Omaha – A growing body of research illustrates that missing an excessive number of school days, regardless of reason, can place a child at risk of falling behind academically and becoming discouraged about school. In response to research linking negative outcomes to irregular school attendance, many states like Nebraska, passed more stringent truancy laws to discourage excessive absenteeism. Recognizing that unnecessary formal involvement in juvenile justice system may be contrary to the best interests and well-being of juveniles, communities in the state of Nebraska have funded programs to address issues of absenteeism. The Juvenile Justice Institute (JJI) is currently working with the Nebraska Crime Commission (NCC) to evaluate the impact of these programs. To measure their impact, community-based programs enter youth information and attendance records into a statewide web-based secure system developed by JJI and UNO’s College of Information Science and Technology.
In August 2016, the Juvenile Justice Institute (JJI) extracted data from the statewide system to begin our evaluation. In first looking at the data, there were a number of gaps in the dataset and most programs were inconsistently entering youth data—especially attendance information, the primary outcome measure. It was clear that programs needed additional training and assistance with entering data.
JJI utilized funds available through the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute to send four paid interns across the state of Nebraska to train program staff in 29 counties and 2 tribes on data entry and other issues related to fidelity and quality improvement. Both interns and programs alike have expressed the value of the experience. Interns from rural communities appreciated being able to return to communities like theirs to contribute to more effective juvenile justice programming. Program staff expressed gratitude in having someone come to their office to meet one-on-one and felt the experience gave them a better understanding on the importance of data for translating research into practice.
The cleaned data revealed that school attendance was significantly improved during the time a youth is enrolled in one of the programs. In future years, JJI hopes to expand the dataset to track attendance after being in the program and graduation rates.
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