I will not be online Thursday, so am posting the August 7 blog early this week.
Truancy cases are sometimes very frustrating, not only for the judge, but for the county attorney, social worker, probation officer and school officials. When the child is quite young, it’s often a symptom of more serious issues within the family. For middle schoolers and high schoolers, it can be simply a resistance to authority or a little bit of Tom Sawyer.
In my county, the school, social services and county attorney’s office have developed a program to address truancy at different stages. One thing happens when a minimum number of days have been missed, and at different stages, different interventions are made. If none of them are successful, a truancy child protection petition is filed and the family comes to see me in Court.
For the older truants, I believe my job is to get them to think beyond next week or next month. The dialogue can go something like this:
“Do you enjoy cooking French fries? (Most of the time, they say no.) How about sweeping floors and cleaning toilets? Well, if you do not get a high school diploma, those are about the only kinds of jobs that are open to you.
“Don’t get me wrong, people who serve hamburgers and make beds in hotels make a good, honest, hard-earned living. But I think you have more potential than that. Someday, you’re going to want to get married and have a family. When you do, you’re going to want to provide for them – make sure they have a comfortable home, enough food and be able to enjoy some of the good things in life. You’ll be better able to provide for your family if you’re earning more than minimum wage. And, the only way you’ll be able to get a job earning more than minimum wage is to get a high school diploma.
“Actually, you’re going to want to get more education than high school. But, before you can go to college or vocational school, you’re going to have to have a high school education.
“I think education is so important that I am willing to order that you leave your parents’ home to be sure that you get to school. That’s really not the worst thing in the world that can happen to you, but I’m pretty sure you’d rather stay at home with your family and hang out with your friends on the weekends. I don’t want to order you into placement, so I hope and expect that you will go to school, and try your hardest at school, so I won’t have to make that decision.
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Next week: Inattentive Driving.