Meeting the Challenge: San Bernardino County’s Making Attendance a Priority (MAP) Program
To watch a video about San Bernardino County’s Making Attendance a Priority program, click here.
Truancy is a major issue in many communities — and San Bernardino is no exception. Truancy can also have significant impacts beyond hindering education. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Dropouts are poorly prepared to enter the workforce and require greater expenditures for social services and criminal justice process than do graduates.”
The San Bernardino County Public Defender’s Office was seeing the impacts of truancy first-hand. “Truancy is a big indictor on whether or not kids are going to continue in the juvenile justice system or are able to break out and get on with their lives, explained Assistant Public Defender Chris Gardner.” We had been looking for a way to get more involved, to partner with the schools to work on the truancy issue.”
Thus, the “Making Attendance a Priority” (MAP) program was born. In a nutshell, this program gives truant children and their families access to social workers, who assist them in accessing community or county resources that may help eliminate the root of the attendance problem.
Gardner calls the development of MAP a “perfect storm of opportunities.” A good relationship between the Public Defender’s Office and County’s Behavioral Health Department, combined with the passage of the Mental Health Services Act, provided potential funding for prevention and early intervention of mental health issues in children.
The next step was approaching the San Bernardino City Schools, where the collaborative program was quickly embraced. According to Ray Culberson, Director of Youth Services, “This was a unique opportunity. When the Public Defender calls, you’re not really thinking that they are going to be the engineers of a program that deals with social workers. The idea was intriguing.”
There is obviously a great working rapport and mutual respect between Gardner and Culbertson. They both quickly understood that by working together, they can get a lot more accomplished than be working alone in the fight against truancy. Truancy is not just a school or criminal justice problem; it is a community problem.
Andrea Robinson-Paiz is one of the Public Defender’s social workers involved in the MAP program. She serves on the Student Attendance Review Board and has seen how this program can benefit not only students, but entire families. “Typically if there’s a truancy problem, there’s an underlying issue. They may need mental health services, they may need basic needs… I am an advocate for the children and families for anything they may need.”
Since its inception, MAP has helped more than 2,000 children and their families. “This program has been a huge benefit. When we can figure out the underlying issue and get the services for that, things will improve overall. … A lot of times these families aren’t aware of what’s in the community. When they have access to these resources, it’s astronomical the changes that you see in their lives and what a difference it makes.”