Kids have a better shot at a successful future when they are in the classroom learning. Policies that focus on preventing truancy support the most marginalized youth and increase public safety. This is why Attorney General Racine is combatting truancy in three ways: a program encouraging students to attend school; a program offering social supports to students who are truant; and a program for parents that helps them address attendance barriers for their children.
“I Belong Here” Program
The “I Belong Here” program is an effort to reduce truancy and encourage student attendance at an early age through a year-long attendance competition between classrooms. OAG staff serve as ambassadors for sixth-grade and seventh-grade homerooms, leading lesson plans on topics such as responsibility and empathy. Currently piloted at Sousa Middle School, the program is designed to disrupt the negative behaviors associated with truancy rates and positively reinforce the idea that students belong in school. Sousa Middle School was recently recognized as one of the schools with the most improved attendance rates in the District.
Social Supports for Truant Students
OAG is the agency responsible for prosecuting delinquent youth—but Attorney General Racine believes that for truancy, prosecution and involvement in the juvenile justice system should be the last resort, reserved for only the most chronically truant students after other social supports and school efforts have failed. To help support students, OAG partnered with the Department of Human Services (DHS) to implement a truancy reduction diversion program—TRIAGE—Truancy Reduction Initiative and Gateway to Empowerment --Diversion Program. TRIAGE program employs a functional family therapist who is co-located at OAG to help review all cases that are eligible for diversion; the therapist also links families with services. These behavioral health and community support services help youth and their families address root causes of truancy, while minimizing the likelihood of reoffending.
Helping Parents Address Attendance Barriers
Working closely with the D.C. Superior Court and other stakeholders, OAG launched a diversion program to better serve the needs of parents who are subject to prosecution for failing to send their children to school—ATTEND (Abating Truancy Through Engagement and Negotiated Dialogue) Mediation Program. The Court’s Multi-Door Dispute Resolution program mediates cases between parents and the school in a neutral environment and links the parents through the Mayor’s Services Liaison Office (MSLO) to appropriate community-based services in lieu of prosecution. The goal of the program is to help children and their families address the underlying issues causing the chronic absenteeism while minimizing the likelihood of repeat referrals and giving parents the opportunity to avoid a criminal record.