08/03/2011 04:18 pm ET Updated Oct 03, 2011

Indiana parents with truant kids may face criminal charges

By Susan Guyett

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Parents of young children who don't show up for school in Indiana's capital may face criminal charges under a new program announced on Wednesday by Marion County Prosecutor Terry R. Curry.

The program in Marion County, which contains 11 school districts including the Indianapolis Public Schools, ramps up how the prosecutor will deal with children 11 or younger who miss 10 days of school and fit the law's "habitually truant" category.

Previously, these cases were referred to juvenile court.

Filing misdemeanor "failure to ensure school attendance" cases in adult court gives the office additional leverage with parents who neglect to send their children to school, according to the prosecutor's office.

Education prevents crime, and allowing students to become truants can do long-term damage, Curry said. "That is why we are putting teeth behind the law and holding parents responsible," he said.

Absenteeism is a difficult problem for most school districts, said Thomas Keeley, an administrator with Beech Grove City Schools, one of the county's smallest districts with 2,500 students.

"We have found sometimes parents have not been proactive in making their children attend school," he said, and the new initiative could have an impact.

Under the new program, social workers will still work with families that start to show a pattern of unexcused absences. If the prosecutor decides to file charges, in most cases parents will enter a diversion program to correct the behavior. If parents don't cooperate with that, they may face jail time.

"The purpose of this initiative is not to target parents who are facing difficult personal circumstances. The purpose is to get kids in school and connect parents to the resources they need," Curry said.

(Writing by Susan Guyett; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Cynthia Johnston)