In Broward Truancy Court, Focus Is on Parents of Chronically Absent Kids

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    NEWSLETTERS

    It's a once-a-month special session in Judge Mary Robinson's courtroom: truancy court, where the focus is on the parents of elementary school children who are chronically absent. NBC 6's Ari Odzer reports. (Published Thursday, Nov 14, 2013)

    It's a once-a-month special session in Judge Mary Robinson's courtroom: truancy court, where the focus is on the parents of elementary school children who are chronically absent.

    "And that is the parents' obligation," Judge Robinson told a parent who was making excuses for her child's frequent absences in court on Thursday.

    Prosecutor Nicole Bloom brings in parents who can face up to 60 days in jail.

    "But that is not our goal, our goal is to get the parents here and the kids in their seats, in school, consistently and on time," Bloom said.

    The Broward State Attorney's Office and the school district are concentrating on elementary students to stop bad trends before they start.

    "There's a strong correlation between truancy and juvenile crime," Bloom explained. "The more often these children are in their seats in school, the less chance they have to become involved in the juvenile system."

    Prosecutors cite a study that shows high school dropouts are 350 percent more likely to be arrested than students who graduate.

    In the Broward program, after five unexcused absences, school officials meet with the parents. After 10 absences, a prosecutor gets involved with the conversation, and an effort is made to help the parents, or, in many cases, the single parent, to work out whatever difficulties are causing the child to miss so many school days.

    "And if that doesn't cure the problem, we then make the decision to file and we see the parents here in the courtroom," Bloom said.

    Bloom says she's sympathetic to the many hard-luck situations she hears in court. That's why she gives parents multiple chances to improve their child's school attendance, and she says there are success stories every month.

    "This is the best way that we can prevent juvenile crime, prevent juvenile victims and make sure that our kids are being productive," Bloom said.

    It's much more expensive to society to deal with juvenile delinquents than it is, Bloom says, to prevent kids from becoming delinquents in the first place.