School of Social Work Faculty Research Focuses on Truancy and Isolation from Institutions

Johanna Thomas
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Johanna Thomas

More than 6 million students, or 1 in 7, are chronically absent from school every year, with poor and minority students vastly overrepresented. Although truancy is considered to be a single event or a natural part of adolescence, chronic truancy has been linked to host of negative outcomes, including lower reading and math achievement, grade failure, high school dropout, unemployment and/or underemployment in adulthood as well as lifelong health and mental health issues.

Competitively funded research by Johanna Thomas, assistant professor in the School of Social Work in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences suggests that educators and social workers play a particularly pertinent role in the development of bonds or attachments to education and other social institutions. While mainstream institutions are important to the overall community, they are particularly critical to the effective socialization and guardianship of youth. 

Alishia Ferguson, interim director of the School of Social Work, said, "Dr. Thomas' research speaks to the mission of the university, college and School of Social Work as our work focuses on people who are at risk of future social and economic distress. Arkansas not only has high rates of poverty but also low rates of high school graduation (83 percent comparable to the national average). This suggests that her early intervention work is critical to putting youth in Arkansas on the path to lifetime success."

Thomas' research on truancy and isolation began as a doctoral student when she was employed with the Truancy Assessment and Service Centers at Louisiana State University. The program received $5 million from the State of Louisiana and included funding for Thomas' research to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the intervention. Her research in this area has also been funded by two competitive internal grants at the University of Arkansas.

Findings from her research indicate that the Truancy Assessment and Service Centers program is an effective tool for reducing or eliminating chronic truancy. Moreover, early intervention (K-5th grade) is crucial to student success and attachment to mainstream social institutions. Her research has been presented at several state and national conferences, including the premiere social work conference, The Society for Social Work and Research. Her work has been published in top disciplinary journals, including Children and Youth Service Review and Deviant Behavior.

Since her research began, her work has expanded to include interdisciplinary team of colleagues from sociology, criminal justice, and education. Future research plans include collaboration with education and criminal justice to assess other outcomes for children who have received truancy intervention programming, as well as funding for model implementation in Arkansas.

The two papers:

About the School of Social Work: The School of Social Work offers two degree programs. The mission of the School of Social Work is to improve the lives of vulnerable persons, families, groups, organizations and communities, especially those in economic risk. We achieve this mission by using evidence-based practices to educate social work leaders/practitioners; emphasizing critical thinking and self-awareness; facilitating collaborative relationships in the community; and conducting original research.



Johanna Thomas, assistant professor
School of Social Work


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