In Kanawha County, 243 truancy petitions were filed with the court system for the 2011-12 school year. Judges placed 143 of those students on formal probation and improvement periods.
There were 21 Kanawha County students who were taken out of their homes as a result of truancy and placed in shelters and facilities with on-the-ground schools. Ten of those students are still in placements.
Strickland said it used to be "run of the mill" to place students in Department of Health and Human Resources custody and in shelters, but the court realized "we were burning our resources and overloading everyone."
The purpose of emergency shelters is to provide a supportive environment for children reeling from family dysfunction, physical or emotional abuse, neglect, the loss of family or a failed placement in a foster home. The shelters are meant to mimic a home environment and provide children with support and counseling.
Children who are placed in shelters for truancy are often uprooted from their homes and relocated to different school districts. Children are placed in whichever shelter in the state has a free bed, which often means moving them miles away from their homes.
"It creates quite a challenge," Tuck said. "If students are from a different county, they have to enroll in a completely new school. There are some problems with continuity."
In Nicholas County, which began an anti-truancy program four years ago and is seen as a statewide model, the judges say they are putting more of an emphasis on prevention rather than placing students in shelters. Having all the truancy cases come to the circuit courts before the magistrate courts is a major plus, said Levy Bragg, juvenile probation officer for Nicholas County.
"Starting in circuit court is a big eye-opener," Bragg said. "They understand, if they do not comply, they could be removed from their homes. They don't want it. They take it pretty seriously. The vast majority of the parents are glad to have support of the court system in helping to get their children to school."
Nicholas County Circuit Judge Gary Johnson estimated that less than 10 percent of the truancy cases that reach his bench require children to be sent to shelters.
Only one student this semester was removed from his or her home and placed in a shelter.
"The majority of the children go through the probation and improve," Bragg said.
Last year, about eight Nicholas County students were taken from their homes and placed in shelters.
Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.har...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.