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Children in the courts: the judge’s role in Truancy CARE Court

By Hon. L. Michael Clark

August 17, 2022

In California courts, truancy has been approached using two different methods. In the past, the child was held accountable through juvenile court intervention. This approach slowly disappeared in all California courts by 2018. The other approach is adult focused with the aim of holding the parent accountable through adult criminal court intervention. This method is still used in California; however, Hon. L. Michael Clark of the Santa Clara County court system writes that a more holistic approach to truancy is showing promise and results in his 2022 Trends in State Courts article, Truancy CARE Court: the Unique Role of the Collaborative Court Judge. A collaborative court, also known as a therapeutic jurisprudence court or problem-solving court, is one which emphasizes the integration of services and de-emphasizes the traditional adversarial process.

The Truancy CARE (Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment) Court’s goal is to assist parents in improving their child’s attendance, get their criminal case dismissed, and avoid a conviction and fine. The judge’s role in collaborative court is focused on problem solving instead of moving a large volume of cases through the system. Families with a truant child are families in crisis who need support. The California Supreme Court observes that school attendance problems “are often traceable to family instability, poverty, homelessness, transportation issues, safety concerns, trauma, mental health challenges, or learning disabilities, and that appropriate guidance and assistance to students and their families can ameliorate such problems.”

A collaborative court approach to truancy requires that the judge have many roles: convener, facilitator, listener, encourager, issue spotter, trauma monitor, and service connector.

The Santa Clara County Truancy CARE Court program began in January 2020 and the experience has been overwhelmingly positive with the district attorney’s office taking the lead. CARE Court saw an 11 percent increase in successful dismissals. The collaborative court model is proving to be an effective tool for helping children and families struggling with truancy. The difficult problems faced by these families often require a multidisciplinary approach and team effort. No single agency can solve the problem alone. The judge plays a unique and pivotal role in cultivating trust and engagement by the family and in bringing together key community stakeholders to help the family.

Check out the full article and other 2022 Trends. Share your experiences with truancy courts with us. For more information, contact or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter , LinkedIn, and Vimeo.