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What Is Truancy?

Truancy is when when a school-age child or adolescent frequently misses school without an adequate excuse. Each state has its own laws about missed school days and the exact definition of truancy.

Most communities face problems with truancy. While absenteeism and truancy are more common among middle school and high school students, truancy also occurs in elementary students, especially in inner city schools.

Truancy is not a crime. It is a status offense and involves law enforcement and the court system. Youth who are on probation and become truant could go to jail. In some cases, parents can be charged for allowing a child to become truant. Law enforcement agencies are often involved in youth truancy cases because truancy can be a precursor to delinquent behaviors and low-level crimes. It can also indicate family problems.

What Causes Truancy?

Truancy can be caused by a wide range of factors. Often, multiple factors may cause truancy.


A school is responsible for creating a safe learning environment, tracking student attendance, communicating with parents, and ensuring that all policies are clear, consistent, and communicated. Common ways a school may cause truancy include:

  • unmet needs
  • undiagnosed learning difficulties
  • unaddressed mental health issues and bullying

While schools often cite parenting and home life as the cause of truancy, truant youth often report school issues as the cause—for example, poor relationships with teachers, boring classes, and lack of interest in school.


Parents or guardians are responsible for sending minors to school, every day and on time. Ways a parent or guardian may encourage truancy include:

  • poor parenting skills
  • inability to supervise children
  • neighborhood violence
  • abuse and neglect
  • pressure to stay home or work to help the family
  • placing little value on education


The youth also has a responsibility to show up at school, help create a positive environment, and follow instructions from staff, teachers, and other adults. Some youth-related causes for truancy are:

  • giving in to peer pressure to skip school
  • pregnancy
  • bullying
  • mental health issues
  • boredom
  • lack of ambition
  • poor grades (especially being held back a grade)
  • being behind on schoolwork
  • low self-esteem
  • drug and alcohol use
  • participation in gang activity
  • having no friends or social involvement at school

What Are the Effects of Truancy?

Youth who routinely miss school have an increased risk of:

  • falling behind in school
  • not graduating
  • becoming socially isolated
  • engaging in delinquent behaviors
  • breaking the law
  • substance abuse
  • unstable relationships
  • unemployment
  • mental health issues
  • violence
  • going to jail

Chronic truancy can lead to dropping out of school, which is related to low wages, high unemployment, living in poverty, and criminal behaviors.

Preventing Truancy

Preventing truancy requires a multifaceted approach that considers the school, the parents, and the youth.

Rather than just punishing truancy with suspension, schools are finding it more effective to develop programs to work with these students. The most effective programs include:

  • mentoring
  • law enforcement involvement
  • communication training
  • community involvement

The role of the school starts with clearly communicating attendance policies and upholding them. Schools also need to keep proper records, communicate problems to parents, and work to improve poor conditions in the school. Staff should work to ensure that students are matched with the right teachers and are getting special attention when necessary.

Outside of the school, preventing truancy begins at home, with open communication and problem solving. This will help to determine the cause of the absenteeism. 

If you are the parent of a truant child, talk to school administrators to find ways to solve the problem. In some cases, transferring classrooms or even a new school may help. Rather than just punishing, finding actionable solutions is often effective in reducing truancy.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Amber Erickson Gabbey
Medically reviewed on: Nov 21, 2013: George Krucik, MD, MBA

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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