A new report commissioned by the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Council’s Low-Risk High-Needs (LRHN) Committee highlights the need for increased cross-system collaboration and holistic programming to support Colorado youth with school attendance problems.
Currently, youth who have four unexcused absences in a month or ten unexcused absences in a year are considered truant, and begin a complex journey through the juvenile justice system. This creates a drain on resources for schools and courts. Youth who are detained as a result are 14.5 times less likely to graduate from high school, and are significantly more likely to commit subsequent criminal offenses.
The report gathered evidence from stakeholders and four truancy demonstration pilot programs to provide insight for ensuring Colorado youth with high social service needs receive the necessary support to gain an education. Highlights of the report include:
Child Welfare can better serve its function in truancy cases if brought in early to serve a preventive role.
Differing data requirement practices across districts and school grades (K-12) hamper early intervention and the ability to get a true understanding of effective and ineffective practices.
The report also provides a “Collaborative Framework to Improve Educational Attainment.” This stresses the importance of partnerships, prevention and intervention approaches, and sustainability in supporting Colorado youth and families in the education and justice systems. This framework, and more detail on best practices gleaned from the pilot sites are available in the full report.
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Council has a tall order – prevent youth from entering the justice system or from penetrating deeper into the justice system. The goal cannot be met through program implementation alone. The systems serving the youth must change how they work together (or begin working together) in order to meet the needs of “at-risk” youth.
In 2013, the JJDP Council recognized the need for an alternative approach to addressing “status offenses” (only a crime because of a youth’s age) like truancy (missing too much school). They funded four truancy demonstration pilots in Colorado to work across systems in order to prevent and intervene in truant behavior.
Our new report, Evaluation of Truancy Prevention and Early Intervention takes a retrospective look at the four pilots and includes reflections from stakeholders in schools, courts and the justice system. This led to our Collaborative Framework to Improve Educational Attainment (below), which identifies critical areas and components Colorado’s broader juvenile field must address to work together to improve school engagement.
At Spark, we understand the importance of connecting theoretical frameworks with on-the-ground perspectives to ensure our work is actionable.
We facilitated a dialogue with the JJDP Council on the evaluative findings and asked whether it resonated, what was missing, and how it could be built upon. We were able to map the framework to the reality of the stakeholders needs because of our participatory approach (see Spark’s toolkit on Tools for Engaging Nontraditional Voices). Their input made clear that there is room for the framework to not only serve as a guide to improving school engagement, but more broadly to meet the needs of at-risk youth through a collaborative approach.