February 13, 2012
To: Members of the Judiciary Committee
From: Sarah Forrest, Policy Coordinator – Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice
Re: Support for LB 933 – Improving Responses to Excessive Absenteeism
Education is critical to children’s growth into healthy, productive adults. School attendance is one among a number of factors that impact children’s educational success. Efforts to ensure attendance are important, but must focus on resolving obstacles to attendance for children and families in a supportive rather than punitive manner. Absenteeism issues should be resolved with supportive services rather than providing a pathway deeper into the juvenile court or juvenile justice system.
Voices for Children in Nebraska supports LB 933 as a first step towards finding a supportive, rather than punitive approach to addressing truancy and excessive absenteeism. Numerous case calls to our office by confused and frightened families and stories shared in the media, show that current guidelines for addressing absenteeism are not working well. LB 933 approaches reporting excessive absenteeism to the county attorney in a way that encourages a more flexible approach centered on the needs of the family and child. This is a more effective method of dealing with truancy and excessive absenteeism because:
- Families and youth are most willing to engage in services when they feel they are genuinely voluntary. They should have voice and choice.
- All youth who are excessively absent are not the same. Flexibility in approach should be encouraged to provide for the needs of children and families, without automatically encouraging their involvement in juvenile court.
- Limited juvenile court resources should be reserved for the children and families who have to have court involvement to ensure the well-being of children.
Encouraging school attendance by providing services to families and intervening early has had positive results in a number of states nationwide. These approaches only involved the juvenile court in limited ways. Providing support, knowledge, and services to families was the key to ensuring children got to school and got what they needed to learn. The links between lack of success in school and status offending and delinquency make supporting school attendance and providing for student and family needs an important issue for juvenile justice and education advocates alike.
We urge you to advance LB 933 as a first step towards better meeting the needs of children and families and using our court resources. Thank you.