'Legal action will only be used as last resort'
THE National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) was established in 2002 and has a statutory function to ensure every child attends a school or otherwise receives an education.
The reasons for non-attendance at school range from factors at home, the family dynamic, to school-related issues.
Our job is to identify the barriers preventing a child from attending school and then to work with the family. If appropriate or necessary, we will link with other agencies and support services.
Instead of admonishing children and parents for non-attendance, our educational welfare officers work hard to get to the root of the problems behind it.
Officers will always communicate with the school in the first instance, to build a profile of the absences and the reasons given for them, before we make contact with parents.
In 2012, our officers worked with more than 20,000 children who experienced difficulty with school attendance.
Some 2,420 of these cases involved problems of poor attendance that were the manifestation of more complex and deep-rooted problems.
Every child has a right to an education, and it is parents' or guardians' responsibility to ensure that their child receives one. Parents or guardians who fail in this duty can be prosecuted.
Legal action is a last resort and forms a small percentage of our work. A School Attendance Notice (SAN) is the first step in enforcing the law. An educational welfare officer will continue to monitor the child's attendance, and the parent or guardian is given every opportunity to address the issues.
In exceptional cases, where there is no progress, the board will consider pursuing a prosecution.
Since taking our first legal proceedings in 2006 under the Educational (Welfare) Act 2000, the board has issued a total of 2,566 SANs in relation to 1,668 children and has issued 681 summonses in relation to 430 children.
Of these, 235 convictions have been recorded where parents have been fined or jailed.
Even when legal proceedings conclude, we continue to work with the family to ensure that there is a return to education for the child concerned. To us this is the most satisfactory outcome that can be achieved as a result of taking legal proceedings.
If after a period of time we are satisfied that the child is attending school regularly, or is in receipt of education elsewhere, the case will be closed.
Dan O'Shea is Munster regional manager of the National Educational Welfare Board