Parents face charges over truant teen

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
EDUCATION REPORTER
Last updated 05:00 12/09/2012

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Wairarapa

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The parents of a 15-year-old Wairarapa high school truant are facing a rare prosecution for failing to ensure she attends school.

Papers have been served on the Kuranui College student's parents after they failed to raise her attendance at the Greytown school despite 2 years of letters, conferences and intervention from community agencies.

Education Ministry regional manager Jilly Tyler said prosecution was the last possible step in the process, and was extremely rare.

Kuranui principal Geoff Shepherd felt the school had run out of options, after the girl's attendance consistently remained "well below" 80 per cent from the age of 13.

Even the South Wairarapa Rock On (Reduce Our Community Kids Offending Now) programme failed to persuade the year 11 student back to school.

“Teachers and agencies have worked hard to ensure that this student receives an education at Kuranui, and there has been a process of clear communication, face-to-face meetings and family group conferences to try to resolve this matter," Mr Shepherd said.

The girl's parents had offered a range of excuses, but they "haven't accepted their responsibility".

"I think they have seen it as just too hard."

The decision to prosecute them was not taken lightly, he said. In his 35 years in education, it was the first he had been involved in.

"We were quite reluctant but, in the end, we decided there was nowhere else to go.

"Whether the student comes back to school or not, we're hoping to send a clear message to parents.

"If students are not in school, then there is no chance of them learning."

The ministry would reimburse the school for the legal costs involved with the prosecution, but there was no payment for the hours of work put in by staff building up the case, he said.

"It is a huge waste of resources, but we see it as worth it."

Masterton youth aid officer Senior Constable Mark Brown said it was the first truancy prosecution in Wairarapa.

"It's not a step we like taking. [But] at the end of the day, we can only do so much."

Social Development and Youth Affairs Minister Paula Bennett yesterday announced that welfare recipients would have strict social obligations towards the health and wellbeing of their dependent children from July 2013.

Parents will be required to have their children attend early childhood education for 15 hours a week from age 3, attend school from age 5 or 6, enrol with a doctor, and complete core WellChild/Tamariki Ora checks.

Failure to comply after three reminders would result in their benefit being cut by 50 per cent.

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ACTION TAKEN

  • Kuranui College's truancy order of events:
  • Text to parents by 9.30am if student not at school
  • Phone call to parents informing them of low attendance rate
  • Referred to Wairarapa's Rock On (Reduce Our Community Kids Offending Now) programme
  • Inter-agency support from guidance counsellor, truancy services, Child Youth and Family, police youth aid.
  • Regular contact with parents
  • Ministry approval to prosecute
  • Barrister to build case of evidence
  • Papers filed through district court

TWELVE NON-ATTENDANCE CASES PROSECUTED IN A YEAR

Only  four parents have been prosecuted for their children's truancy this year. A further eight were prosecuted for failing to enrol their children.

All parents and carers are legally obliged to ensure their child goes to school each day while they are between the ages of 6 and 16. Under the Education Act 1989, they can be prosecuted and fined up to $300 if their child is away from school without a justified reason.

For a second or subsequent offence, that fine can increase to $3000.

Education Ministry regional manager Jilly Tyler said the prosecution process was triggered only when truancy was persistent, appeared to be condoned by parents, and when all other interventions were unsuccessful.

There are 75 ministry-funded district truancy service providers nationwide, either hosted within schools or by community groups.

"Sometimes uniform or other financial needs are found to be the cause of the problem," Ms Tyler said. "In other cases family violence, drugs and alcohol are involved."

After 20 days of non-attendance, a school had the right to withdraw a pupil, then whether or not to prosecute the family was a judgment call, she said.

Contact Jody O'Callaghan
Education reporter
Email: jody.o'callaghan@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @miss_jodyo

- © Fairfax NZ News

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