Part five of a five-part series

A toxic combination of bad attendance and bad behavior can land young people on the Hannibal School District #60's list of at-risk students. Thanks to a new program those individuals, who for whatever reason spend little time sitting in a classroom, can find themselves seated in a courtroom along with their parents/guardians.

The Informal Juvenile Court (IJC) is a collaborative effort between Judge David Mobley, the Juvenile Justice Center (JJC), Children's Division and school district. Students who are not meeting expectations in the areas of attendance, behavior or parent/guardian participation in JJC meetings are now being summoned to attend the mandatory IJC sessions. These hearings, which began in January of this year, take place on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the Marion County Courthouse in Hannibal.

The stated goal of the IJC is to deter students and parents/guardians from behaviors and attendance issues that could lead to them being placed on formal probation by the JJC.

"We thought this would be a tool that we could use to help students and families that were having problems with (school) attendance and severe behavior issues," said Darin Powell, assistant superintendent in the Hannibal public school district. "We also have a handful of families that are involved with the juvenile office and they don't attend the meetings. This is also a way to get them involved there.

"We are trying to be a little more proactive and get to them and talk to them before they formally become involved with Children's Division or the juvenile office, and hopefully steer them away from that."

Although the IJC has only existed for less than six months, Powell already sees the program's benefits

"It has been very successful in terms of the kids that are not advancing into formal probation," he said. "A lot of the students and families that we have met with in informal court that have attendance issues, their attendance issues have improved dramatically, and some of them don't even miss school anymore.

"Our whole goal is to catch the attention of students and parents in an informal way before they became involved in a formal way. With the vast majority of parents I would say we are meeting that goal."

According to Powell, so far this year there have been 134 students and parents/guardians involved in the IJC process. Of that total only 13 have advanced to where they had to be more formally involved with the juvenile office and Children's Division.

"Most of those 'ramp it up' because they don't follow through by meeting with the Children's Division or the JJC, or they choose not to attend informal court," said Powell. "If they don't continue to follow through with the individual plans we put together to help kids be successful, improve their behavior and improve their attendance, eventually they get to the point where they do get placed on formal probation by the juvenile office."

Powell added that since the program started there has not been a single student placed on formal probation by the juvenile office because they were not following the expectations that had been laid out.

"Now we've had some kids and families who are getting close, but we've been able to keep them out of the (formal) system right now," he said.

While being summoned to IJC hearing serves as a "wake-up call" for many parents/guardians, another partner has been recruited to help gain the attention of parents/guardians whose children are not making it to school on a consistent basis.

"Marion County Prosecuting Attorney David Clayton is issuing warning letters to parents whose kids don't meet attendance expectations. And he is willing, if they continue to not meet them, to issue citations for it."

A similar partnership is being sought with Ralls County Prosecuting Attorney Rodney Rodenbaugh.

"We really want them (prosecutors) involved at the elementary level because if you get right down to it it's not that elementary kid's fault if they are having poor attendance, it's the parents' fault," said Powell. "We don't want to punish the kids. We want to help the parents with whatever issues are causing the poor attendance by giving them an incentive to make sure the kids are coming to school."

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com