The dynamics of truant behaviour - an initial study

Criminology Research Council grant ; (16/82)

Of particular interest to the Criminology Research Council was whether truant behaviour had any relationship to juvenile delinquency. Using a path analysis technique, longitudinal data (obtained from a panel of 2,378 young people in Victoria) revealed that the relationship between these two behaviours was one of non-causal association. Both truancy and juvenile delinquency were related to similar underlying school-related factors. The status of students within schools was found to be closely connected with involvement in truant behaviour or juvenile delinquency. This status, defined by student perceptions of educational achievement compared with their peers and occupational aspirations for the future, contributes to a key aspect of student perceptions about school, namely its relevance, purpose and importance.

Those students who had lower levels of relative educational achievement and more negative perceptions of the importance of school and schooling were more likely to be recorded by schools as truants, admit involvement in truancy and have acquired a police record.

The study empirically examined a theoretical model of truancy which incorporated key features of students' family backgrounds, the structure of schools, the status of students within schools and peer groups. Data presented suggest that the problem of truancy (and by implication, juvenile delinquency) needs to be addressed by a school-based prevention rather than control approach. Given that the behaviour was found to be largely episodic, early identification and diagnosis procedures need to be discouraged. Truancy needs to be addressed in ways that do not reinforce family dysfunction or deficit notions about individual students. Schools need to implement initiatives that explicitly alter everyday school practices, procedures and curriculum policies such that all students are provided with opportunities to have a rewarding and successful schooling experience. It is through such structural intervention in our education system that the sources of troublesome behaviours among youth might be more readily addressed.