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Is truancy a gateway crime in the juvenile justice system?

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2024 | Juvenile offenses |

The Washington legal system often deals with issues surrounding unauthorized absenteeism from school. Students are required to be present in school every day that school is in session, unless they have a valid reason for not being there. Being away from school without just cause is truancy. Police can take a student into custody as a response to a truancy petition.

Many advocates in the juvenile justice system believe truancy is a gateway crime. A gateway crime is a crime that “opens the gate” or leads to other crimes or negative behavior. If you’re the parent of a juvenile who is facing legal problems because of truancy, resources are available to help your family.

Advocates in juvenile justice focus on support rather than a punitive approach

Evidence suggests that truancy is a gateway crime for several reasons. If the police take your child into custody and then to juvenile detention, he or she is going to miss more school. It’s a catch-22. The system that is supposed to help resolve a truancy problem causes a student who is truant to be absent from class for additional days.

When kids fall behind in their schoolwork, they may be more likely than ever to skip school. Today, there are programs designed to take a supportive, rather than punitive, approach to truancy. This doesn’t mean the system supports or encourages illegitimate absenteeism. The program helps families determine the cause of a student’s truancy, such as a learning disability, trouble at home or social issues. From there, advocates help students address those issues so that they can return to school and begin to thrive.

The more often you do something, the easier it gets

All it takes for your child to fall into trouble because of truancy is to skip school a few times. The more it occurs, the more daring a student becomes, perhaps not worrying so much about the possible repercussions of his or her actions. Sadly, other negative behaviors often accompany truancy, such as experimentation with alcohol or drugs.

Such issues can have a snowball effect that leads to a significant decline in academic performance, trouble at home and maybe legal trouble as well. If your child is facing such issues, you are not alone in your struggle. Many other Washington families are navigating similar situations.

Juvenile justice resources available to help your family

Truancy is often a sign of a more serious, underlying problem. If you’re a California parent dealing with this issue, try to determine why your child has been skipping school. Is he or she failing a class? Is skipping a way to escape a bully? Does your child have a substance abuse problem?

Counselors, juvenile advocates, social workers, ministers of faith and others can form a support network to help your family address your child’s needs. If a hearing is scheduled, it’s a good idea to seek guidance from someone who understands Washington laws and has experience navigating the juvenile justice system.