Reducing Truancy and Fostering a Willingness to Attend School: Results from a Randomized Trial of a Police-School Partnership Program

Abstract

Truancy is a major social issue that is linked to a range of poor outcomes across the life course, including poor educational outcomes, drug and alcohol abuse, and antisocial behavior. Interventions that seek to reduce truancy problems range from school-based police officers to programs that reward good attendance to community-based interventions. This study reports primary outcome results of a randomized trial of a collaborative, police–school partnership that sought to reduce truancy and increase students’ willingness to attend school. Using school attendance and students’ self-report survey data, we find that the police–school partnership intervention shows promise for reducing truancy and improving students’ willingness to attend school. We conclude that police–school partnerships that foster the willingness of young people to attend school should be examined in future evaluation research and be considered in the development of truancy prevention programs.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Students’ parents were also surveyed as part of the trial; however, we focus only on the students’ results. Please see Supplemental Material for a summary of all outcomes measured for the trial, across all time-points.

  2. 2.

    The Queensland Government Policy and Procedure Register gives examples of unexplained or unsatisfactory absences or patterns of absences as a student being absent for three or more consecutive days, where there is a persistent pattern of unexplained absences or where the principal reasonably considers attendance unacceptable.

  3. 3.

    A school term is approximately 47–50 school days (≈10 weeks), with minor variation depending on public and school holidays, or earlier completion dates for senior students. Thus, on average, three terms is 143 days.

  4. 4.

    For school data, we chose to use data post conference, rather than directly post randomization, in order to more clearly see the impact of the intervention. This also corresponded roughly to the time period covered up until the T3 survey, with less than 10% of participants’ T3 surveys collected outside this range. Because of the preparation required for the conferences and the need to coordinate a time when all conference participants could meet, the conferences occurred significantly longer after randomization than control participants received their pack (Exp: conferences occurred M = 92.471 calendar days post randomization, SD = 54.240; control: resource pack delivered M = 11.216 days post randomization, SD = 11.216; t(52.672) = 10.558, p < .001). However, there was not a significantly different amount of time between intervention delivery (either conference or resource pack) and the average amount of time included in the post intervention follow-up period for absences. Absences for both groups were calculated within the three school terms (approximately 9 months) following their individual intervention date, which differed for each participant.

  5. 5.

    Students were also asked to rate the frequency that they missed school for a variety of reasons (both legitimate and illegitimate). These responses are provided in the Supplementary Materials. Students’ parents also provided responses regarding perceptions of and reactions to truancy, though these are not the focus of this paper. See the Supplemental Materials for a full list of all measures and the timing of their measurement. In some cases (e.g., participant had moved away, shift worker, personal preferences), participants completed surveys online, over the phone, or on paper returned to researchers postage-paid.

  6. 6.

    As these questions asked about how the behavior had changed after the intervention, no baseline measure was available to compare with; hence, t tests rather than ANOVAs were utilized.

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Acknowledgements

The authors gratefully acknowledge the Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship (2010–2015; grant number FL100100014) that funded the experimental evaluation of the Ability School Engagement Program (ASEP). We also acknowledge the ongoing support from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course. As with any large-scale trial, the work that is presented in this paper is made possible by the dedication, passion, and professionalism of a large number of very special people. We are, therefore, indebted to the project team at the University of Queensland, our Ph.D. students, as well as the dedicated operational team from the Queensland Police Service, the Department of Education, and the facilitating team drawn from the Department of Justice and Attorney General (previously Department of Communities). The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors. Responsibility for any errors of omission or commission remains with the authors.

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Correspondence to Lorraine Mazerolle.

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Funding

Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship (2010–2015; grant number FL100100014) funded the experimental evaluation of ASEP.

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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Ethics approval was granted by the University of Queensland Behavioral and Social Sciences Ethical Review Committee (Project Number: 2010000500).

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Mazerolle, L., Antrobus, E., Bennett, S. et al. Reducing Truancy and Fostering a Willingness to Attend School: Results from a Randomized Trial of a Police-School Partnership Program. Prev Sci 18, 469–480 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-017-0771-7

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Keywords

  • Truancy
  • School attendance
  • Delinquency
  • Schools
  • Police partnerships