Completely Legal occasionally will feature the monthly “Desk of the DA” column by Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore. Here is January’s edition, dealing with the issue of truancy and crime:
“The start of the New Year is a good time to assess our goals and strategies. As Chief Law Enforcement Officer in Westchester County, my goal is always to enhance safety in our communities and one effective way to do this is to reduce chronic truancy of children in our schools. By keeping kids in school, we not only help young people prepare for their futures, but we also keep our communities safer.
“When children are in school, engaged and learning, they are on track to become successful adults. When children are chronically absent from school, they are far more likely to become involved in negative behaviors. Unexcused absenteeism can also be a red flag to other issues impacting a child’s development and requiring an investigation. Chronic truancy is linked to social issues including academic failure and delinquency, and is often associated with gang activity, use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and other high risk behaviors. Research has informed us that many children who are chronic truants grow up to become adults who are more likely to engage in violent behavior, have poorer physical and mental health, live in poverty and become involved in the criminal justice system at some point in their lives.
“Not surprisingly, young people who are chronic truants are more likely to be arrested. Making sure our children are attending school regularly is a significant public safety issue, and my office has been working closely with representatives of city schools, local police, courts and the Department of Social Services to implement a system to identify chronic truants and offer help and assistance to get children back into school. This multi-disciplinary initiative examines the reasons for a child’s absences, offers appropriate support to families, and strives to keep those children in school. By focusing on the long term consequences of truancy, we have heightened awareness as to the issue of educational neglect, prompting school personnel to report cases of educational neglect to child protective services.
“The results we have achieved thus far are heartening. In the first year the program was implemented by the Yonkers Public Schools, the number of chronically absent students in grades 1 through 8 dropped by 18%. We will continue this important collaborative effort. While families bear the primary responsibility for making certain that their children are productively engaged in their schooling, we as a community also have an interest in ensuring that the children of Westchester are in school, preparing for their futures.”