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Oct 05, 2017

Derailing Delinquency

By Jessica Else, The Garden Island

WAIMEA — Chronically skipping class can be the first step on the rocky road to delinquency; both in the schools and on the streets.

And in an effort to curb truancies on Kauai, the Truancy Court Collaboration pilot project has been created to improve student attendance and family engagement.

“The way the project works, is we provide early intervention between the school and our partner, Hale Kipa (Student Attendance Support Service) so we don’t have to file a petition and families don’t have to come to court,” said Judge Edmund Acoba, of Hawaii’s Fifth Circuit Family Court.

He continued: “There’s a lot of statistics that show truancy often times leads to delinquency.”

Acoba was instrumental in partnering with Waimea High School Principal Mahina Anguay, Waimea Canyon Principal Melissa Speetjens, representatives from the Hawaii Department of Education, Kauai Police Department and Liliuokalani Trust to create the pilot on Kauai.

“Keiki who attend school consistently get into less trouble and have better long-term outcomes in terms of avoiding involvement with the criminal justice system,” said Justin Kollar, Kauai Prosecuting Attorney.

Statistics show truancy often times leads to delinquency, according to Acoba, and the truancy court pilot is a way to stop the cycle.

Part of that is working with families to eliminate some of the barriers in the way for keiki to get to class on time.

“It could just be transportation, or maybe they don’t have clean clothes to go to school,” Acoba said. “With early intervention, we can identify some of those barriers and have better success getting kids back into school.”

Hale Kipa, for instance, is helping provide transportation to and from school, and a quiet place to catch up on school work for those who need.

“Sometimes (kids) get frustrated. They get behind and they stop going to school, so (Hale Kipa) is offering tutoring services to get them caught up with school work,” Acoba said.

A similar program has been developed on Oahu, where daily school attendance rates increased about 40 percent from the year before, to a 91 percent daily attendance rate in 2016-2017.

Organizers are hoping for mirrored or better results on Kauai. The pilot is centered on the West Kauai School Complex, with the hopes of expanding it to include the entire island.

“It’s not a big complex, so we thought, let’s start small and gain momentum and get the support of the community and get more funding for this project,” Acoba said.

Stakeholders gathered in January to discuss the details of the pilot, and brought the program to parents and interested west side residents in an August meeting, according to Acoba.

“Once they heard the intent of the project, a lot of people came on board,” Acoba said. “We have the support of the parents that attended the meeting.”

Oct. 16, the team will approach the West Kauai Business Association in an effort to bring the group’s resources and members on board with the pilot project.

The truancy pilot project will begin Waimea Canyon Middle School and at Waimea High School, mainly because the two schools are close in proximity and can share staff members.

“Right now, I wish we could support the whole island but there’s not enough (staff members),” Acoba said. “We’ll start slow and gain momentum, get island-wide someday.”

Going forward, staff members with the pilot will be selecting students from the 2016-2017 school year who accumulated 15 or more absences, and if the absences continue throughout the current school year, DOE will contact the family.

Unsuccessful interventions will result in the family being referred to Hale Kipa for home visits and if those efforts are unsuccessful, Juvenile Client and Family Services will step into the picture.

Next a probation officer will explain court intervention if behavior doesn’t change. The last resort is a petition filed and the family sent to Family Court. Once the family goes through court, Hale Kipa, DOE and JCFSB will continue to work toward keeping students on track with referrals made in the court.

“What it takes is for all the stakeholders – from the DOE to the Judiciary, to the service providers in the community – to talk to each other so that at-risk youth don’t fall through the cracks. This pilot program is a step in the right direction and we are excited to be a part of it,” Kollar said.

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