So often, schools and teachers in crime scarred communities are saddled with the failures of the surrounding community.
While most students present themselves to school with back packs full of pencils and notebooks, children in crime scarred communities present with complicated baggage: hunger, trauma, and neglect. The Office of the Albany County District Attorney is often times dealing with the parents and the adults of these communities.
District Attorney Soares is committed to breaking the cycle of truancy and violence by placing our children first and thinking outside the box to ensure and compel school attendance.
While the range of crimes and defendants vary, one constant remains: youth that abandon education are more likely to enter the criminal justice system than graduate high school or attend college. District Attorney Soares has had a rich tradition of involvement with the local school system.
In 2010, District Attorney Soares was emboldened to combat the issue of truancy after seeing first hand that most of the young offenders prosecuted in the Office of the Albany County District Attorney were individuals who were on the City’s most truant list.
Working in coalition with the Albany School District, the Albany County Probation Department, the Department of Youth and Family Service, and the Albany City Truancy Task Force, School First! Taskforce was formed.
Using the leverage of the District Attorney’s office in the criminal justice system and the carrot and sticks of its partners, families were encouraged to prioritize education and improve school attendance.
Working with teachers and school officials a set of criteria for parental involvement necessary to ensure the success of the child was established and parents identified. These conditions were then imposed onto the parents by the District Attorney’s Office during the course of plea bargaining.
In addition to enlisting other agencies involved in the lives of the children and families that ensure wrap around services are properly directed at students and families identified as at risk by teachers and educators, District Attorney Soares’s office will be providing technological hardware and software to improve communications between the agencies involved.
At the beginning of the school year School First! Taskforce held a meeting with the parents of the most truant students. The parents were asked why their children were truant, they were offered resources to help the family through any obstacles preventing the children from getting to school every day, on time, and notified that criminal charges were possible if their children continued to be absent from school. To date 75% of the targeted children were at school, on-time, every day.
More work needs to be done to ensure 100% compliance, but the School First! Taskforce lead by District Attorney Soares is certainly raising awareness for the importance of education in the lives of our most vulnerable children.