Truancy and Non-Attendance in the Chicago Schools

Chapter 9: Non-Attendance at the Source

Edith Abbott and Sophonisba P. Breckinridge

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A study of the causes of absence shows that truancy and non-attendance are closely related to the neighborhood conditions which have already been described. In these immigrant neighborhoods where there are crowded conditions of living, where the families are very poor, and it is a perpetual struggle to give the children enough to eat and to wear, there is inevitably a great waste of the children's schooling that does not occur in more prosperous sections of the city. Sickness occurs among the children that could be avoided if better care were possible-, sickness of others in the home, and other family exigencies due to poverty impose a heavy burden of care upon the children, which is met by sacrificing school attendance. Table XI shows the reasons given in the home either by the mother or the guardian of the child for the non-attendance of the 1,158 absent boys and girls visited by the investigators.

The various excuses given have been grouped under three heads: (1) absences caused by sickness and family emergencies, which explain the majority of the absences of the whole number of non-attending children; (2) absences which could be avoided by a little better care and a little more trouble on the part of the mother-keeping the children at home to run errands, to help with the housework, and in general to meet the convenience of the mother; (3) absences due to truancy, that is, cases in which the mother had sent the child to school and did not know that he had gone elsewhere.

The great majority of the children absent on account of sickness seemed to have only very trivial indispositions, and a very small number of children were found in bed. In a con-

(129) -siderable number of cases where the mother said that the child was sick, the investigator felt that the absence was due rather to carelessness or indifference; for example, the child had overslept in the morning or the mother had not got the necessary clean clothes ready.

Table XI Reasons Given for the Non-Attendance of 1,158 Boys and Girls Whose School Absences were Investigated
Reasons Given for Absence Boys Girls Both
Number Percentage Number Percentage Number Percentage
Sickness and Family emergencies
  Sickness of child 280 46 268 51 548 48
  Sickness of others 34 6 47 9 81 7
  Birth, Death Wedding etc 17 6 16 3 33 3
  Church attendance 13 2 8 2 21 2
Other excuses
  Work at home 56 9 75 1 131 12
  Lack of shoes or clothes 46 8 34 7 80 7
  Errand and interpretting 31 5 11 2 42 4
  Having company or visiting 13 2 10 2 23 2
  Working or looking for work 11 2 1 12 1
  "Tardy and so stayed at home" 23 7 21 4 44 4
  Excused by teachers 4 2 6
  Inclement weather 6 1 5 1 11 1
  Various trivial excuses 29 5 16 3 45 4
  Mother thought child was at school 44 7 8 2 52 5
Total† 607 522 100 1129 100

*Less than 1 per cent.
†In 29 cases, 20 boys and 9 girls. no reason was given for the absence.

In many cases the child was ill because his physical needs had not been properly looked after, because the mother was overworked or ignorant or perhaps very poor, and the child had therefore not been taken to a dentist or had his tonsils 

(130) looked after or been given some other necessary preventive treatment. Sometimes the child's undernourished condition or lack of warm clothing and of shoes that would keep the feet dry had made him susceptible to colds and other illnesses. The fact that approximately one-fifth of all the children enrolled should within three weeks be absent because of sickness shows an urgent need for school nurses and thorough medical inspection. It may be noted too that the visits made by a school nurse who is also a social worker not only protect the child from unnecessary absences due to preventive illnesses, but such visits often afford an excellent opportunity for general family service, instruction in better methods of housekeeping, better care of all the children, as well as help in the process of Americanizing many homes.

One little boy whose absence was investigated had been out of school sixty-two half-days during the twenty-four school weeks. He was found at home sick, lying on the floor by the stove. His mother was away working, and there was no one to look after this child or the three smaller children who were at home. Another case needing the care of a school nurse was that of a little girl whose mother was keeping her at home because she could not pay $25 to have her tonsils out. Her doctor had said that it would cost that much, and no one had told her of a free dispensary which was not difficult to reach. Another little girl was kept at home to look after the children while her mother took the ten-year-old brother, who had been excluded from school, to the doctor for treatment.

With the children who are sick, must be classed the children who are excluded because of a disease that is contagious, although it may not incapacitate them. Such are the children with scabies and ringworm, the deadly trachoma, or "blight," and the less serious cases of unclean heads. These diseases are generally due to filth and neglect, and the children afflicted with them usually come from homes of the lowest grade.

(131) Unless treatment is vigorously pushed, the ignorant or indifferent mother acquiesces only too readily in the exclusion of the children from school and makes little or no effort to get them in condition to return. One eleven-year-old Polish boy who was visited by an investigator in February had been excluded because of scabies the first week in September. He re-entered school in January, but was found to be still suffering from the disease. He had been told by the nurse that he must go regularly to the dispensary, but his mother had made no effort to have him go. As a result he had lost a whole term at school and had every prospect of losing another. In this case the boy belonged to a very low-grade family living in the rear of a saloon. His mother was a drinking woman, and the boy's sister had been in the juvenile Court as a delinquent. The school record showed that the twelve-year-old boy in the family had also lost a great deal of time at school-forty-eight half-days during the twelve weeks since he had been transferred from a parochial school-but the mother strongly maintained that he was still in the parochial school and that the public school "had nothing to do with him."

The Visiting Nurses Association, the Department of Compulsory Education, the United Charities, and the juvenile Court had all worked with this family without success. The United Charities had finally asked to have the children removed from the home, but the juvenile Court had refused to grant the petition.

Inquiries made at the United Charities offices revealed the fact that it was not difficult to find other similar cases of children wholly excluded from school. One district office of the Charities reported, for example, The following interesting case. In a family in which the father was suffering from tuberculosis there were five children; the eldest, a little girl ten years old, had tubercular glands and trachoma; a little girl of seven had tubercular glands; a younger child in the family had trouble

(132) with his eyes; and the two other children were also tubercular. The family was originally reported to the Charities by a competent school nurse because the father was ill, but the report was made in January, a month when relief societies are very busy, and, although the office visitor gave attention to the man, got him to a tuberculosis sanitarium, and gave assistance to the family in his absence, it was not until the following summer that the physical condition of the other members of the family was looked into. At that time when the woman asked that the children be given a country holiday, a physical examination was necessary, and it was then learned for the first time that Mrs. S_____ and some of the children had trachoma and could not therefore be sent to the country. According to the case record, however, it was not until the following November that an effort was made to secure treatment for any of the children.

In January of the next year a nurse again reported the family to the district office and called attention to the fact that the children in the family had trachoma. It was not until March, however, when all the children seemed to be infected with this terrible disease that the society made any persistent efforts to see that the children had proper treatment. Even then it was June, fully a year and a half after the first report, before the children were taken to the Eye and Ear Hospital and Dispensary. At that time the doctor at the hospital thought that the little girls should be isolated, but the mother refused to allow them to be placed in the hospital, and there ensued a long struggle for proper care and treatment. The officers of the Health Department, the Juvenile Court, and the Municipal Court were evidently appealed to in the hope that the mother could be coerced into permitting the necessary care and medical treatment for the children. As a result finally of semi-weekly visits by a visiting nurse, the district office was notified in the following February that the mother

(133) was ready to take up the matter of getting a certificate that would entitle the children to go to school. This, however, was never followed up. On March 4, a United Charities visitor who went to the home reported, "Children not in school yet." On March 12, when the visitor was there again, she found that the children were still out of school. On May 10 the visitor reported that the children again had very sore eyes, that the mother was out, and that Mamie, the eldest child, was taking care of the house and the children. On June 10 the record shows that the nurse was once more coming twice a week to dress the children's eyes. At this time the family was turned over to the Pension Department of the Juvenile Court, and on October 8 it was reported that the children's eyes were much better and that the two little girls were in school. A report from the school on December 4 of the same year was as follows: "Teachers of both girls say that they are frequently absent. They were both out of school a whole day recently to say goodbye to relatives leaving for Italy. They are both very slow in their work and large for their grades. Mamie (now twelve years old) is in the third grade. Both children are well behaved." They had both lost two years and a half of schooling.

Family emergencies of all sorts, too, fall heavily upon the children in these poor homes, and many of them are absent a considerable number of days every year because of the illness of some other member of the family. Cases of chronic illness are the most serious, and a child is sometimes made to lose an entire year's schooling because there is no one else to care for a sick mother or father during a long illness. For example, two little Polish boys, Stanley, aged twelve, and Matthew, aged ten, were being kept at home alternately to care for a mother who was ill with tuberculosis. The family had never had either a doctor or a nurse, although the father was a skilled workman earning good wages and two older sisters were both working. The home was terribly neglected, and the little boys

(134) were delicate and anemic. In this case it would probably have been wise for one of the sisters to give up working and take care of the mother and the home. It was surely no kindness to the family to allow them to deprive the two little boys of education and health and at the same time to allow the home to be shockingly neglected.

A little Polish girl, ten years old and in the second grade, who had been absent fifty-six half-days within six months, was found at home in a rear basement apartment of two rooms, taking care of her mother, who was lying on a mattress in the kitchen. The mother explained that the visiting nurse and the county doctor both came to see her and a policeman had brought a basket. It was learned that the family had been deserted by the father, and the mother was usually able to support herself and the child by washing; but when she was ill she was compelled to keep the child at home to care for her. The child had already been out of school five weeks. The attention of the United Charities was called to this home in the hope that the mother could be persuaded to go to a hospital until she was entirely well again, and that the child might be properly provided for until the mother's return.

In a much larger number of cases, however, the children were kept at home to relieve a sudden pressure caused by an unexpected illness. One boy was kept to watch fires for a sick father while his mother " got a day's work "; another had stayed at home because his sister's baby was in convulsions and his mother had not been able to get him ready to go to school; John was staying at home because his mother had gone to see a doctor and wanted him to look after the children, who did not like to go to the day nursery; Bruno aged twelve, was found at home helping his mother wash, but he explained that he had really stayed out to go " to tell the boss " that his father was sick; Genevieve, aged twelve, who had been absent fourteen half-days and tardy twice during the month when the

(135) investigator called, was found alternately tending the shop and taking care of three younger children and of a sick mother, although her father was well able to hire someone to come in to help care for the family white the little girl was at school.

A few children, 3 per cent of the whole number, were absent because of a death in the family, or, in a small number of especially pathetic cases, because of the birth of a new baby, at which the little girl was obliged to officiate as midwife and nurse. In one family Helen, aged eleven, was not only taking care of her sick mother and of the new baby who had arrived the night before, but of six other children younger than herself. The mother explained that the child had had no sleep the night before and was not fit to go to school in any case, The father, who was at home, was a chronic invalid, and the mother begged to be allowed to keep the child at home for a week or two because she needed her " to go to the Charities " and to do errands. Later when she was told that a visiting nurse would help with the baby and that " the Charities" had promised to send someone to help while the little girl was away, she was glad to have the child go back to school. In another family, a little girl, not quite eight years old, was being kept at home to help her mother in a similar emergency. And in still another case, Mary reported that she was taking care of the children while her mother was helping a neighbor woman who was "getting a baby"; had the mother made an effort, another neighbor could undoubtedly have been found who would have helped with the children and prevented the interruption of Mary's schooling.

No one wishes to judge these poor people for yielding to the hard pressure of circumstances, but it is clearly wrong that in such cases the heaviest costs should be paid by the child, when a resourceful visitor could suggest better ways of tiding over the emergency than depriving the child of his only chance of education and frequently at the same time overtaxing his physical strength. Many of the parents are newly arrived

(136) immigrants, helpless in other ways, as well as poor, and it is no kindness to them to acquiesce in a hand-to-mouth plan which means sacrificing the child's future, when it is possible to devise better methods of meeting the immediate need by calling in a visiting nurse or by soliciting the friendly assistance of a kindly neighbor.

Because of the many hardships of life encountered by these poor families, one is tempted to excuse the cases of absence due to wedding festivities. A wedding is, in these neighborhoods, a great family festival in which children are expected to share. Nevertheless, it seemed hard that one more reason for irregular attendance should be added to those already existing. The absence of a little girl who was taking care of the baby while her mother was getting the older sister ready to be married, and absence of a little boy who had not been able to get up in time to go to school because he had been "helping at a wedding" until four o'clock in the morning were examples of children whose schooling suffered as a result of the family festivity.

No study of the causes of non-attendance in the immigrant sections of the city can fail to emphasize the fact that poverty is only too frequently the real excuse for non-attendance. In many cases where the father is a decent, industrious workman in regular work, but with a large family and small wages, it is impossible in the winter to "get ahead." The week's earnings barely provide for the week's regular expenses of rent, fuel, and food, and there is never any leeway, never, for example, any ready savings for the next pair of shoes. It is astonishing how important the shoe problem is as a factor in non-attendance. Too often, if shoes go to pieces during the week, new ones cannot be bought before the next pay day and the child must stay at home until then. And the new shoes are not bought until the old ones are literally in pieces. Roman, aged thirteen, and only in the fourth grade, was found at home wearing old arctics of his father. His mother explained that his father and

(137) the older boys had just "got jobs" and would get their first "pays" next week, when Roman would have shoes and be returned to school. In the case of another little boy found patiently sitting shoeless by the fire, it was explained that "Father gets paid this evening and will buy shoes for Stanley on the way home." Edward, who was also found at home, had worn his old shoes until they had made blisters on his feet, and today they had no money, and so he had to wait until tomorrow, when his father would "get him shoes out of his pay and send him back to school." Thomas was not at home because he had stayed out of school to get his shoes mended, and his mother explained that as he sold papers after school and in the evening, there was no other time for the mending to be done. In another family Mary was at home because she bad torn her shoe the night before, and since she had no other her mother had to take it out to be mended before she could go out again.

In addition to the families that are really independent and able to provide shoes at least on pay day, there are many cases in which the family cannot provide shoes at all because there is no pay day in sight, and help must be asked of public or private charity before the child can return to school. John, who was nearly twelve years old and in the second grade and who had been absent forty half-days irregularly in six months, was found at home in a room that contained no furniture except a cracked stove and two old chairs; the boy explained that his mother was out washing and that his father sometimes "worked on boats," that the county agent was coming to see whether they needed help or not and he had to be home to explain or interpret, for he was the only English-speaking member of the family; moreover his shoes were all gone so that he could not go back to school anyway. He showed a touching confidence that he would get shoes from the county agent the first thing the next morning, and would come late to school.


Another eleven-year-old boy, from the first grade, who was found at home, complained that he needed shoes and clothes and that he also had to "carry pants" and run errands while his mother sewed. The father was dead, and the family of six were living in a small three-room basement apartment; the mother was a home finisher, "sewing pants" in a dark room lighted by a small kerosene lamp. In the same room was a little girl of nine, barefooted, who had been out of school over three months and who not only had no shoes or stockings but who had only a thin summer dress. The woman said that she would like to have the children in school but that she could not earn enough to buy clothes or shoes. Later, however, when proper clothing had been furnished, she did not send them to school, but insisted that Michael had to "carry" from the tailor's. She was so absorbed in getting enough money to pay the rent and to buy food that school seemed unimportant in contrast.

This family had never been helped by a private charitable organization but had had county outdoor relief. The visitor from the county agent's office seemed, however, to have made no effort to improve the deplorable conditions in the home or to get the children to school. Two other cases illustrated the same indifference toward the children's school attendance on the part of the public relief agency. Joseph, nearly thirteen and in the fifth grade, was found at home, waiting for coal to be delivered. His mother showed a county coal ticket and explained that the county coal was always left on the sidewalk, and unless she kept Joseph at home to carry it in, it would be all gone. In another household, Frank, aged ten and in the third grade, who had been absent for two days, was found at home scrubbing the. floor. His mother anxiously explained that the county agent had promised to send coal and Frank would have to stay at home until it came because there was no one else to carry it up. She had had a hemorrhage recently in a tailor shop and was afraid to lift anything heavy.


It may, of course, be suggested that the "widow's pension" law[1] should prevent such hardships, but the fact must not be overlooked that what is really needed is some machinery for putting such families in touch with agencies that are available. That is, what seems to be most needed is a mobilization of the social resources which are waiting to serve in just such cases of need.

There are a few families in which the pressure in the home is so great that the mother finds herself unable to resist the temptation to keep the children at home quite regularly for a day or a half-day's help. But in the majority of such cases, the work could be rearranged so that the child's schooling need not be sacrificed. To help these poor people to make a hard life a little easier by depriving their children of the few educational opportunities open to them is merely prolonging their misery; for if the child loses his schooling, conditions in the home will not be improved when he, in his turn, becomes an incompetent man. In one home, where the man was out of work and was reported to be unwilling to work, the mother went out to wash and kept three little girls alternately out of school to "keep the home." In this case, the woman was defiant and said that she had a right to keep her children home while she was earning something for them to eat and to wear. In another home Mary, aged eleven and a half and only in the second grade, was being kept at home regularly one day a week. The father worked nights, and the mother said that she "had to have" Mary at home when she washed so that the baby could be kept quiet and the father given a chance to sleep. Her washing was very small and could have been done after school or even on Saturday without serious inconvenience, but so long as she was allowed to do so, she preferred the easier way of keeping Mary out of school. A little thirteen-year-old girl in another family had been kept at home every Tuesday or Wednesday,

(140) sometimes both days, since she had been in the school. The mother insisted that she could not pay anyone to help wash although the father and three older children all had steady work.

It is not always the little girl who is kept at home to help. Charles, who lacked one month of being fourteen and who was only in the third grade, had been absent twenty-nine of the forty school days since he left the parochial and entered the public school. The mother said that she was not able to do heavy work and "needed a child home, off and on." The father and the two older children were working, and the home was comfortable and well furnished, with rugs and a piano; but the mother insisted that they had no money to spare and counted off the days on the calendar until the boy would be fourteen and could be put to work. Surely it is the duty of the state to protect boys like Charles, and not to let them be deprived of what is really their American birthright because the parents are too ignorant to appreciate its value.

A little German boy who had been very irregular in attendance was found selling papers on the street. His mother was surprised to learn that he "must always go to school when there was school," as she expressed it. She said that she always sent him to school in the mornings, but that he sometimes got papers to sell in the afternoon, an arrangement which she thought indicated an altogether admirable thrift.

In another home a little twelve-year-old girl was found at home scrubbing the floor and crying; she said at first that her mother kept her from school because she had no dress to wear. When she was told that the dress she had on was quite good enough, it was discovered that she was really at home to take care of a little brother while her mother went on an errand. Another little girl had been absent thirty-four separate half-days in six months, and the constant excuse was that she had to go to her aunt's to help her take care of the children.


In a few cases the mother complained that she had no time to get the children clean enough to go to school. One woman, the mother of eight children, said that Mike had no clean blouse, and added forcibly, and no doubt with much truth, that when she had to go out and wash for other people she had no time to wash for her own children. Joseph, who had been absent forty-nine half-days in six months, said that he had no clean clothes, a statement of obvious fact. His mother was away at a neighbors, but he said she would wash his sweater some time during the day and clean him up so that he could go to school the next day. A little girl in the same neighborhood, who was absent, had a similar excuse. Her dress had to be washed, she said, and she had only one. The possibility of washing a dress at night does not occur to these mothers so long as they have the more convenient alternative of keeping the child at home the next day. If the compulsory education law were rigidly enforced, however, other ways would be devised of meeting the numerous emergencies that under present conditions seem to necessitate keeping the child out of school.

Many of the excuses now given are extremely trivial. One boy, aged thirteen, whose father kept a clothing store, was allowed to stay at home to see new windows put up in front of their shop; another boy was found hauling a clock across the street and explained that he had to help a neighbor move; another was staying at home to "help move" an aunt; still another was packing the few family belongings that they might be ready to move later when his mother came home; another boy who was found at home said that he was staying out to help care for a sick horse. More serious were the number of absences caused by the mother's morbid curiosity, which led her to go to the services for some young Polish men who had been hanged for murder. Several children were found at home that day taking care of the smaller children while the mother went to the funerals.


A number of absences were due wholly to carelessness. Chester was found at home scrubbing the floor, and explained that he had overslept, Sam, who was found studying in his father's store, was very much ashamed to be caught and explained that he had fallen asleep at his sister's the night before and did not get back in the morning in time for school; Frank claimed that he was staying home to take care of the three small children while his mother worked in the saloon, but the mother said that he did not need to look after the children, and that he was out of school because he had slept too late. One mother said that she hated to have Nathan, aged thirteen, get up so early when he stayed up so late, but seemed not to have thought of the alternative of getting him to bed earlier. One woman, thoroughly defiant, would give no excuse except to say, "When he has to stay home, he has to."

In one very prosperous family in which there were four children at work, a little thirteen-year-old boy, who was in the fifth grade had been kept at home on Monday and Tuesday of nine successive weeks to help with the washing. When the compulsory education law was carefully explained to the mother, she agreed with the investigator that she might hire someone to help wash. When it was suggested that they were sufficiently prosperous to keep the boy in school until he graduated from the eighth grade, she seemed greatly surprised to know that children were allowed to stay in school after they were fourteen; her other children, she said, had all left the parochial school when they were confirmed, and she had never understood that children could go to school when they were old enough to work. In another sufficiently well-to-do family the washerwoman had failed to appear, and instead of postponing the washing the little thirteen-year-old boy was kept at home to do it.

In many cases the child is kept at home because it is convenient to have an interpreter. For example, Tony, aged

(143) twelve, was staying at home to interpret when the plumber arrived; Stanley, aged thirteen, had to take his mother to court and to act as a witness; John explained that his father's " trial " was on and he had to see that his mother, who spoke no English, got safely to court and back again; Frank, aged thirteen, had to go with his aunt and interpret for her until she "got a job"; Peter, aged twelve, who was out helping his mother hunt rooms, explained the next day that she did not like to go alone because she could not speak English, and since the older children were at work he was the only one who could go with her; that is, it was more convenient to keep Peter at home than to hunt rooms in the evenings or on Saturday.

While visiting the homes of more than 1,100 absent children, it was inevitable that some should be found living in such unwholesome and degraded homes that regular school attendance could scarcely be expected. It was discovered, for example, that one little boy who had been absent thirty-nine half-days in less than six months was being sent to pick up coal near the tracks, although the family were reputed to be prosperous and were buying their house. In spite of their good income, the shiftlessness of the mother had demoralized the home, she seemed to be a very lazy woman who did not usually get up until noon; when the investigator called, the kitchen was full of men who were sitting about while the mother was still in bed in the same room.

Another little boy in the same neighborhood had not entered school until the second week in October and had been absent fifty-seven half-days in the five months following. The visitor found the home, the three children, and the mother all in a filthy condition; the little boy claimed that he had no clean waist and that his earlier absences had been due to a lack of shoes; it was discovered, however, that he had been "bumming around the nickel shows on the avenue," and that he was suspected of stealing. One of the other children at home was

(144) a little girl, eleven years old, who was supposed to be attending a parochial school, but who claimed, no doubt erroneously, that the Sisters let her stay at home to help her mother.

One eleven-year-old boy absent from the third grade was found on the street selling "extras." This boy was one of six children belonging to a family well known in the neighborhood because the father, who was constantly in and out of jail, abused the children and quarreled with the mother when he was at home. All the children had been irregular or truant at school, and the mother, who was at first very indifferent about them and their schooling, had become alarmed because they were "getting to be bums and thieves like their father," and had willingly given her consent to the commitment of the eldest boy to the Parental School.

In another confused and miserable home, the mother, who drank and used vile language, seemed to be the source of degradation. The little boy, aged twelve, who had been absent forty-five half-days irregularly within six months, was one of eleven children, all of whom were exposed to degrading and contaminating influences. The children were not only frequently absent from school, but were reported to be unruly and a source of demoralization when present.

Other similarly wretched cases were found. A ten-year-old girl in the first grade, who had been absent forty-seven half-days during six months, was visited on the occasion of three different absences during the three weeks that our investigators were at work in the neighborhood. One day the mother said that the child had overslept, on another day that she had gone to visit an aunt in another part of town, and on the third day, that the father, who was obviously drunk, had sold the child's shoes and that the principal would not give her another pair. Another little girl, nearly fourteen years old, who was in the third grade and who had been absent sixty-two half-days during six months, was found at home taking care of her mother.

(145) The father had deserted the family of five children after beating the mother so severely that she was in need of medical care.

In a still more wretched household the whole family, including all the six children, were still in bed when the investigator called. The house was dirty and unspeakably disorderly, with eight boarders in addition to the family of eight in six rooms. Later, stolen goods were found in the house and the family was evicted, but a newspaper story brought in a supply of funds.

In such extreme cases as these the children are really "dependent or neglected" within the meaning of the juvenile Court law, and they are, in the language of the statute, " without proper parental care." A warning from the Department of Compulsory Education cannot possibly bring about the necessary improvement in the children's school attendance. All the conditions of family life need to be changed, and nothing short of thoroughgoing family rehabilitation will bring the home up to the level of co-operation with the school. Drunkenness on the part of either parent, crime and immorality, cases of wife desertion, and filthy conditions of living should be reported to the proper corrective agencies at the earliest possible moment.

We have pointed out elsewhere that the great difficulty connected with the treatment of girls who are brought into court as delinquent[2] is the fact that the young girl's waywardness and the conditions of degradation so often responsible for her bad conduct are not discovered until too late; cases like those cited indicate the importance of a better enforcement of the compulsory school law and of requiring absolutely regular attendance. If the absences of the children in these cases were followed up at once, the evil conditions in the home could be referred to the proper authorities for treatment so that the

(146) child's right to her minimum of education might be enforced and her statutory right to "proper parental care" be made good to her.

It was an interesting result of these 1,100 visits that very few cases of wilful truancy were discovered. Less than 2 per cent of the girls and only 7 per cent of the boys were out of school without the consent of their parents. In these cases the investigator reported that the mother was usually very indignant to learn that the child, who had been sent to school, had not arrived. One mother was surprised to find that her thirteen-year-old boy was not in school, and still more surprised to find that he had been absent, at different times during the six months, eight whole days and seventeen half-days. She was very anxious to be notified when he was absent and begged that the visitor would try to "scare him."

One boy who was found at home claimed to be sick; he had started from home to go to school but went to a fire instead. His mother said that he "just took sick" after he got home. Another boy, Aloysius, aged eight, absent eleven half-days irregularly between January 1 and February 5, was not found at home, and an angry mother who had sent him to school threatened to "see about it," and said, "He'll be there this afternoon all right." In another family, John, aged twelve and in the fifth grade, and Leo, aged eleven and in the third grade, could not be found. They were two of six children whose father was dead and whose mother worked out by the day. During six months one of them had been absent twenty-two half-days and tardy eight times; the other was absent fifteen half-days and tardy twice. A sister who was at the home said that they often played truant and were probably "bumming," that their mother wanted them to go to school, but she was away all day working and had no way of knowing whether they went or not. It is, of course, in such cases as these that the resources of the Parental School are likely to prove entirely adequate.


This chapter was entitled "Non-Attendance at the Source" since it is only too clear that it is the home and the parents, not the child and the school, that must be dealt with if the school attendance is to be rigidly enforced to the 100 per cent standard. In the vast majority of cases it was found that the children were absent with their parents' consent or at their parents' command. It is useless to talk about the waywardness of the child or the shortcomings of the schools or the teachers while this is so. In one home the investigator, supposed to be a truant officer, was received with enthusiasm by the absent boy who called out to his mother, "I told you they'd catch you if you kept me home!" The mother, a good-natured Italian woman, was much impressed by the visitor's prompt appearance, and marveled that Tony's absence could be so promptly discovered in a school with a thousand children. In another home the boy, who was washing and did not like his job, explained with satisfaction, "I told her there was eight new officers at our school and somebody would give it to her." That our investigation had a tonic effect on school attendance in both neighborhoods was generally agreed. Persistent and careful and prompt inquiry after each absent child, whether suspected of truancy or not, must, even if continued for a short time only, be beneficial because of its effect on parents and children alike. Only in this way can the causes of non-attendance be discovered


  1. Technically called in Illinois the "Funds to Parents" law, enacted June, 1911.
  2. The Delinquent Child and the Home, chap. vi, "The Child from the Degraded Home; The Problem of Degeneracy," p. 105.

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