The Working in Europe to Stop Truancy Among Youth (WE-STAY) project is a randomized controlled trial (RCT) that examines the effect of interventions on truancy and the psychological well-being of 9,600 school-based adolescents.
The WE-STAY Consortium comprises 10 European countries: Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden serving as the coordinating centre.
Truancy is a serious public health problem that affects adolescents from all countries around the world; however, little is known about the short- and long-term outcomes of underlying psychological problems among European adolescents who truant.
The improvement of mental health due to interventions aimed at reducing truancy is still unknown. The existing studies on truancy are scarce; they are affected by methodological shortcomings that make evaluation of efficacy extremely difficult. Many of the findings are based on samples of insufficient size and on inadequate sampling.
The main objectives of the WE-STAY project are to gather epidemiological data on truancy, risk-behaviours and mental health among European adolescents; to perform school-based interventions aimed at reducing truancy rates and improving the mental health of pupils; to evaluate outcomes of the interventions in comparison with a control group from a multidisciplinary perspective including social, psychological and economical aspects; and to recommend effective, culturally-adjusted models for preventing truancy and promoting mental health among adolescents in different European countries.
The WE-STAY project implements and evaluates the outcomes of three types of interventions:
A mechanistic intervention is utilized as a control group. Each of these intervention arms uses a different active component to achieve effectiveness:
Arm I: Professional screening and referral (TRUANCY-SCREEN)
This intervention model is aimed to identify at-risk pupils through early detection of risk-behaviours and mental health problems -. Screening strategies are based on the premise that truant adolescents may suffer from emotional, psychological or conduct problems that require psychiatric, psychological or social treatment
Arm II: Universal intervention with awareness program (TRUANCY-AWARE)
This intervention model is designed to increase pupils’ awareness of psychological symptoms related to truancy. Pupils are provided with a didactic booklet and the opportunity to participate in role-play sessions that address truancy and mental health-related problems.
Arm III: Combination of Screen and Awareness Interventions (TRUANCY-COMBINED)
This intervention model comprises both TRUANCY-SCREEN and TRUANCY-AWARE interventions.
Arm IV: Mechanistic Intervention Control (TRUANCY-MIC)
The mechanistic model is a control arm that identifies absentee adolescents. Information on the number of absentees from the previous year and during the defined intervention period is tracked and recorded. The TRUANCY-MIC is implemented simultaneously with the respective active intervention program.
The efficacy of interventions aimed at preventing truancy is assessed by structured questionnaires that are administered to pupils at baseline, 1-month and 12-month follow-ups. The follow-up evaluations provide detailed data for determining the value of specific intervention components in both short- and long-term periods.
The WE-STAY project is expected to generate information on specific psychological and behavioural factors associated with European adolescents who truant; these data are currently not available in Europe. Results of the evaluation will be used to recommend the best practices for preventing truancy and school drop-outs; while improving mental health among school-based adolescents in Europe.
It is hypothesized that the preventive interventions performed in the WE-STAY project may reduce truancy, risk-behaviours and psychological distress among pupils. The results of the project will provide the basis for multidisciplinary analyses of efficacy (i.e. sociological, psychological, behavioural and public health facets), cost-effectiveness (i.e. economical facets) and sustainability (i.e. long-term impact). WE-STAY will provide evidence-based knowledge to policy and decision-makers at European, national and local levels.