Couple who kept 13-year-old son out of school for four years have been spared jail
A Dublin couple, who claimed their 13-year-old son was sick but would not produce any medical evidence after they kept him out of school for four years, have been spared jail.
The mother and father have been warned they risk having their children being taken into care.
They refused to co-operate with education and welfare authorities who were trying to establish what was wrong with the boy who has not been in school since he was aged nine.
Gardai had to be called to their hearing at Dublin District Court when the mother obstructed proceedings and accused the judge of “bullying tactics”.
The couple initially faced prosecution after their eldest son, who is in his mid-teens, failed to return to school from September 2014 to May 2015. He went back to school in September last year but additional charges were brought in relation to their younger son.
The case was brought by Tusla, The Child and Family Agency (CFA) after the parents refused to engage with education and welfare authorities.
Convicting them, Judge John O’Neill stated that he found “without a shadow of a doubt” that the case “had been proved against” the married couple who had contested the case.
He convicted them for not complying with official warnings about school attendance and breaking the Education (Welfare) Act.
For the younger boy, who hasn't been to school for four years, the judge fined each parent €500, totalling €1000. They were found guilty but given the Probation Act on the charges relating to their other son.
The offence can carry a one-month jail sentence and a fine of up to €1,000 on each count.
Judge O'Neill said their youngest child was “the only person suffering”, he had not attended school for four years and had “no interaction with his peers.” “I have no idea what medical problems he is suffering from. He is traumatised and I have absolutely no evidence to justify them from keeping the child away from school,” said the judge.
Judge O’Neill said he had asked the mother of the two children “to produce evidence” but she did not do so.
The parents claimed their youngest child was too ill to attend school but they would not allow the CFA permission to verify this with their doctor. Initially they had signed consent forms but later withdrew their consent.
Over the course of the two-day hearing, Dorothy Ware, solicitor for the CFA called witnesses to give evidence. A social worker, told the court that she felt that “part of the problem” with the boy was to do with his “non-school attendance.” “He is primarily within four walls of a house and that is not healthy,” she said.
In cross examining this witness, the mother of the two children, called this “nonsense” and said this case has been a “medical issue since the beginning.”
The mother, who represented herself, then cross examined two prosecution witnesses, making claims they “were not who they said they were” and were “lying about their names.”
She demanded to see their passports despite the witnesses each producing identification. The judge repeatedly warned the mother about statements she made and that she should ask specific questions.
Two gardai were brought into court after the mother began “obstructing” proceedings, accusing the judge of using “bullying” tactics and also calling him a “phoney.”
The court previously heard that the 13-year-old was taken out of school by his parents after an allegation was made against his female teacher. A senior social worker told the judge that gardai and social services investigated and believe the allegations were unfounded.
Attempts were made to interview the child in relation to the claims and “gardai concluded there was no substance to the allegation”. The teacher has since returned to work.
The mother claimed her son had been traumatised, ill and could not return to school.
An education and welfare officer also previously told the court that the mother had refused to grant permission to contact their GP to find out if anything is wrong with the child.
The court heard the family would not engage with Tusla and would not attend appointments with school attendance officers. An offer of home tuition could not be followed up on because the parents would not let social workers speak with their doctor about the child.
Social services also had concerns about the parents' cognitive ability and about the mother's mental health. There were also child neglect concerns which were referred to gardai.
“It is a huge amount of time, he was last in school when he was nine, he is now 13. Our priority is the fact he has no interaction with peers, he is in the house on a full time basis, obviously spending a lot of time with his mother and I have huge concerns for his emotional well-being and the impact of that as well,” a senior worker had told the court.