By most accounts, an initiative in West Virginia to reduce truancy has shown some success in most of the counties where it has been implemented. But in less than a year, the new crackdown on truant students and their parents has exposed a bottleneck that should be addressed for the new program to continue successfully.
The truancy-reduction program was pushed hard last year by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, with the justices urging circuit judges, prosecutors, school systems and social service agencies to work together on the problem. Truants and their parents were brought into court and asked to explain what kept the children from attending school. If there were roadblocks to attendance, solutions were sought. And the students and their parents were told to work at getting the children back in class in a regular basis.
The push certainly caught the attention of many students and parents, and there has been evidence early on that the new focus has reduced truancy rates. Yet, in some cases the student and/or the parents aren’t reacting positively to the message. If a student still fails to attend school and a judge rules the student is an offender or the parents are charged with neglect, the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources is asked to step in. DHHR workers are to provide services such as parenting instruction and mentoring for children and also may have to deal with substance abuse issues and neglect.
And that’s where the bottleneck has occurred. DHHR workers’ caseloads have grown tremendously in areas where the anti-truancy effort has been pursued aggressively. And some say the agency isn’t equipped to provide the services that the families need. …
… it’s time to find solutions to the problem now as the truancy initiative continues to gain steam. The answer may involve redeploying staff or adding new case workers, which shouldn’t be ruled out as alternatives for tackling such an important issue. Perhaps DHHR officials need to pursue other alternatives with other agencies partnering in this endeavor. But an answer should be found, because it’s important that the services to help students stay in school are available.
— Distributed by The Associated Press