Record number of parents brought to court over children not attending school

A record number of court summonses and formal warnings were issued to parents last year over their children missing school — even though the conviction rate dropped.

Figures collated by the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) show 175 court summons were sent to parents in 2013 — 42 more than in 2012.

The number of warnings or school attendance notices (SANs) issued to parents also hit an all-time high: 493 last year involving 287 children. There were 423 SANs the previous year. The previous year 423 SANS were sent to parents.

However, only 41 people were convicted last year for failing to ensure their children attend school, the lowest such number since 2009. Instead, 71 were adjourned in general, 15 were adjourned with leave to re-enter, and 33 cases were struck out.

The number of adjournments was four times that of 2012, and seven parents received a custodial sentence, with three people ending up in jail. One parent served 14 days and two others were jailed for a month. In the other cases, the sentence was either suspended or appealed.

In four cases the Probation Act was applied and the other convicted parents paid fines ranging from €50 to €600. More absenteeism cases involve secondary school students than those attending primary schools.

Dan O’Shea, regional manager with the NEWB, said the figures were “a snapshot in time” and said many of the cases that were adjourned last year could yet end up as convictions.

He said issuing a court summons was “a last resort” and that often adjournments would be made by judges so parents can engage with services.

Cases come to the attention of education welfare officers (EWO) when notified by schools of absences of more than 20 days in a school year.

The NEWB has now come under the umbrella of the Child and Family Agency, but has not resulted in an increase in the number of staff. Currently some counties, such as Kerry, have one EWO to cover all schools in the area.

Mr O’Shea said the cases typically originate in economically disadvantaged areas and some parents might claim that they find sending their child to school too expensive. But in most cases schools were prepared to work with parents to cover the costs of items such as uniforms and books and in some cases children might receive more food and warmth in school than in their own homes.

The number of SANS and summons issued by EWOs has increased over the years, and Dan O’Shea said now there was “a small percentage of repeat offenders”. He added that this has led to the NEWB having to “draw a line” through some cases on its books on the basis of the resources needed to pursue cases which may not have the desired outcome of children, particularly older children, returning to regular school attendance.

Case stats

- 493 warnings sent to parents
- 287 children involved
- 175 summonses issued
- 71 cases adjourned
- 15 cases adjourned but with leave to re-enter
- 33 cases struck out
- 7 custodial sentences
- 3 people jailed

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