Ability School Engagement Program (ASEP)

Project background

The Ability School Engagement Program (ASEP) is an innovative program that brings together communities, schools and police to tackle the problem of school truancy. ASEP was conceived as a proof-of-concept test by Professor Lorraine Mazerolle, and funded through her ARC Laureate Fellowship awarded in 2010. Under randomized field trial conditions, Professor Mazerolle and her colleagues Drs Sarah Bennett and Emma Antrobus from The University of Queensland School of Social Science, found that young people involved in ASEP show decreased levels of official absenteeism, as well as broader positive effects beyond school attendance.

Since 2014, the Life Course Centre has provided critical funding to Professor Mazerolle, a Centre Chief Investigator, and her team to conduct follow-up longitudinal research, including interviews and the gathering of administrative data, to track ASEP’s impact. This research clearly shows that the partnership with schools, families, students and police engaged at-risk youths and their parents to think about the impact of truancy and its consequences.

Two years after ASEP participation, students were:

  • more willing to go to school
  • attended school more
  • offended less, and
  • had less self-reported antisocial behaviour.

How it works

ASEP is a third party policing partnership that targets school truancy. Research shows school truancy is highly correlated with delinquency, contact with the criminal justice system and negative life outcomes such as welfare dependency. ASEP is a collaboration between Queensland Police and the Queensland Department of Education to engage youths, their parents, teachers and police to empower, rather than punish, at-risk students.

The ASEP trial, held from 2011-2013, included 102 students from 11 schools in disadvantaged Brisbane communities. Students were randomly allocated to an active ASEP intervention or control group. In the ASEP group, police and school representatives met with students and parents in an informal ‘round-table’ setting to discuss truant behaviour and its consequences, to explain parental legal requirements for their child’s school attendance, and together the young person, parent, school representative and police officer decided on a course of action to enable the young person to re-engage with school. Actions include new home routines to support school attendance, additional tutoring, or support services to address psychosocial issues. For six months after each session, a police officer maintained contact with the student, parents and school through phone calls, home visits and school monitoring sessions. At the end of the trial, the officer conducted exit meetings with participants.

Kids who skip school are more at risk of being snared into antisocial behaviour, and have more potential for negative life outcomes than young people who don’t skip school.

Professor Mazerolle

Project impact

The Life Course Centre-funded longitudinal follow-up research of ASEP has been crucial to delivering detailed findings on the project’s outcomes, impact, and potential for upscaling to larger populations. This research has demonstrated that participation in ASEP is related to lower levels of offending, both in the short and long term. It also compared offending data between ASEP and control participants, which shows that those who did not participate in ASEP had increased levels of offending over time. The same pattern emerges for self-reported offending, with participants self-reporting significantly lower counts of antisocial behaviour two years after the trial. Participation in the trial also weakens the relationship between impulsivity and self-reported antisocial behaviour two years later.

Youths who participated in ASEP were significantly more likely to report a willingness to go to school more, and that the program made them address why they were missing school. ASEP also increased parental awareness of the likelihood that they could be prosecuted for their child’s non-attendance at school, and this awareness facilitated their children’s willingness to attend.

Next steps

The success of the ASEP trial has been recognised internationally, with Professor Mazerolle, Drs Bennett and Antrobus claiming a series of evidence-based and experimental Criminology awards for the program. Professor Mazerolle and her team have been investigating how ASEP could be translated to international settings by working with law enforcement agencies in the United States. They are also continuing to work on upscaling ASEP to other Queensland and interstate schools.

Read more about how ASEP reduces offending, impulsivity and anti-social behaviour:

Read more about ASEP’s impact on parents, school attendance and engagement:

Further reading: