School refusal is a significant problem for young people in out-of-home care and the Juvenile Justice program. This study evaluates an anti-truancy program called the Truancy Assessment and Service Centre (TASC) which operates in the ‘deep south’ region of the USA (e.g. Louisiana). It is worth noting that in Australia, we tend to use the more neutral term of ‘school refusal’ rather than the more pejorative term ‘truancy’. TASC focuses on children in a pre-school and primary school environment.
The cornerstone of TASC is that children are referred as swiftly as possible. In the US, children who accumulate five unexplained absences in any one year are referred to the program. An assessment tool called the Risk Indicator Survey (RISK 1) is used to determine whether the children are in a low- or high-risk category.
The interventions range from a letter of warning to the parents (i.e. low-risk cases) to a full case managmeent appraoch for children deemed high-risk. This study specifically evaluates the more intensive, case management approach.
The study is actually comprised of three cohort studies conducted over the years 2007/08, 2008/09 and 2009/10, and included 1,275 children in treatment groups versus 1,485 children in control groups.
The study uses a complex statistical technique called Regression Discontinuity to control for the fact that students could not be ethically randomized to treatment group versus control group.
The authors report that TASC reduced truancy rates in in two of the three cohorts by between four to six percentage points, arguing that such results are both statistically and clinically significant. I have re-analyzed the data of the most successful cohort to better illustrate the impact of this particular program.
Say, for example, that a student had 19 unexplained absences or a truancy rate of 10% for the school year (i.e. 19 divided by 178 available school days). If this student had been an ‘average’ successful student in this TASC program, the number of unexplained absences would have dropped by 10 days (i.e. from 19 to 9 days over the full school year) or a truancy rate of 5%. That is a five percentage point drop in the rate of truancy (i.e. from 10% to 5%).
However, as the authors note, TASC is most successful with children who score just above the cutoff score on the RISK 1 assessment. Those with higher scores (i.e. exhibiting more severe problems) will do less well.
The problems with this study are to do with the methodology and the fact that it focuses on primary school aged children who are NOT in OoHC; therefore, its relevance to OoHC is questionable – especially when one considers that the program is less successful with children of higher risk.
Take out for Practitioners
- Whilst there are methodological and relevance problems with this study, the overall positive results would suggest that it would be a worthwhile endeavor to visit the USA to further investigate the efficacy of the program.
- The RISK 1 tool may be useful to Practitioners working in the field.
Thomas, J. M. (2017). “Early truancy evaluation: Replication of an evaluation using a regression discontinuity design.” Children and Youth Services Review 78: 150-160.