Mum found guilty of kids’ tru­ancy

The Dominion Post - - Front Page - MARTY SHARPE

A Napier mother has been con­victed of fail­ing to make her chil­dren at­tend school af­ter a day-long trial, which the judge de­scribed as a ‘‘sad and con­cern­ing’’ case.

The woman, whose name is sup­pressed to pro­tect her chil­dren, de­fended her­self in the judge-alone trial in Napier Dis­trict Court yes­ter­day. She faced two charges of hav­ing chil­dren who failed to at­tend school reg­u­larly.

The pair were en­rolled at the pri­mary school early in 2015. By Septem­ber, the school had iden­ti­fied at­ten­dance as a prob­lem.

Crown pros­e­cu­tor Cameron Stu­art out­lined the lengths the school had gone to to get the two chil­dren to at­tend, which in­cluded pick­ing them up from home.

For two years, the school tried var­i­ous ways to re­solve the is­sue. Staff tried to iden­tify the cause of the tru­ancy and to en­cour­age the woman to make her chil­dren at­tend.

It held meet­ings with her and it sent a se­ries of let­ters ad­vis­ing her of the need to make the chil­dren at­tend and the pos­si­bil­ity of pros­e­cu­tion.

Var­i­ous other agen­cies, in­clud­ing a pub­lic health nurse, po­lice and Oranga Ta­mariki at­tempted to as­sist the mother, but none could change her be­hav­iour.

The school prin­ci­pal told the court that one of the chil­dren had at­tended class less than 49 per cent of the time, and the other 75 per cent – well be­low the av­er­age of 92 to 93 per cent. Their at­ten­dance had not im­proved since the charges were laid in July.

The school’s pas­toral care of­fi­cer told the court of the var­i­ous text mes­sages and phone calls he made to the woman when the chil­dren did not turn up to school.

He would go to the house to col­lect the chil­dren but stopped do­ing so when the woman be­came ‘‘ex­tremely an­gry’’, caus­ing him to fear for his safety.

The woman said the fam­ily had been dis­placed in the early part of the year and the chil­dren had been ill but they had at­tended when well enough to do so.

Judge Ge­off Rea said the school had done ‘‘a tremen­dous amount’’ to get the chil­dren to class, and it was clear that pros­e­cu­tion was a last re­sort.

‘‘It’s a sad day in­deed when a school has to get to this stage to try and en­force your responsibilities for your own two chil­dren. They’re en­ti­tled to the same ad­van­tages ed­u­ca­tion­ally in life as ev­ery­one else is.

‘‘In the event that you are un­able to mod­ify your be­hav­iour and to pro­vide the ba­sis for your [chil­dren] to have a proper ed­u­ca­tion, then forces be­yond me will un­doubt­edly take charge and that may not be a happy out­come for you or your fam­ily,’’ he said.

Stu­art said there was a pub­lic ex­pec­ta­tion of de­nun­ci­a­tion and a sanc­tion be­ing im­posed, ‘‘how­ever in the leadup to Christ­mas, the school does not want to im­pose any fi­nan­cial bur­den on the chil­dren so no fine is sought’’.

The woman was con­victed and dis­charged.

In New Zealand, school boards of trus­tees are not re­quired to in­form the min­istry when they have car­ried out a pros­e­cu­tion but may do so in or­der to re­ceive money for the le­gal costs. The min­istry had re­im­bursed boards for prose­cu­tions on 42 oc­ca­sions since 2010.

Par­ents are legally obliged to en­rol their chil­dren in school from the age of 6 to 16 and to en­sure they at­tend ev­ery day the school is open, un­less there is jus­ti­fi­able rea­son for their ab­sence.

Un­der the Ed­u­ca­tion Act 1989, any par­ent whose child does not at­tend school as re­quired com­mits an of­fence and, if con­victed, is li­able for a fine not ex­ceed­ing $30 for ev­ery day the child was ab­sent, up to a max­i­mum $300.

"It's a sad day in­deed when a school has to get to this stage to try and en­force your responsibilities." Judge Ge­off Rea to the ac­cused

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