THE TRUANCY ABATEMENT CENTER
1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.
The Truancy Abatement Center is the culmination of several years of collaborative activities between the Mayorís Office, the Pittsburgh Public Schools, Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Juvenile Court, Children and Youth Services, and local law enforcement agencies.
The Truancy Abatement Center has been established as a place to bring those students found to be illegally absent from their schools and to provide identification, parental contacts, referrals and remedial services while students are being held until they are recovered by their parents. Through a cooperative agreement between the City of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh School District and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, the Truancy Abatement Center has been established as a school facility for truant youth.
Act #29 of 1995 extensively revised provisions for truancy under the Pennsylvania Public School Code of 1949. One of the provisions gave police officers the power to apprehend any child who fails to attend school. When a police officer detains a child, the officer will first attempt to identify the child and the school in which the child is enrolled. The officer will radio to the Truancy Abatement Center School Police Personnel who will immediately contact the school to confirm the childís school status. The Truancy Abatement Center has school calendars for the public, parochial and private schools in the Pittsburgh region. At this point the child will be released or detained and transported to the truancy center where he/she will be turned over to the School Police Officer.
The Truancy Abatement Center staff includes Pittsburgh Public School Police Personnel, a Certified Guidance Counselor from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, a Program Coordinator and two Student Advisors from Three Rivers Youth, a private non-profit organization. In the fall of 1998, two student interns from the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work will be included in the program.
The Truancy Abatement Center provides a diagnostic, prescriptive, educational component that includes counseling, educational and vocational activities, information and referrals. The center provides shelter, food and clean clothing for children in need of these basic essentials.
Direct services for youth and families include intake and assessment, including information gathering with parents, and a written plan to eliminate the truancy of each child, follow up services to provide continued support, educational activities and counseling services for youth while they are in the center.
Intake and Assessment
Intake information will be obtained including social, emotional, health, family and educational data. Assessments relating to drug and alcohol use, victimization and violence, suicidality, homicidality, and family conflict will be completed. The program utilizes validated assessment instruments currently in use. Attempts to contact parents or legal guardians of each child will occur immediately.
Children who are not at school during the day and remanded to the Truancy Abatement Center may be in crisis. Law enforcement intervention with a child can be stressful for the child. Therefore crisis intervention techniques will be utilized to initially de-escalate the young person. Law enforcement intervention with a child can also create crises for parents. Crisis intervention and problem solving will be available to all parents involved in the program. Emotional diffusion techniques to assist parents in coping with their child=s violation of the truancy law will be utilized. Family counseling will be available for any youth and family willing to participate. Family sessions will be provided at the center, scheduled as frequently as necessary.< /FONT>
Youth will participate in three general areas of program activities during their stay at the center. These areas include education, career exploration and recreation.
Education:As part of each youths assessment, the TABE locator, and the math problem solving and reading comprehension sections of the full TABE will be given. Results of the TABE will provide the necessary information to staff so that the youth can be given the appropriate educational activities to complete during their stay at the center. Written work that includes grade appropriate worksheets, computer programs an on-site resource room and access to the internet.
Career Exploration:All youth can benefit from participation in career exploration activities which may help in motivating the youth to continue their education on a regular basis. Career exploration activities include completion of work interest inventories and activities that will assist youth in exploring their personal strengths and weaknesses as they relate to goal attainment. Youth will have the opportunity to explore select career areas to obtain information related to salary, projected job market and educational requirements for the job title. Youth will have the opportunity to improve their problem solving skills in small group activity.
Recreation:Youth will participate in skill building games. These will include educational games, computer games, and board games such as scrabble.
Referral and Information
The continuum of care is becoming recognized as one of the most effective mechanisms for service delivery to youth and families. The counselors will provide the necessary referrals and written information to youth and their families. A major focus is linking youth and families with the resources available at their school and in the community. The center maintains a current list of all available resources at every school in the Pittsburgh Public School District and surrounding school districts. Program staff will support youth and families in making effective use of ongoing services. Aftercare plans will be written up for each child and follow-up will take place.
Evaluation and Outcomes
An ongoing evaluation system, which tracks the progress of youth and service outcomes according to functional goals, has been established. The University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work will evaluate the project. In addition to the independent evaluation, Three Rivers Youth will also collect data for program evaluation.
2. When was the program created and why?
When Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy took office one of his priorities was to push forward an aggressive agenda that would respond to the escalating juvenile violence. He did this in many ways. One way was to build partnerships with the various entities that were involved with youth. These included schools, community groups, non-profit organizations, law enforcement, juvenile court, and others. Together with these partners, strategies were developed that would help strengthen the environment in which our children live.
Research regarding juvenile delinquency and violence had shown an extremely high correlation between poor attendance in school, dropping out, and later incarceration; therefore a major emphasis was placed on the child who does not attend school. At the same time data collected on youth violating the City of Pittsburgh=s curfew ordinance revealed similar results reflecting a strong correlation between children who were out late at night and poor school attendance. The concept to blend the truancy and curfew initiatives as a continuum of care for youth has been developed.< /FONT>
In Pittsburgh on any given day, over 2800 children (grades 6-12) are illegally absent from the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Although truancy rates are somewhat lower among other public, private and parochial schools in the county, they also have a stake in any solution that would be imposed within the City of Pittsburgh. Therefore, several meetings with forty-two (42) surrounding school district superintendents including the parochial schools, provided the support that was necessary to expand the anti-truancy effort regionally.
Because of the recent enactment of Act #29 of the PA Public School Code of 1949, which expanded the role of local law enforcement agencies to take students found on the streets into custody and transport them to school, the Truancy Abatement Center initiative was conceived. The police officerís responsibility to identify students and their schools, became time consuming and produced unaccountable results. Therefore the need to have one location for identifying and processing children who are found illegally absent became essential. Thus the Truancy Abatement Center, which began operation on April 6, 1998, was established as a school facility for truant youth.
We believe that early identification of troubled youth through the Truancy Abatement Center can help in eliminating violence in schools.
3. How do you measure the programís effectiveness?
The Truancy Abatement Center will be measured for success by the following: police
reports and daytime juvenile crime statistics; Three Rivers Youth data collection and referral follow-up reports; independent evaluation of program effectiveness and truant behavior conducted by the University of Pittsburgh; and behavioral and academic achievements through follow-up and reporting from the schools.
Below are measurable program objectives:
1. The reduction of the number of illegally absent students on the streets, on public transportation, in business establishments and other places other than schools during the hours of school attendance.
2. The identification and detention of high school and middle school students (ages 12-17) found to be in places other than schools, identified as truant and brought to the center until they are released into the custody of their parents.
3. The identification and transport back to home schools of all elementary students.
4. The identification of reasons for truant behavior and finding solutions.
5. The increase in the number of students attending school and graduating.
4. How is the program financed?
The Truancy Abatement Center is currently in the first year of operation. At this time it is partially financed by the City of Pittsburgh through Development Block Grant money that is contracted to Three Rivers Youth, a private non-profit youth serving organization, for staffing and managing the day to day operation of the center.
In-kind contributions from the City of Pittsburgh include the facility in which the center is located, support staff and City of Pittsburgh Police for enforcement of the law and transporting youth to the center.
The United Way of Allegheny County has provided funding for computers and equipment for the children at the Truancy Abatement Center.
The Pittsburgh School District provides a police personnel located full-time at the center as well as in-kind administrative support staff. The School Police Officers enforce the law and transport illegally absent children to the center. Also, the School District provides the computer and equipment at the center for tracking and recording student data. School lunches for students while at the center are provided by the School District.
The Allegheny Intermediate Unit provides a part-time Guidance Counselor located at the center as well as in-kind administrative support staff.
Currently additional funding is being sought to provide two additional staff for the program. These two individuals would be working in the schools to follow-up on the children who have been seen at the Truancy Abatement Center. Also, there are plans to include a summer school tutoring program at the center for children who have been seen at the center during the school year and had been experiencing academic problems.
5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all? How has the community responded to the program?
Prior to the start of the Truancy Abatement Center project, the community had expressed concern for the number of children that were seen on the streets, in places of business and on public transportation during school hours. This concern, combined with statistics on illegal school absences, provided the impetus for developing a strategy to respond to truant behavior.
The Community has been involved in several ways. A referral list used for the program includes many community-based organizations throughout the region. Children who are seen at the Truancy Abatement Center are given an individualized aftercare plan that includes referrals in their community and school. An on-going goal of the program is to connect the children from the Truancy Abatement Center to programs and resources in existence outside the center.
Crime Prevention Officers and Community Oriented Police Officers have been educating the public regarding the anti-truancy initiative and the importance of community involvement. Officers have made presentations to community groups, businesses, schools and others for the purpose of educating and receiving input from these groups and individuals.
Another area of community involvement is the recent interest of expansion of the Truancy Abatement Center program that would involve the District Justices who receive referrals from the schools for habitually truant children. The District Justices are responsible for the disposition of the truant child and in many cases, monetary fines are inappropriate. For these instances, a program could be developed in which the District Justices would make referrals to a non-profit youth serving organization that would coordinate and supervise projects or community service work for truant youth referred by either the schools or the Truancy Abatement Center. This type of discipline for truant behavior could be productive to both the child and the community.
Support from countywide collaborative groups such as the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the Allegheny County Youth Crime Prevention Council and the Interagency School Council has provided leadership, partnership and development to the Truancy Abatement Collaborative.
A steering committee consisting of the various law enforcement agencies, Juvenile Court, Children and Youth Services, the School District,the Mayor's Office, and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit has been formed for setting goals and developing the project.
6. Contact person:
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright © 1999, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.