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Long-Term Effects of Truancy Diversion on School Attendance: a Quasi-Experimental Study with Linked Administrative Data

Abstract

Over 60% of US school districts implement court diversion programs to address chronic unexcused absenteeism, yet the effectiveness of these programs is not known. We evaluated whether the Truancy Intervention Program (TIP) improved the school attendance of students in grades 7–10 in a metropolitan county in the Midwestern USA. Similar to most truancy court diversion programs, TIP consisted of three increasingly intrusive steps: (1) a parent meeting, (2) a hearing to develop an attendance contract, and (3) a petition to juvenile court. The intervention group consisted of students from the intervention county who had been referred to TIP between 2006 and 2009. The comparison group was drawn from a contiguous, same-sized, and socio-demographically similar county that petitioned truant students directly to court. To construct the comparison group, we applied multi-level matching procedures to linked, individual-level administrative data from eight state and local agencies for all public school students in the state between 2004 and 2015. Using the matched samples, we conducted difference-in-differences analyses to identify program effects for two intervention groups: all students referred to TIP and students whose family participated in the group parent meeting. In the 4 years after the intervention, the intervention groups had similar or slightly lower attendance than the comparison groups. However, most coefficients were not statistically significant, and there was no consistent pattern of effects across different samples and different specifications of the intervention. This pattern of findings was not robust enough to conclude that the program influenced school attendance.

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Funding

This study was funded by the National Institute of Justice (#2014-IJ-CX-0010).

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Correspondence to Clea A. McNeely.

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Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

The institutional review boards of the University of Minnesota and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, approved the study. In addition, the state and local agencies that shared the data approved the research. All analyses 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.

Informed Consent

This study used secondary administrative data linked and de-identified by the Minn-LInK project at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work. A waiver of informed consent was obtained by the appropriate institutional review boards.

Research Data Transparency

Due to data sharing agreements with each state and local agency, the data used in this study are not permitted to be made available for public use. Individual researchers may send separate data inquiries to all parties involved.

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McNeely, C.A., Lee, W.F., Rosenbaum, J.E. et al. Long-Term Effects of Truancy Diversion on School Attendance: a Quasi-Experimental Study with Linked Administrative Data. Prev Sci 20, 996–1008 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-019-01027-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-019-01027-z

Keywords

  • Truancy
  • Juvenile court diversion programs
  • Attendance
  • Chronic absenteeism