This fall, a prosecutor in Detroit proposed jail time for parents who do not attend their child's school conference. Having presented her program idea to the Detroit City Council, and hoping for legislative sponsorship, prosecutor Kym Worthy wants an effective law passed enforcing attendance at school conferences.

Part of her motivation is a link between crime among young people and parental involvement in school.

The prosecutor addressed concerns with her proposal before the Detroit City Council:

"Worthy said she realizes the idea is controversial but said she wants to start the conversation. She said her office would work with service groups to ensure prosecuted parents have resources to get more involved. Teachers would work to accommodate parents' schedules and the school would send reminders, Worthy said. Parents convicted under the law would have sentences delayed to give them another chance to attend the meetings. If they do, the case would be dismissed."

Research on Education and Family Involvement

There is research and information to support Worthy's concerns for both preventing juvenile crime as well as academic success:

  • The National Crime Prevention Council cites parental involvement as key in preventing substance abuse in young people.
  • America's Promise Alliance cites parental involvement in a child's education at home, as well as involvement with the elementary school as predictors of success.

Addressing the Concerns

Although it may be generally accepted that participating in a parent-teacher conference is an important part of education involvement, this begs the question: What kind of involvement helps a student the most?

According to The Detroit News article, Worthy has proposed that parents whose children are succeeding in school be exempt from any punishment. This could be construed as a type of discrimination. Her frustration is understandable, but the law could get complicated. It is possible for parents to help children at home, but fail to attend a conference. It is also possible for a parent to show up at a parent-teacher meeting, but do little to help a child at home.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, part of the U.S. Dept. of Justice, published a report in the Juvenile Justice Bulletin that listed "low parental involvement" as one predictor of youth violence. That report, however, discussed a parent's involvement — defined as communication, bonding, and relationship between the two — in the home.

The School's Responsibility

There is good argument for a parent's involvement with their children — academically, morally, socially, and financially. In a world where children in one classroom come from a myriad of family dynamic situations with single parents, married parents, divorced parents, working parents, grandparents as parents, children whose families speak little or no English, and children from a variety of different cultures, trying to make families demonstrate participating in their child's schooling in a particular way can be a challenge.

The article from America's Promise Alliance, "Family Involvement in Elementary School Children's Education,"not only reported on the importance of parental involvement, but emphasized that schools can increase the likelihood of family involvement by being committed to it as well. This included having parent involvement programs and specific ways for parents to volunteer in school.

Schools, administrators, and lawmakers may have to be flexible in their approach to what family involvement looks like.

Parenting Squad readers: What are your thoughts? What do you think of the prosecutor's proposal? And do you think parental attendance at a school conference is indicative of a parent's overall involvement with their child?

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