The law is simple, (life not so much)

Poll - Editorial: Many a Southland parent has cause to regard Tuesday's prosecution of a truant's mother in the Invercargill District Court balefully.

And not because of the $275 penalty imposed. There's a cruel penalty to be extracted for chronic truancy, all right, and that wee fine isn't it.

It emerges in the passage of time and in a host of mean and miserable social consequences that await the undereducated, disaffected and adrift.

On strict legality, truancy is nothing if not a straightforward matter. Judge Christina Cook told the mother: "You are the parent. She is the child. It's up to you to ensure she goes to school."

Can't put it plainer than that. Behind those admirably simple statements, however, great many potential complexities lurk.

A host of other parents will be telling themselves that there but for the grace of God (or the limits to the ill-grace of their own kids, anyway) go they.

That said, there's no denying that this latest case was one of abject truancy. The "child" in question was a Southland Girls' High School pupil who had missed 73 and a half days between February and September.

The mother's lawyer said she had tried everything she could to get her daughter to go to school but it had not worked.

Without knowing the full details, here's where suspicions might arise. The authorities have never been, nor are they now, on a hair-trigger to haul the parents of truants to court at every technical opportunity.

Far from it. Prosecution has long been a last-ditch attempt and, rightly or wrongly, the broad impression has formed in the public mind that it's done when the parents' perhaps inevitable assertions of making every effort haven't stacked up in the eyes of the authorities.

The cry will go up, and rightly, what if it simply is the kid's wilfulness in spite of parents trying their utmost?

All we can say in reply is that it's not as though nobody's looking into the causes of each problem case.

Southland has an extensive an anti-truancy network out there, and it is hardly an idle one. It takes a collaborative, multi-agency approach and it does seem to have been pulling in good results. A good deal of work goes into trying to figure out where the problem lies and how best, in each case, to front up to it.

So what happened here?

Maybe it's just a case, in spite of the defence protestations, of a negligent parent being called to account - and not before time. It really could have been exactly that.

Or maybe a case of longstanding problems and failings having created a pattern of behaviour that will take a lot of repairing, and against which everyone has so far come up blank, to the extent that the number of absentee days has reached such a level that the legal bottom-line just has to be invoked.

Either way, nobody would be so deluded as to believe that what happened in court is any sort of conclusion.

The upside of that is that, like they say, where there's life there's hope. However maddening a truant's behaviour may be, and whatever reasons may be behind it, the chance remains that the girl and her family can climb out of the fairly dismal spiral that presents itself right now.

You have to wish them well.

The Southland Times