Hennepin Co. Attorney's Office Hopes It Will Prevent A Criminal Lifestyle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A high percentage of felons have truancy in their background, which is why the Hennepin County Attorney’s office hired a nonprofit group to work with kids who have been skipping school — before bad becomes worse.

Val Acosta-Gomez, 17, reached a point in January when the thought of going to class at Washburn High School practically made her panic. She had a growing feeling of not fitting in.

“I felt angry and frustrated to myself,” she said. “Always questioned myself. Always questioned myself every morning.”

So, she skipped or showed up late several days as she dealt with family issues, which she’d rather not discuss. But she did open up to Morgan Larson, a case manager for a non-profit group, The Link.

The Link is a group of youth advocates working to find out the underlying issues behind truancy by winning the student’s trust.

Kate Tobin is director of The Link’s Juvenile Justice Division.

“A lot of times they’ve had people in their lives that show up,” she said, “and then don’t show up again.”

The key, Tobin said, is not only pinpointing the problems, but also focusing on what the students are passionate about.

“Really what matters is taking the time to keep trying,” Tobin said.

Val said it was a turning point for her.

“I’m trying to graduate on time, get a diploma, get a career, do what I have to do and just enjoy life,”

The Hennepin County Attorney’s office is paying The Link $308,000 for its services this year. They’ll work with about 400 kids.

The state of Minnesota is also working on ways to reduce truancy, with a goal to have a 90 percent graduation rate by the year 2020. It currently stands at 77 percent.


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