child laughing

Who is skipping?

Who is really skipping school and why does it matter?

         In my continuing series on Chronic Absenteeism, in order to get an understanding of the faces not attending school during the day, it is necessary to elaborate on certain statistics. The numbers are important to understand the scope of the issue, specifically the role of low socioeconomic status and ethnicity. A study published by Johns Hopkins University (2013) analyzed surveys completed by New York City students. Over the course of a three year study, 60,000 participants were included. Many participants showed above average rates of chronic absenteeism. In particular, the highest rates of chronic absenteeism were in African American, Latino, and high‐poverty students. The study goes on to explain:

“44% of African American, 47% of Latino, and 44% of high‐poverty/low‐ income students (free and reduced‐price lunch eligible) are chronically absent and only about a third [of all participants] are solid attenders. Latinos have both the highest rate of chronic absenteeism and the lowest rate of solid attenders.”

          The more concerning trend, is that chronic absenteeism rates in New York are very high among 2011-2012 students in Pre‐K. The trend gradually declines in elementary school, with fifth grade showing the lowest rate of absenteeism. The overall average of those chronically absent citywide in elementary school was 18%, with 4% severely chronically absent. However, from sixth grade to high school, chronic absenteeism rates rose steadily and plateaued in high school to about 35%. Even at the lowest rate, this still reports about one in four students were chronically absent.

           On Connecticut’s State Department of Education website, (you can use this link to download the Excel sheet) the numbers from the 2013-2014 academic school year mirrors the ethnicities most effected in the results of the Johns Hopkins Study. African American and Latino students had the highest rates of absenteeism across districts. There is a difference however, between New York and Connecticut with the pattern of chronic absenteeism.  The elementary school levels (K-3) with the higher rates of chronic absenteeism in the Greater Danbury region were in New Fairfield (3.5%) and New Milford (4.9%). Meanwhile, Danbury had the highest rates of chronic absenteeism (5.9%). The statistics flipped in high school where chronic absenteeism in New Fairfield was the highest (17.9%), New Milford was second, (15.6%), and Danbury was the lowest (6.9%).

           There are various factors that may contribute to why these numbers differ widely from district to district. One example is how some districts in the area have a policy that determines that three tardies counts as one absence. Having this type of policy may contribute to the higher rates of chronic absenteeism because there is not an equal standard of counting absences across districts. Other factors that may contribute to the way districts handle the data includes: excused absences (medical), unexcused absences (vacations), barriers for child care (due to work/transportation), and the child’s motivation to go to school. The underlining point is that if different methodologies of counting absences exist, it is important that the numbers be adjusted to an equal standard to reflect each district accurately. Additionally, it is also important that issues based on culture, socioeconomic stature, and race be identified to bring the conversation to the people that need to be in the conversation the most; parents. While the reasons may vary across districts, and policies may differ, parents are the key to changing the pattern as early as elementary school before it is too late.


Footnotes:

           If you have insights into your own reasons or factors why chronic absenteeism persists, I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to email me at my contact information listed in the header above or leave a comment below.


References:
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Reasons to skip school-

             It occurred to me while reading the Observer that another point of view on Chronic Absenteeism exists; students have a good reason to skip school. This is a thought that I recall having every now and then as a kid. On early school mornings, before the sun peeked over the hill, as I waited for my alarm to burst to life with a cacophony of music and bells, competing thoughts would jostle my brain. Thoughts of how, on the one hand, school is amazing because my friends were there and the new material I learn would help me as an adult.

          Yet, on the other hand, school merely detracts from other important aspects of life. The most biting thought was of missing quality time with my family left me solemn. How can an absence to attend a service mourning the loss of a loved one be understood, yet no tolerance exists for an absence to attend a movie with that loved one before they die? While not a typical view point, a discussion that counters previous posts should be included to examine the spectrum that makes up this complex issue.

          It raises the question, should we continue to hold stead fast to the traditional policies that were intended for the generations prior? I am curious, please let me know your thoughts and if any other opinions that exist out there.


 References:

Juvenile Review Board Description

The Juvenile Review Board (JRB) is something that I believe is crucial to every court system. The goal of the JRB is to reduce the number of youths who are at risk of being put into the school to prison pipeline. The mindset of keeping youth as productive citizens is way more appealing than planning for the youth heading to the prison system.  Perhaps that is why the JRB is an intuitively beneficial strategy.

Since the previous post has explained the FWSN, we can now cover the Juvenile Review Board (JRB). The JRB is a combination of Police, Social Workers, School Officials, Juvenile Court Officials, Clergy, and Community members who meet regularly to offer children and their families a positive alternative to the Juvenile Justice System.

What does it do?

Connecticut’s Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney Fran Carino explains, that the JRB is available to police, schools, and parents to help to children and families as an alternative to the Juvenile Court System. The juvenile may be referred by any school, police, juvenile court, adult court, local youth-serving agencies, in addition to parents and self-referrals.

The JRB develops strategies to promote responsible behavior by juvenile offenders, and help families solve the problems that may be at the root of inappropriate behavior, while considering the needs of the victim. The possible diversions may include: psychological evaluation, substance abuse assessment, counseling, positive youth activity, community service, after school activities, interview/research & essay, restitution, apology, journal, and monitoring. After completion, the juvenile returns to JRB to be evaluated.

Who is it for?

Services include prevention and intervention programs for: delinquents, pre-delinquents, pregnant youth, parenting, and troubled youths that prior to the child’s 18th birthday, he/she has committed a criminal (non-felony) offense or a FWSN offense (See previous post), and the juvenile was not previously referred to the JRB or the court. The juvenile admits responsibility for the offense. The child and family must agree to the referral to the JRB otherwise the only option is the court system.

Who can operate the JRB?

While there is not a JRB in Danbury, Connecticut yet, there are two located in Bethel, and New Milford Connecticut. The person who manages cases for Bethel for the JRB is the Youth Officer in the police department, and the Youth Agency for New Milford. Danbury is also seeking to operate out of their youth service bureau. The reason that the different public sectors are able to accomplish the same task even through different departments is due to Connecticut General Assembly Statute Section 10-19m. (Formerly Sec. 17a-39) which grants the youth bureaus the authority to manage the cases.

Utilizing a JRB is important because youth need to be given an alternative than the current court system. According to the article published by A.S. Burke (2011):

“It is undeniable that teenagers are less mature than adults. By their very nature, they are less experienced and less developed than adults and are, therefore, less culpable for their actions than adults who commit similar acts. Teenagers make poorer decisions than adults because of basic psychological, neurobiological, physical, and developmental differences.”

This article accentuates the point that the youth that are at risk, need guidance and direction instead of punishment which is intended for an adult. Since youth are not adults, emphasis on corrective actions aimed at their appropriate age level is a better use of time, money, and investment in the youth’s future.


Footnotes  & Resources:

          While I do not have all of the answers, I have trouble believing, and finding proof, that something like or similar to the JRB is in someway harmful to the community. The cost of diverting youth away from the court system seems more promising than holding potential back behind bars.

         If you are interested in finding out more about Connecticut law, check out the JRB Presentation at Connecticut’s Juvenile Law website to find out more about how to set up a JRB in your area.


References:

Burke, Alison S. Under construction: Brain formation, culpability, and the criminal justice system. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry Volume 34, Issue 6, November–December 2011, Pages 381-385 https://www.readbyqxmd.com/read/22115609/under-construction-brain-formation-culpability-and-the-criminal-justice-system

Connecticut General Statutes. Chapter 164: Educational Opportunities. http://www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/chap_164.htm

Fran Carino’s JRB Powerpoint- http://www.francarino.com/WEBJRB1.pdf

The Family with Service Needs Referral (FWSN) and the relation to Chronic Absenteeism

Since last time:

       The information that I have been seeking so far has been interesting. However, before diving into the data for the district and what it means, there is a need to explain some terms that I have come to realize are specific to this region. One in particular, is the Family with Service Needs (FWSN) referral. The FWSN impacts the way that the state processes juveniles (defined as younger than 17 years of age) in the juvenile court system. After outlining the referral, an explanation of the impact will follow.

What is a FWSN?

        According to the Connecticut Juvenile Courts, a Family with Service Needs (FWSN) referral in Connecticut is reserved for a juvenile who has:

  • Run away from home without good cause
  • Is beyond the control of their parent(s) or guardian
  • Participated in indecent or immoral conduct
  • Been truant or is habitually truant to school
  • Been continuously and overtly defiant of school rules
  • at the age of 13 years old or older, engaged in sexual intercourse with another person within two years of age and 13 years old or older of the juvenile.

       Any parent, educational staff, probation officer, mental health practitioner, police officer can make a FWSN referral. While this list above encompasses a large umbrella, this is not the same as a juvenile delinquency charge. A delinquency charge is defined as a juvenile who is charged for violating: 

  • Any federal or state law
  • An order of the Superior Court
  • Committing an infraction (if under 16 years old), or
  • Violating a municipal or local ordinance (if under 16 years old) other than an ordinance regulating behavior or a child in a family with service needs.

     There are twelve juvenile matter courts in the state which handle these matters, one of which being the Juvenile Supreme Court in Danbury, Connecticut. The cases may be handled by the Juvenile Probation Officers who are acting on behalf of the child’s best interest in addition to the community’s safety. Once the FWSN referral is received, the juvenile probation officer remains with the case to the end. There are three routes that may be discussed and pursued: require the child to make restitution, perform community service, or place the child in a program for treatment and supervise the child for up to 6 months. According to the information from Connecticut state, approximately half of all juvenile cases are handled this way. The other options available to the Juvenile Probation officer, is to put the juvenile on vocational probation/supervision or involving the Department of Children and Families (DCF) if the case indicates a need for it.

       The other option available for the FWSN referral is to pursue Judicial Handling. This is the other half of the cases that are handled. To cover this process briefly, this is typical if a juvenile is not willing to cooperate with probation, is the second time being referred, or has committed a more serious crime. At this point, legal representation enters the process.

         Through these events, there are a a few possible outcomes. Charges can either be dismissed or “nolled” (short for the Latin “nollo prosequi,”). Utilizing the nolle, the case against the juvenile is dropped, however the prosecution retains the right over next 13 months to reopen the case. After 13 months, if the juvenile has remained out of the court and other charges, the nolle is entered on the court record and the child is released from any further court involvement and the records are removed.

What is the connection to

Chronic Absenteeism?

      The FWSN is directly connected to chronic absenteeism through the financial aspect, as well as, the educational aspect. According to the Justice Policy Institute, while the cost of keeping a juvenile in the court system fluctuates, in Connecticut, $607 is spent for every juvenile in the system every day. Roughly, $221,000 every year to process and utilize the juvenile court system. This includes juveniles who are not attending school as the reason of their referral.

      The issue of chronic absenteeism comes at a cost for the juvenile, who is missing out on vital education, and at the cost of the state, for processing the case. Another factor which compounds the issue is the court dates, and other meetings, that are mandatory to resolve the case. In order to meet the demands of probation and the judicial system,  a burden might be placed on the juvenile which farther removes them from learning the material in school that they need to succeed.

       A model of change seems to be in effect recently for first time offenders, that promotes the Juvenile Probation Officers to pass the FWSN referral to the local prevention agencies. Currently in the area there are two ways to accomplish this, one previously mentioned, is a Juvenile Review Board (JRB), the other is a local agency named Connecticut Junior Republic (CJR).

        In Danbury, there is not currently a JRB, the trend is to refer the cases to CJR. Once the FWSN is received at CJR, an intake is done to understand the juvenile service needs. The juvenile is the provided opportunities such as support groups, homework help, and counseling. This type of work is accepted by the courts and promotes cases to be processed without the juvenile entering the court systems. A program such as CJR seems to be on the track of restoring the youth supports instead of lining up with the courts. If there is a chance to evolve this beyond its current scope, or support this type of practice, then I highly recommend it for communities that police support is not congruent with the needs expressed by the community where a JRB is not available.


Footnotes:

Check out the Full Cost of Juvenile Incarceration that the Indiana Juvenile Justice Blog has published. The bottom line of how much a juvenile costs in the system really focuses the perspective from a taxpayer.

More information on FWSN can be found on the State of Connecticut Government website


References:

Connecticut Court Support Services Division-Juvenile probation http://www.jud.ct.gov/CSSD/juvprob.htm

Connecticut Junior Republichttp://www.ctjuniorrepublic.org/

Free Dictionary by Farlex. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Nolle+prosequi

Justice Policy Institute. http://www.justicepolicy.org/research/8477

First Steps- What are the schools doing?

Chronic Absenteeism is an issue that schools are beginning to hone in on. One initiative at Danbury High School in Connecticut, is called “Twilight”. The initiative, is the result of the Danbury Board of Education accepting the Nellie Mae Grant to for a coherence program. The vision behind this program is academic-based after-school program. Currently, Twilight is focused on helping freshman students who have failed math and science in the first semester of their Freshman year. Once the students who have failed are identified, they are offered opportunity to stay after school twice a week to redo the first semester subject matter after school. This is accomplished by having staff assisting the students, as well as being provided transportation from the school bus company, to reach their homes. Once the course is completed, the first semester credits that were initially lost, are recovered, and students will not have to repeat the course next year and lose valuable time.

This is a smart approach, because students will not be held back, while at the same time they will understand the material that they will need for the next year. The Twilight initiative reports to the Student Governance Council at Danbury High School. The results show that for the past two years, since twilight began, the chronic absenteeism rates at the High School have dropped in about half. Is this focus on the academics the way to reduce kids from being absent and by proxy, decreasing their risk of entering the jail system?

I believe that this is one part of the issue, however, it is not the complete picture. I believe that the Academic vision is well-suited for high school but not for the younger grade levels. Additionally, for 112 students who were chronically absent in the past academic year (2013-2014), what lead to the empty chair in the classroom? According to a study by Balfanz, R., & Byrnes, V. (2012), published by The Everyone Graduates Center, the reasons can be divided into three broad categories:

  • Students who cannot attend school due to illness, family responsibilities, housing instability, the need to work or involvement with the juvenile justice system.
  • Students who will not attend school to avoid bullying, unsafe conditions, harassment and embarrassment.
  • Students who do not attend school because they, or their parents, do not see the value in being there, they have something else they would rather do, or nothing stops them from skipping school.

To achieve an 100% attendance rate every day is unrealistic. However, if efforts can be focused on these core three areas, in addition to projects like Twilight, then I believe that all of the pieces will be addressed.

What are some things that can be done to address these topics? Included below are some resources to refer to:

Bullybust

10 ways to be an upstander

Attendance Works– social media tools, banners, and posters


In the following weeks, the next topics to explore are:

  1. WHAT DOES THE DATA SHOW?
  2. EXPLAINING THE NUMBERS
  3. WHAT IS A JRB ?
  4. WHAT IS THE CORRELATION WITH THE ARRESTS/COURTS?

References:

Balfanz, R., & Byrnes, V. (2012). Chronic Absenteeism: Summarizing What We Know From Nationally Available Data. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools.

Danbury Public School Board of Education, September 10, 2014 Meeting Minutes. Page 18. http://www.danbury.k12.ct.us/bbadmin/bdmeetings/9-23-14%20boe%20packet.pdf

Everyone Graduates Center. http://new.every1graduates.org/

The Juvenile Justice Resource Hub

I have not looked at this site in depth yet but these resources seem very promising!

Knowledge Center

The Juvenile Justice Resource Hub is a comprehensive source of information on cutting-edge juvenile justice issues and reform trends. The content of this website is being developed in phases, so check back regularly for new material. This website includes things such as access to reliable, accurate, curated information and analysis on juvenile justice issues; relevant research; best practice models; policy levers for reform; toolkits and action-oriented documents; and much more.

Click here for the Hub

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Chronic Absenteeism

In light of the the article on absenteeism and the findings of how it impacts the students education, it is important that we not only bring awareness to a under reported issue but also to the ways to get involved on the local level. 

According to the article, just missing 10 percent of class time throughout the year will impact the amount of education that child retains. In this day and age, where standardized testing is a measure of success, chronic absenteeism should be the focus of raising these test scores because those who are chronically absent had lower test scores according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The numbers are sometimes hard to see because of daily attendance rates. If daily attendance is high, then it is possible to miss the 20% that miss class every other day or every week. 

What are some of the ways that we can reduce that amount absenteeism?

  What is it about our school system that prevents students from returning day to day? One study found that students viewed school as either boring, starting to early, or it did not relate to the work they wanted to do later in life.

On the other hand, is this topic larger than the school system? Is this trend a cultural phenomenon where putting food on the table is more important than education? I do know that most parents want their children to be able to succeed in life. So how do parents fit into this?

I don’t have all the answers, yet. I can tell you this though. In Connecticut, there is one region where the cases of chronic absenteeism outweighs the cases of adolescent crime.  I will continue to post my findings week by week to get a complete answer of what is happening and what are the action steps for getting kids the knowledge that they need.