Best way to serve the community - don't serve truants

TERESA HATTON
Last updated 13:49 30/04/2014

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Businesses throughout the north Waikato are being asked to help reduce truancy by refusing to serve children who are not with parents or guardians or those who don't have a school leave pass.

Currently just over 80 per cent of offenders in the youth court are truants and the Waikato District has been identified as a pilot area for a new initiative to improve outcomes for these young people.

The Waikato Social Sector Trial, launched in July 2013, brings together a number of government and non-government agencies with the sole purpose of making a difference for youth.

North Waikato police are a key partner of the trial and are now getting involved, re-introducing a truancy-free zone to local townships.

The truancy-free zone, which falls under the Every Day Counts campaign, aims to raise awareness about the importance of attending school.

"When children go to school they develop skills, friendships, self-esteem and a sense of belonging. It's essential that families and communities place importance on school, and we all have an important role to play," Waikato Social Sector Trial manager Kodi Hapi said.

Judge Andrew Becroft, who recently opened Te Kooti Rangatahi ki Rahui Pokeka, a Maori based youth court in Huntly, said non-participation in school was "probably the greatest correlative to youth offending".

"Learning difficulties, behavioral difficulties and school disengagement often run hand in hand and compound the risks of offending and re-offending."

Judge Becroft believes the single biggest initiative to reduce youth offending would be to ensure that all young people were engaged in meaningful mainstream secondary school, alternative education and vocational training.

A key strategy in the Every Day Counts campaign is creating truancy-free business districts in Meremere, Te Kauwhata, Huntly and Ngaruawahia. The campaign will also be rolled out to Raglan and Tuakau.

Huntly Sergeant John McCarthy said it was hoped businesses in these towns would display campaign posters and during school hours refuse to serve children and young people who are not with parents or guardians or those who don't have a school leave pass.

This week, police will be visiting businesses in the north Waikato to provide them with more information on the campaign and to assist them with registering with the Truancy Free Business District programme.

McCarthy said it was important to note that truancy free business districts contributed to reduced theft and shoplifting.

"Truancy is often regarded as the gateway to crime and is well documented as a precursor to youth crime. Just over 80 per cent of offenders in the youth court are truants. So if you support the campaign you will be helping us to reduce truancy, which in the long term will reduce youth offending," he said.

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