Move to keep truancy out of court

PARENTS facing court over the failure to send their children to school will undergo community “interventions” as the body responsible for monitoring school attendance seeks to cut its legal bill.

The National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) has issued more than 140 summonses since 2005, but cuts to its budget means parents will be spoken to by education welfare officers, school principals and possibly social workers and juvenile liaison officers in a bid to avoid court appearances.

The NEWB has claimed the costs of bringing cases to court is nominal and only employed as a last resort. However, the NEWB’s chief executive, Eddie Ward, has said the system could be introduced on a trial basis this year to ensure fewer cases end up in court.

The new system would see parents issued with School Attendance Notices (SANs) and being invited to a family conference-style setting where education welfare officers (EWOs), school representatives and others involved in the child’s welfare would sit down and try to convince them to make the child attend school before any court case.

Of the summonses already issued by the NEWB since 2005, at least 40 were struck out while a minimum of 27 prosecutions were secured. More than 70 cases were still before the courts at the start of this year. The maximum penalty open to a judge is to jail one or both parents, but this has never been done and typically parents are fined a few hundred euro. In one case followed by the Irish Examiner, the parents of a 13-year-old girl who refused to attend school were convicted and fined, just a year after they had been convicted and fined for failing to ensure their son went to school. They are the first parents to be convicted twice for the offence.

Figures provided to the Irish Examiner by the Department of Education show, despite the refusal of government to sanction extra EWO posts, demand for their services is growing.

Home Tuition Payment requests by the NEWB for children who face difficulty in securing a school place rose by almost 25% last year, from 309 in 2007 to 397.

The number of Section 29 applications for home tuition — including children awaiting enrolment, who have been refused a school place or those seeking a new school after expulsion — also rose dramatically, from 53 in 2007 to 87 last year.


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