Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Applications of Human Development to Truancy

In administering the Truancy Court Program (TCP), the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) applies one of its founding philosophies, the ecology of human development, to a real-world setting. The ecology of human development focuses on four different systems that effect affect a child’s daily routine, though children may not be aware of all of them. Those four systems are:

            • the microsystem: where children have contact with those influential in their lives (siblings,
               parents, teachers)
            • the mesosystem: relationships and connections between microsystems (home-school, etc.)
            • the exosystem: where children don’t participate but where significant decisions are made 
               affecting child and adult (choice of employment)
            • the macrosystem: the blueprints for organizing the institutional life of a society

TCP is uniquely suited for such a philosophy, as both its in- and out-of-school components factor into at least one of the above systems. The ecology of human development complements CFCC’s other underlying philosophy, therapeutic jurisprudence, to achieve goals across all system levels.

CFCC Student Fellows and staff join faculty from participating TCP schools to interact with program participants at the micro level. In weekly meetings, they assess problems occurring between the home-school relationship (mesosystem) that cause students to arrive late to school or not at all. These problems frequently involve a lack of communication at the micro level between parents, students, and teachers. A deficiency in communication can lead to misunderstandings between participants, which eventually blossoms into distrust of the school system at the meso level. Events at the micro level, therefore, greatly affect what goes on up the chain, which is why the TCP’s on-the-ground approach is so important. The home-school relationship is quintessential to what the TCP does, but there are other important relationships? Can you think of anything else?

The data-gathering component of the TCP can influence policymakers in the exosystem to make changes that attempt to eliminate the types of barriers to school attendance over which children have little control, such as transportation. Lack of site-specific transportation and reliance by children on general public transit systems is a good example of an early exosystem problem the TCP has encountered.  A parent’s choice of employment is another, more private example of an exosystem issue that can affect a child, as a parent who works far away from the school, or who also needs to take public transportation, may be unable to ensure that their child gets to school on time.

Finally, the macrosystem is the farthest we can pull back from the TCP table, and, thus, it is what the program has the least power to influence. Participation in the TCP by local judges and its public funding may relate to the program’s impact at this level. While the TCP has its greatest influence at the microsystem and mesosystem levels, it is at the macrosystem level where aggregate change begins to build up, and where, hopefully, the seeds of change planted at the other system levels will be nurtured by policymakers as well as by parents.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Field Trip to the Baltimore City Circuit Court Family Division

On September 17, 2014, the Center for Families, Children and the Courts (“CFCC”) Student Fellows visited the Family Division of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City located at 111 North Calvert Street in Baltimore.  We received a tour from T. Sue German, the Family Division Administrator. 

The tour was a great opportunity to see how the Unified Family Court system operates.  The Family Division strives to efficiently resolve matters involving families, such as, divorce, guardianship, child support, custody, and visitation matters.  Further we learned that approximately 88% of litigants appear pro se.

The Family Division tailors its approach to each individual family to address the family’s specific needs.  The Family Division has many resources for the variety of clients with which it deals.  For example, in the case of contested issues, the Family Division provides educational seminars such as COPE and SHAPE for parents and mediation if there are custody and visitation issues.  Also, at scheduling conferences, the Family Division refers clients to other resources to address their needs, such as referrals to substance abuse services, for custody evaluations, and for other social services. 

The tour revealed that the Family Division has faced budget cuts in recent years, however, which is surprising in light of the volume of cases that are dealt with in the Family Division.  On a given day, attorneys at the Family Division Pro Se Project assist approximately 35-40 litigants.  Further, cutting back on the resources available to the Family Division impedes its ability to effectively and efficiently deal with all the litigants’ issues it confronts.

The actual facility itself was very warm and inviting for the families and children who frequent it. The walls are adorned with art made by children in the community, and there is a staffed playroom for children while their parents attend to their various matters at the Family Division.  It was really wonderful to have the opportunity to tour.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Truancy and the Special Education Student

Truancy is a dilemma frequently facing school systems.  A violation of compulsory attendance requirements can, in the worst case, lead to significant punitive consequences for a family.  What happens, however, when the student exhibiting truant tendencies is a special education student? What kind of special obligations, if any, does a school district have to a child with a disability?

In Maryland, there is a strong positive correlation between rates of habitual truancy and drop out rates and special education students. Baltimore City ranks among the highest in the State in those variables for which positive correlations with truancy were found. 1. There are many explanations for this positive correlation. First, the difficulties that special education students face in order to access the curriculum can make every day in school feel like a battle. Second, special education students are more susceptible to becoming victims of bullying, again deterring students from regularly coming to school. Third, the student's disability may include an emotional disorder that results in inappropriate types of behaviors or feelings under normal circumstances.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), each student is entitled to a free, appropriate, public education. Additionally, the Child Find requirements under IDEA require all school districts to identify, locate, and evaluate all students who are suspected of having a disability. 34 CFR 300.111. Although lack of attendance on its own does not qualify a student for special education services, it is a factor to be taken into consideration. 34 CFR 300.8(a)(1). 2. Once a truant student is identified as having a disability, he/she is eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in order to assure that the student is receiving  free, appropriate, public education.

One component of the IEP may include a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), a "collaborative, student-centered process for gathering information that reliably predicts the conditions and/or circumstances concerning why a student is exhibiting an inappropriate behavior," in this case the inappropriate behavior being truancy. 3. Following the FBA is a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), which includes strategies such as positive behavior reinforcements, program modifications, and supplementary aids and services that can assist the student in overcoming habitual truancy. The BIP includes a plan to monitor the student's progress to ensure that the student now is able to access the curriculum.

These programs are very helpful in addressing a special education student's truancy issue head-on. Although there is still much work to do, these federally mandated obligations prevent hundreds of students annually from dropping out of school. It would be wonderful to find a way for similar programs to be available for students without disabilities but who have problems regularly attending.  But that is a conversation for another day...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Link Between Poverty, Truancy, and the Juvenile Justice System

       The links among poverty, school attendance rates, and delinquency are all intertwined and, when viewed as such, depict a terrifying truth. In America, over 16 million students live below the poverty line, creating a set of circumstances and problems that a large percentage of the population does not have to endure.[1] A reality for these children could be:
  • Parents working multiple jobs, sometimes unable to take their children to school        
  • Incarcerated parents
  • Children living in a group home
  • Children having to walk through a dangerous neighborhood to get to school
  • Pressures on children to work or engage in illicit activity in an effort to supplement family income
This list is not definitive; it merely scratches the surface of the problems faced by children who live in impoverished neighborhoods. As children fail to attend school for any one of the aforementioned reasons, their grades suffer.
The correlation between an individual’s success in school, more specifically his/her ability to read, and incarceration is alarming. A student not reading at a third grade level by the third grade is three to four times as likely not to graduate high school on time, and this figure actually increases to six times as likely not to graduate high school on time for students from low income families.[2] More importantly, a study conducted by Northwestern University determined high school dropouts are sixty three times more likely to be incarcerated than college graduates.[3] 
 These statistics should paint a picture of the importance of education, particularly elementary education. Currently, juvenile justice systems across the country have the overarching goal of rehabilitating youth offenders in an effort to reduce future encounters with the law. Interventions offered by the justice system include educational and vocational training programs, aimed at educating youth offenders so that they may receive the education and skills necessary to support themselves without living a delinquent life.
Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services currently operates 7 juvenile detention centers across the state, dealing with individuals 18 and younger who enter the justice system.[4] Maryland could possibly reduce the number of youth involved in the juvenile justice system by proactively concentrating on elementary education. Providing child-care services before and after school would allow parents to work longer in an effort to support their families while allowing their children to attend school. Making routes to school safer by means of police enforcement or volunteers would encourage attendance and learning in elementary school. Proactive measures such as these could reduce the numbers of youth involved in the juvenile justice system.
[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/26/opinion/to-keep-poor-kids-in-school-provide-social-services.html?_r=0
[2] http://www.aecf.org/resources/double-jeopardy/
[3] http://www.northeastern.edu/clms/wp-content/uploads/The_Consequences_of_Dropping_Out_of_High_School.pdf
[4] http://www.djs.maryland.gov/detention-facilities.asp

Monday, September 8, 2014

Drug Treatment Court’s Effect on Recidivism Rates

Drug treatment courts are a source of therapeutic jurisprudence as problem-solving courts.  Their purpose is to resolve underlying issues that may be the source of crimes that are being committed with a holistic and big-picture approach.  In Baltimore City, the Drug Treatment Court was created in 1994 due to a study relating 85% of crimes back to substance abuse and addiction.  It is a way of preventing incarceration by providing an alternative.  Four main goals of Baltimore City’s Drug Treatment Court are to:

·         Provide pretrial, drug-dependent detainees with close supervision

·         Allow judges to use a cost-effective sentencing option by providing a fully integrated and comprehensive treatment program

·         Reduce recidivism rates of street crime committed by drug-motivated offenders

·         Facilitate the academic, vocational, and prosocial skill development of offenders”[1]

Because of the many actors involved in achieving these goals, the whole court system is essentially working together to reduce the overall recidivism rates, especially when substance driven crimes are being committed.  The systems that are provided for offenders are supervision, status hearings through judicial monitoring, drug testing, and drug treatment.  In order to graduate from the program, participants must have employment, “completed 20 hours of community service, have participated in the program for a minimum of 12 months, and have at least 9 months of clean urine samples.”[2]

Research has found that the offenders involved in drug treatment courts have a lower recidivism rate than those who are not.  It has been generally proven that “[t]he average effect of participation is analogous to a drop in recidivism from 50% to 38%; and, these effects last up to three years.”[3]  Although by only about 10%, the re-arrest rates had decreased, but new arrests had significantly decreased.  The Baltimore City Drug Treatment Court not only has the effect of reducing recidivism rates while a person is in the program, but also persists even after the program is completed.[4]  Drug treatment courts as a problem-solving court has proven to be successful and continues to be implemented.


[1] https://www.crimesolutions.gov/ProgramDetails.aspx?ID=69
[2] https://www.crimesolutions.gov/ProgramDetails.aspx?ID=69
[3] http://www.courtinnovation.org/sites/default/files/documents/Assessing_Efectiveness.pdf
[4] http://www.ccjs.umd.edu/sites/ccjs.umd.edu/files/pubs/Gottfredson_etal_2006.pdf