Truant youths need help more than they need to be hammered.
That’s the philosophy behind a new counter-truancy program going into effect when Aiken County Public Schools start back Aug. 23.
The district’s inspired Truancy Intervention Program, or TIP, was borrowed, with some changes, from the district in York. It gives school, court and law enforcement authorities a chance to caucus with students and parents to see what’s causing the truancy and how to fix it.
Court and law enforcement officials, as we said, are still involved – but the emphasis shifts from punishment and banishment to help and support.
Truancy is quite often a sign of other problems in a family, challenges that won’t necessarily be aided by fines or imprisonment or the threat of them. Maybe the parent needs prodding or counsel. Maybe the family needs help with transportation. Maybe the student needs proof that someone cares. Maybe the social problems go much further. We’ll never know unless we care enough to find out.
In the end, fine and confinement are still available. But at least the community will have tried its best to avoid it.
In Aiken County, a student under 17 is considered truant if he or she racks up three consecutive or five total unexcused absences. At that point, there will be a meeting of the student, parents, case manager and solicitor. The student will be asked to sign a contract to work toward agreed-upon solutions.
This is no small matter. Truancy can lead to dropouts, and dropping out stunts a child’s growth and future. According to StrategiesForYouth.org:
Truancy by youth under the age of 12 is the best predictor of a youth’s involvement in delinquency.
Truancy is also a predictor of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and social isolation, and is the number one reason youth drop out of school.
Truant youth typically have low self-esteem and are more sensitive to rejection and criticism. They are often vulnerable to peers and adults who may pressure them to become involved in negative behaviors that could undermine their chances for success, and increase run-ins with police.
It’s a serious societal issue. And not just for cops and courts.