NEBRASKA CITY – Otoe County Juvenile Diversion Coordinator Vanessa Sherman told county commissioners Tuesday that school truancy is deeply rooted in mental health issues.
Truancy referrals have doubled compared to last year and County Commissioner James Parsons asked if parents can be charged with a crime. He offered an example of a mom not getting kids ready for school.
Parsons: “She worked overnight and couldn’t get up. It wasn’t a transportation issue, the bus was there. It was just that I can’t get myself up in the morning.”
Sherman said attendance at school is the best way forward for troubled youth.
Sherman: “The truancies we’re seeing a lot of times, there are mental health concerns. You know things happening, maybe within the home or with that juvenile, that it is hard for them to focus or even want to get up and go to school. Just to get out of bed is a struggle sometimes.”
Sherman: “Just as someone that may have depression or their own mental health challenges, it’s just difficult to get through the day and, when you’re a young teen and have, you know, a developing brain, you need all that extra support and help. If they’re not finding that at home and it’s difficult to get that at school, if they are not there, they are really struggling.”
Sherman also reported that the number of youth ages 12 to 13 has risen dramatically and the top offense is marijuana. She said alcohol had been the top offense since the program started in 2004, until the last two years, when marijuana rose as the top offense.
She said youth may feel that marijuana is safer than using alcohol every day.
Sherman: “Well, bottom line is, your brain is still developing. We always tell all young people this. Don’t put substances in your body that are going to start affecting your brain and your developing body, regardless of what it is… it’s all harmful.”
She the bright side is the Nebraska Crime Commission’s report that 80 percent of youth completing the diversion program do not re-offend.