Parents pay for daughter's truancy

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 26/03/2013

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Parents taken to court over the repeated truancy of their teenage daughter say the failed case topped off four traumatic years of dealing with an abusive and mentally ill child.

The Kuranui College pupil, who cannot be identified, became the focus of the first truancy court case in Wairarapa, but the Greytown school was forced to withdraw the charges on March 5, when information about her illness came to light.

Her parents are now seeking reimbursement of their legal costs, and for lost earnings incurred while they fought the case.

Her father says all he is left with now is a struggle to pay legal bills, a girl who is still not in school, and with no other schools who will take her.

The family's troubles began four years ago when the girl, now 16, became verbally and physically abusive towards her parents. She then threatened to stab her sister.

Police and Child, Youth and Family staff were brought in because "we needed assistance with this child", her father said. CYF has confirmed it dealt with the girl between 2009 and 2012.

In year 9, the girl kicked out the windscreen of her mother's new car because she refused to go to school.

Pre-empting inevitable expulsion, her parents withdrew her from one school and sent her to Kuranui College for year 10.

But the round trip from her Masterton home to Greytown offered the girl plenty of opportunities to get off the bus, skip school, then ride home by bus in the afternoon.

"The school never contacted me on any occasion whatsoever about her not going to school," her father said. "They did text my wife on some occasions and my wife was aware, but we were at a stage of what do I do, where do I look?"

The girl's whole demeanour changed, and they worried that she had begun drinking and taking drugs.

When they were summonsed to court, their daughter had been attending a creative learning course. But her illness sometimes meant fortnights off class and an annual medical bill of $600.

Her father said he tried everything short of quitting his job to ensure she was attending school.

"I'm not allowed to physically grab my daughter and put her in a car. We did everything possible, bar dragging her out the door."

It had been a "very traumatic time" for the family. "And we've still got a girl that won't go to school."

Her mother said that, despite trying to protect their daughter's privacy, they would have supplied all information about her mental illness if they had been given a chance to tell Kuranui's board of trustees before the truancy case went to court. "We have never put our daughter in the too-hard-to-do list. We've done everything, we've bent over backwards.

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"It may be over for the college, but it's not over for us."

Kuranui College principal Geoff Shepherd said there were "vast amounts of communication between the family and the college" over long periods of time.

But some of the medical information came to light only when it was relayed to the court.

The parents are now seeking reimbursement of legal costs, which the father kept to $1700 by doing a lot of the legal work himself.

His wife lost $4500 of earnings in the months she was off work on stress leave during the case.

"We're taking court action against the school to recover all the financial costs that we've incurred with this," the father said.

The taxpayer paid the school's legal costs, he said, "so I'm paying twice".

If he had pleaded guilty at the start, he would have faced a maximum fine of $300, but he was not guilty of what he was charged with, he said. "I'm just getting shafted all the way along. I feel it was totally unjustified."

Parents and carers are legally obliged to ensure their child attends school between the ages of 6 and 16, or face a court-imposed fine.

The Ministry of Education said yesterday that it had spent time with the family, and provided them with information about accessing tertiary education to help their daughter complete her NCEA.

- The Dominion Post

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