Karen South Jones: Tap into Family Power

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 1, 2015

By Karen South Jones

Special to the Salisbury Post

“Why do I have to go to school?” What parent has not heard that question? It’s usually accompanied by whining or claims of illness, exhaustion or boredom. My son didn’t pull this routine often, since he learned that my response would be, “You have to go to school or they will put Mommy in jail. Mommy doesn’t want to go to jail. Now, get dressed.” It may not have been the most diplomatic of responses, but it got the job done.

Of course, we all know why school attendance is important. Or do we? Being in school on a daily basis is necessary if education is to effectively prepare a child for adulthood. Children who are chronically absent or truant have lower grades, need to repeat grades more often, have higher rates of expulsion and have lower rates of high school graduation. Research shows that truancy is also a risk factor for substance abuse, delinquency, gang activity and early sexual activity. But the effects of truancy extend beyond adolescence; adults who were chronically truant from school as children have an elevated risk for a host of problems, including poor physical and mental health, poverty, incarceration and raising children who exhibit problem behaviors.

Rowan County Youth Services Bureau is offering Rowan-Salisbury Schools another tool to add to their student services toolbox. Family Power incorporates the restorative practice of Family Group Decision Making conferences to address chronic absenteeism and truancy in kindergarten through third-grade students. We have targeted this population because research demonstrates that chronic absence in early grades predicts the lowest levels of educational achievement at the end of fifth grade.

These conferences bring together children, family members and extended family – aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors and friends – to make decisions and create a plan to improve school attendance. The plans are as unique as the families who create them and the circumstances contributing to school absences. Family Group Decision Making conferences are a family-centered, culturally competent and community-based approach that recognizes families have the most information about themselves to make well-informed decisions.

Family Power is a new initiative for Youth Services Bureau. We are thankful to the Rowan County United Way for funding it and to Principal Shonda Hairston at Knollwood Elementary School for helping us get it started. We look forward to expanding our efforts to other elementary schools as funding and personnel allow. Together, we truly can make a difference!

Karen South Jones is the executive director of Rowan County Youth Services Bureau, a United Way member agency. Contact her at 704-633-5636 or karenysb@yahoo.com.

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