Saturday 24 August 2019

Home school mother spared jail over truant son

The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin
The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin

Tom Tuite

The mother of a Dublin teenager, who claimed she home schooled her son when he played truant for a year, has been spared jail.

Dublin District Court heard that as a last resort Tusla, the Child and Family Agency (CFA), had to bring proceedings against the the woman and her husband.

There were huge concerns about the number of school days missed by the boy, who is in his mid-teens, over several years.

Earlier, her husband had been fined €300 but a bench warrant was issued to have the mother brought before the court. The woman had not come to court on eight dates.

When her case resumed, Judge John Brennan heard that the woman, who claims to suffer from anxiety, had repeatedly failed to engage with educational and welfare officers or to go to meetings they arranged.

Fining her €900, he said there was “extraordinary ignorance on the part of the defendant in relation to her responsibilities as regards to her child and her obligations as a parent”. He noted she had no prior criminal convictions but said the proceedings concerned her son's future and career, adding, “that concern does not manifest itself in the behaviour of the parent”.

The boy had been referred to the CFA in March 2015 by which stage the boy had missed 100 days of that school year, an educational and welfare officer told the court. A warning was sent to the parents and they were told they could be brought to court.

The court heard the teenager did not have learning difficulties.

After the warning, the boy did not return to school for the rest of the 2015 – 2016 school year. He went back in September this year but has turned up just 50 per cent of days.

The official agreed with prosecution solicitor Clare Barry that the teen had a history of non-attendance going back to when he was in primary school. He missed 101 days in 2012 – 2013, 112 days in 2014 – 2015 and 129 during the 2014 – 2015 school year.

However, this was the mother's first prosecution. Ms Barry said the court could impose a fine of up to €1,000 and a one-month sentence.

The court heard a child can leave school at the age of 16 but must have completed three years of secondary school. As a result the teen's school attendance issue is still within the remit of the CFA, she said.

She asked the court to note the defendant's lack of an explanation for her son's poor attendance record and “the Child and Family Agency feels very strongly in relation to this matter”.

Ms Barry said the CFA remains hugely concerned as educational and welfare officers strived to intervene to no avail.

Defence counsel Aoife McMahon told the court that the third-year pupil was very bright and she put it to the witness that the boy has not suffered as a result of his absence from school because of the work he was doing at home.

The educational and welfare officer said she did not know that or that the mother had problems with anxiety.

Counsel said the woman had financial struggles and asked the court to note that the boy may “cop on” as all his older siblings are involved in productive activities. The court heard that the family made efforts to home school him but ultimately they did not succeed.

The mother was very concerned about her son and only learned in the past two days that he is still not going to school, the defence said.

Judge Brennan said the lack of engagement with the education authorities and failure to attend court proceedings on eight dates and the bench warrant were aggravating factors. He noted a letter handed in to court about the woman's health issues but said that did not explain her missing court. He warned that the fine must be paid within six months and that the parents could face further prosecutions if the absences continue.

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