Beginning in the late 1990s, Philadelphia implemented a number of approaches aimed at curbing truancy, defined as any unexcused absence from school. These approaches included school-level interventions, case management services provided by Family Court and the Department of Human Services, concerted efforts by the Philadelphia Police Department to identify and pick up truant students, and public awareness campaigns. As these responses ramped up, the City recognized that, in order to tackle truancy more effectively, it needed to strengthen and better coordinate these individual interventions.
Through her Stoneleigh Fellowship, Julie Cousler Emig developed a citywide cross-systems truancy reduction plan. She began by cataloging all existing interventions related to reducing truancy in Philadelphia and quantified and defined the resources each system allocated to this effort. She then made recommendations to systems based on the costs and benefits of each response. In addition, she conducted research on best practices from across the country related to truancy reduction and developed a library of resources based on reviews of relevant literature and conversations with leaders in peer jurisdictions.
The citywide truancy reduction plan defined the goals and outcomes for all truancy-related initiatives in the city; established benchmarks for ongoing evaluation; and identified the roles and responsibilities of each system partner. It was formalized in a memorandum of understanding among key stakeholders, including the Mayor’s Office of Education, the Department of Human Services, the School District of Philadelphia, the Court of Common Pleas Family Court Division, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and the Philadelphia Police Department. The development of the citywide truancy reduction plan gave stakeholders a critical platform for cross-systems collaboration and laid the groundwork for more streamlined work moving forward.