Vigilance without Vigilantism: Duty in Truancy Courts

By Kayla Faria, CFCC Student Fellow 2015-2016

Founded on a bedrock of therapeutic jurisprudence, some truancy courts are aimed to solve problems and address truant behavior, but – like so much of our justice system – this underlying theoretical foundation crumbles without practical vigilance. These courts can facilitate a transformative space that transcends the school-to-prison pipeline and prevents a catastrophic intervention like foster care by empowering families with community-based resources. Without vigilance, truancy courts can curtail due process and serve as a punitive mechanism, punishing children and cash-strapped parents for systemic woes. Too often, courts shift the culpability of a fractured education system to low-income parents.

While we strive for greater efficiency in our courts, we must consistently examine whether our programs and judicial practices are preserving due process and creating therapeutic consequences. Consciousness of how these courts can fall short allows us to improve our justice system. To subject a family to an overbroad court order in a truancy court proceeding where parents are not afforded legal counsel flouts due process. A heavy (or overburdened) workload does not absolve us from our duties as officers of the court. We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard and challenge our leaders and systems to strive for greater transparency and resource accessibility. From compiling quantitative data on judicial practices to demanding deeper explanations for why a particular avenue is in the child’s best interests, vigilance can come in many flavors. But our vigilance must maximize the strengths and expertise of families.

Changing the system starts from within. By embracing a holistic approach, informed by cultural competence, we acknowledge that the root causes of truancy do not fall solely upon impoverished or tiny shoulders. Part of creating an atmosphere of cultural competence means refusing to impose normative hegemonic values under the auspices of problem-solving. It means doing the hard work of listening to children and parents. It means actively warding against a “child-saver” or tourist mentality that only soothes interveners’ egos. And it means creating a non-bureaucratic culture that centers families and engages a team of different voices without perpetuating trauma to children or the sort of informality that condescends, assigns blame, or oppresses parents.

3 thoughts on “Vigilance without Vigilantism: Duty in Truancy Courts

  1. Kayla,

    I agree that it is so important for the court-system and in particular, the juvenile system to address truancy and juvenile issues through a culturally competent eye. This would prevent imposing a hegemonic and culturally homogeneous value system onto those in need of services and intervention. As you noted, truancy and juvenile delinquency as a whole, have a plethora of issues at the root of the problem. However, by imposing a certain value system onto those appearing before the courts, instead of embracing or considering their cultural perspective the juvenile views the court as adversarial and not in his/her best interest. By acknowledging the strengths of the family, the child’s culture and his/her environment the court will have a better chance of identifying the root causes for the delinquency or truancy. This would also allow the court system to provide a client-centered and therapeutic jurisprudence approach to society’s most vulnerable population, children.

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  2. Kayla,

    I loved that you touched on cultural competence. I believe that is a major component of therapeutic jurisprudence. I think cultural competence is a practical skill that can be learned by any attorney and with the changing face of our society this skill is vital. A lawyer, thus, has a duty to become culturally competent in order to become the diligent, proficient and zealous advocate that is expected.

    My question to you is, do you believe that attorneys should go through a cultural competency training?

    Janee

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  3. This is a very well written blog, but your sense of idealistic optimism seems hard to implement. How would the government and communities’ practice the vigilance needed to protect everyone involved, without becoming unduly burdensome? It makes sense that there should be a method in place to support the families and their individual constitutional rights. But, the issue seems that the addition of these safe-guards, would in some way, increase the workloads of the individuals already involved in these type of courts. These added safe-guards could affect the “cash-strapped parents” even more than they currently do.
    If these issues within the courts were to be solved, wouldn’t that result in a greater risk for the families to fall through the cracks of the system? It seems that creating a non-bureaucratic culture would strip the agencies of constructive structure and allow for greater dysfunction.
    Aren’t programs like the Truancy Court, a better alternative than what these individuals had prior to their creation and implementation? I guess what I am asking is, what would be a plausible, obtainable goal that could help safe-guard these individuals better than the system in place?

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