements. In a short while, Liz’s minor successes turned into major successes and Liz felt empowered. On June 11, 2002, Liz’s case was dismissed due to compliance. Liz is now in the 11th grade at the high school and attends school regularly. She has every intention of graduating. Liz has continued to succeed despite the fact that her family has been homeless on a number of occasions since the court dismissal. Liz’s mother has decided to get her GED. Liz and her mother are now positive role models for the younger children in the family.

Liz credits her success and renewed interest in school to the court. According to Liz, “In the beginning I did not like the court because they made me do things I didn’t want to do. After a while I realized that the people in the court really cared about me and were nice to me, so I started doing my work and went from all F’s to A’s, B’s, and C’s. I want to graduate from high school now because of the court.”

Gulfton Truancy Reduction Demonstration Project

Houston's Gulfton neighborhood is a densely populated 3.2-square-mile apartment community where a majority of the residents are immigrants. Gulfton is consistently one of the highest crime beats in the city, according to the Houston Police Department. The crime concerns cited by Gulfton residents include crimes by juveniles, gang violence, violent crime, robbery, high rates of drug trafficking, alcohol-related crimes, prostitution, and high rates of property crime. Although crime overall is decreasing in the Gulfton area, crimes attributed to juveniles, such as theft and vandalism, remain consistent. In addition, socioeconomic, cultural, and community risk factors contribute to truancy among youth who reside in the Gulfton.

Most Gulfton parents face low economic status, language and cultural barriers, and limited opportunities for acculturation. Facing challenges such as these, parents are often unaware or unconcerned about the laws and rules governing sending their children to school. The Gulfton Truancy Reduction Demonstration Project is operated by the City of Houston Mayor's Anti-Gang Office, and it has developed a partnership among the Houston Police Department, the City of Houston Municipal Courts, and the Houston Independent School District.

The project strategy is implemented in three phases: Attendance, Referral, and Enforcement. The strategy allows law enforcement, school officials, and city employees to collaborate and reduce truancy through early identification, assessment, and intervention in addition to improving juvenile and parental accountability. The Truancy Reduction Project has also implemented a comprehensive public awareness and outreach campaign designed to educate the general public about truancy laws. The target populations for the intervention component are eighth and ninth grade youth enrolled at Jane Long Middle School and Robert E. Lee High School and their parents and guardians.

The Gulfton Truancy Reduction Project assists students with a variety of issues ranging from high-risk gang involvement and victimization to a lack of parental supervision and family support services. In particular, the project has consistently worked with an eighth grade student who was initially absent more days than she attended. In providing intervention services, it was discovered that the student was given the tremendous responsibility of maintaining the household while her parent and older sibling worked. Her interest in school diminished due to the lack of positive role models. Her mother attempted to discipline her for not attending school but was ineffective. The student's self-esteem and motivation level began to decrease. Her relationship with her boyfriend also contributed to the discord between her and her mother. Because the student was spending much time with her boyfriend, it was perceived that she was abandoning her family and household responsibilities. She eventually attempted to drop out of school and elope to her native country with her boyfriend.

After intensive mediation meetings with the mother, student, and school therapist, we discovered that a lack of discipline and guidance contributed to her disinterest and negative attitude toward her education. Nonetheless, the mother was referred to counseling services and the student agreed to begin attending school, but the agreement was short-lived. The mother notified the Truancy Project Manager that the conflict between them had increased and, consequently, the student had moved in with her boyfriend and her school attendance had worsened. Furthermore, the boyfriend's family was unfamiliar with the mandatory school attendance laws, which led to a lack of support and motivation for the student to attend school. After meeting with the student and the boyfriend's family, it was decided that a citation for failure to attend school was necessary. The student immediately became aware of the seriousness of the citation and the additional risk she imposed on the family. She began to attend school to avoid any further legal ramifications and soon realized the importance of attending school. She stated the following:

"I now understand that Susana [the truancy case manager] is here to help me and I am able to confide in her if I have any problems. She motivates and challenges me to attend school. I don't think that school is boring anymore. I attend school with the idea that it will help me in the future. The school day goes by fast because I enjoy attending school now, but the only thing that can make it boring sometimes is doing schoolwork that is too easy."

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