May 2, 2023

Research Zone: The Truancy Experience for Families

In the midst of unprecedented student absenteeism, many districts have incorporated a more restorative approach to address the challenge, informed by the understanding that both excused and unexcused absences equally contribute to missed learning opportunities.  However, districts are still mandated by the state to implement truancy processes and practices that address families of students who are truant.  These practices feature truancy notices that inform families of the attendance challenge, but often do not get to the root cause of absenteeism. Current truancy practices often do not address the barriers to attendance that a student and their family may be experiencing, and instead can exacerbate family engagement challenges and do little to help improve attendance.  

To better understand how families experience the truancy process, we recently surveyed 60 families from across the country to share their thoughts and concerns. Here’s what we found:  

Current Truancy Practices are Lacking in Support 

  • 67% of family respondents said they were not offered any support by their school to address their student’s attendance
  • Only 3% recall their truancy notice offering support to improve their student’s attendance 

Too Little, Too Late

  • 43% of the families surveyed said that the truancy notice was the first time hearing that their student’s attendance was problematic. 
  • Of those who did receive prior information, only 26% received a personal call from a staff member to discuss the absences. 

Families are not getting information soon enough to get their student back on track before their child is determined to be truant. Proactive communications that share information earlier and more frequently could help prevent students from becoming truant and entangled in the legal system.

Unexcused Absences are Normal

  • 52% of families surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “As long as the absence is excused, it’s ok for my student to miss school as much as they need to.” 
  • 49% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “It’s normal for students to have unexcused absences.” 
  • 48% agreed or strongly agreed that their student missed an average number of school days. This was even true when they specifically recalled the truancy notice communicating that their student had too many absences.

These responses suggest that many schools are likely still developing a strong culture of attendance where everyone agrees that every day matters. Plus, it underscores the research that families often underestimate their students’ absences, thinking they’ve missed fewer days than they actually have, or just as many as their peers. 

Truancy Issues May Actually be Chronic Absenteeism Issues

  • 68% of families said the reason for their student’s absence was something excusable, like chronic illness or doctor appointments.  
  • Only 45% of those families reached out to the school to get the absences excused after receiving the truancy notice. 

While this certainly suggests an opportunity to provide clearer action steps to families around properly excusing absences, there is still more digging to do around why families aren’t submitting their excused absences. In fact, many families reported in the survey that it was easy to get in touch with their school to discuss absences and submit their excuses.  There may be other factors at play, such as lack of access to adequate health insurance and/or cost-prohibitive co-pays that can make it difficult for some families to provide the documentation that the school may require for excusing absences.  

Are you looking for a restorative, family-centered approach to truancy? Check out our brand new Truancy Support

Getting students on track starts with attendance. We can help.