A better way to tackle the District's truancy problem

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Truancy is a major issue in our community and often a "gateway" to more problematic behavior. I applaud the D.C. Council's interest in this issue ["Alarm sounded over D.C. truants," Metro, July 9], but I strongly disagree with the punitive recommendations, including cutting off welfare benefits for parents of truant children, that were made by a group commissioned by the council's Health Committee to research other jurisdictions' approaches to youth mental health and delinquency issues.

We have a better approach. From 2006 to 2008, we implemented the truancy diversion program devised by a judge in Louisville. Known as the "Byer Model," it is based on the belief that truancy arises out of conditions in the family, that positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment and that truancy is better addressed within the schools than in the courts, although intensive court monitoring helps.

When we implemented this model with funding from the Children's Youth Investment Trust Corp., 86 percent of participating middle school students improved in attendance, and 80 percent of parents demonstrated increased participation. These results were achieved through collaborative goal-setting, problem-solving, close monitoring and incentives for improvement -- not the threat of punishment.

Our approach is more effective in the long run than punitive measures. We would welcome the opportunity to work with the D.C. Council and the D.C. public schools to implement it.

Penelope Griffith, Washington

The writer is executive director of the Columbia Heights/Shaw Family Support Collaborative.

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