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Chronic Truancy Initiative

Ages 6-11

Rating: Level 3


The Chronic Truancy Initiative (formerly the Elementary Absenteeism Initiative) was developed as a result of a citizen evaluation of community problems and needs in a Weed and Seed target area in a midwestern urban community. Residents of the community wanted to reduce the number of children unsupervised, juvenile crime, loitering, and graffiti in the community. Research has shown that truancy in elementary school is a strong predictor of truancy in high school, which is linked to delinquency.

The goal of the initiative was to address poor attendance and other problems within families of identified chronic elementary school truants who missed 20 percent or more of school days within a 6-week period. School principals reviewed attendance lists at regular intervals to identify youths for inclusion in the program. Parents or guardians of the identified students were sent a form letter informing them of the specific number of days their child had missed. The letter also stressed the importance of compliance with the State compulsory school attendance law while noting potential consequences for noncompliance, including prosecution. Two weeks after the initial letter was sent to parents, the principal reviewed the student’s attendance to check for improvement. If there was no improvement, the student was referred to the truant officer. The truant officer then checked for possible siblings who may also have had attendance problems and contacted the family by phone or visit. A parent or guardian was required to sign a written acknowledgment of the child’s nonattendance. If further intervention was deemed necessary, the truant officer forwarded relevant information to a community mental health agency or the child and family services agency. A caseworker was assigned to the case who in turn conducted an assessment of the family, then provided follow-up services. If attendance did not improve after 2 weeks, a local police officer visited the home with the truant officer, who informed the parents or guardians of available services and potential consequences for noncompliance. The officer documented the visit and determined whether the case should be referred to a participating community resource. If attendance remained unchanged shortly thereafter, further steps were taken, depending on the age of the youth. Under the State’s compulsory school attendance law, for students younger than 12 whose parents or guardians did not cooperate with the school, a warrant was sought for parental prosecution.


All three schools chosen to participate in the chronic truancy initiative, on the basis of their extreme attendance problems, were evaluated using a quasi-experimental time-series design. School A serves grades 2–5, School B serves prekindergarten through fifth grade, and School C serves prekindergarten. The local school district’s research and evaluation unit collected school absentee data for the 1997–98, 1998–99, and 1999–2000 school years.

The program was also evaluated using a one-group, pretest–posttest design. A total of 354 students were identified for inclusion in the truancy program. Of these students, 281 youths were placed in the program for attendance problems, whereas the others were there because of extensive tardiness. Overall the truant population mirrored the demographics of the entire school population, with one exception: the truants were more likely to be from lower income backgrounds. Across the three schools, 43 percent were Hispanic, 42 percent of the students were white, 11 percent were African-American, 3 percent were Native American, and 1 percent were Asian–American. Individual absentee data was collected before and after each stage of the intervention for each participant during the 1999–2000 school year. Paired samples of ‘t’ tests were used to determine whether each stage of the intervention was effective in reducing the number of absences.


At the aggregate level, the percentage of students with extreme absences decreased during the 1999–2000 school year for each school.

In School A the percentage of children missing 20–29 days of school went from 17 in 1997–88, to 15 in 1998–99, to 9 in 1999–2000. Those missing 30+ days went from 17 percent to 19 percent to 7 percent.

School B showed that 15 percent of its students missed 20–29 days in 1997–98. In 1998–99 the percentage fell to 10. The level stayed at 10 percent in 1999–2000. The percentage of students who missed 30+ days fell from 21 to 14 to 9.

In School C the percentage of students missing 20–29 days went from 13 in 1997–98, to 17 in 1998–99, to 12 in 1999–2000. Those who missed 30+ days dropped from 27 percent to 20 percent to 7 percent. During the 1999–2000 school year there were no other truancy reduction strategies going on in any of the schools.

Analyses showed a significant reduction in the rate of absences—from 18.1 percent to 13.8 percent—after the initial letter was mailed home to parents (n=281). For those students who received a visit from the attendance officer (n=51), there was another significant reduction in absences—from 24.7 percent to 18.6 percent. A referral to social services (n=18) also resulted in a slight reduction of absences (from 24.1 to 23.7), but this was not statistically significant. There was a nonsignificant increase in absences (24.1 percent to 25.1 percent) after police contacted a family (n=12).

It was determined that only 204 of the students actually met the definition of a chronic truant—20 percent or more absences over a 6-week period. When researchers reanalyzed the data, they found that for the truly chronic students the findings remain the same: after the first two interventions there were statistically significant reductions in truancy. However, the nonchronic truants did not show the same results. In fact the percentage of absences actually increased after each intervention (none of these results was statistically significant).

It is important to remember that with a small sample size it is difficult to achieve statistically significance results. Also, when looking at these results, one must keep in mind that there is no comparison group to control for other factors that may have affected the absentee rates; however, the researchers note that there were no other truancy prevention initiatives during the 1999–2000 school year.

Risk Factors


  • Mental disorder/Mental health problem/Conduct disorder


  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring


  • Dropping out of school
  • Low academic achievement
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school
  • School suspensions
  • Truancy/Frequent absences

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards


  • Effective parenting


  • Strong school motivation / Positive attitude toward school
  • Student bonding (attachment to teachers, belief, commitment)


McCluskey, Cynthia Pérez, Timothy .S. Bynum, and Justin W. Patchin. 2004. “Reducing Chronic Absenteeism: An Assessment of an Early Truancy Initiative.” Crime and Delinquency 50(2):214–34.


Tim Bynum
School of Criminal Justice
560 Baker Hall
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824–1118
Phone: (517) 355-2197
Fax: (517) 432-1787
Web site: