Author available to discuss policy brief on New York State’s responses to teens’ chronic school absenteeism

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) today released Getting Teenagers Back to School: Rethinking New York State’s Response to Chronic Absence, a policy brief researched and written for the agency by the Vera Institute of Justice in partnership with Casey Family Programs. This latest publication growing out of Vera’s ongoing exploration of effective responses to the problem of chronic absence and educational neglect proposes that the state develop effective, non-punitive alternatives for teenagers that are grounded in current research on adolescent development and school engagement. Under current practice, families of chronically absent teenagers are subject to the same educational neglect charges and child service responses as families of chronically absent younger children, even though the causes of teen absence are different and such investigations can exacerbate issues leading to their misbehavior.

“In its analysis, Vera determined that the majority of allegations of educational neglect in New York State are made on families with teenagers who are chronically absent from school, or truant. The data also indicates that these youth present as 'very low’ on the scales that measure risk for child abuse or maltreatment,” said OCFS commissioner Gladys Carrión.

In December 2009, Vera released Rethinking Educational Neglect for Teenagers: New Strategies for New York State, which described how the state uses the child protective system to address chronic school absenteeism for teenagers even though parental neglect may not be the cause of their absence. In the most recent research, which sought to identify more appropriate responses to such teens, Vera did a comparison of states that respond to chronically absent teenagers outside of the child protective system. Vera researchers found that while national statistics on chronic absenteeism show that the problem peaks in adolescence, most existing responses, including those in New York, are not guided by current adolescent-development and school-engagement research and generally have little effect in getting teens to return to school.

In a letter to colleagues, Commissioner Carrión urged those with an interest in reengaging chronically absent teens to “partner with us as we develop a different approach shifting away from a child protective response and toward an alternative that is school focused.”

“This research is part of a growing consensus that teens missing too much school is a major problem in jurisdictions across the state that warrants attention today,” said Jessica Gunderson, a senior planning analyst at Vera who authored the policy brief. “With leadership from OCFS, Mayor Bloomberg, and other stakeholders, New York has an opportunity to create more effective ways to support chronically absent teenagers and their families.”