Parents of 130 child truants face fines or prison
PARENTS of more than 130 children are facing potential jail sentences or fines before the courts as authorities take a tough stance on serial school truants.
More than 100,000 primary- and secondary-school pupils miss 20 days or more of classes each year, while more than 57,000 are absent each day.
Authorities have been working to stamp out 'chronic absenteeism' where families have been deemed to have turned a blind eye to young people skipping classes.
There are currently 137 cases involving a court summons, with 57 issued since January over children missing high levels of schooling, new figures reveal.
So far this year the courts have meted out 27 convictions, with parents of five children getting custodial sentences.
One case is under appeal but it was not possible last night to establish if time had been served in the other four. Many of the other cases resulted in fines.
Under the Education Welfare Act 2000, parents face a maximum €540 fine or a term of imprisonment of one month upon conviction.
Last year, there were 81 court summons issued to parents and 20 convictions recorded. Some cases continued into this year.
These follow prolonged interventions with parents in a bid to resolve the problems behind the child missing extensive periods of schooling, the National Education and Welfare Board (NEWB) has pointed out.
The NEWB regional manager for north Leinster and north Dublin city, Michael Doyle, said it was hoped the extension of a pilot project, which has already run in 79 schools in Dublin, Mayo, Wicklow, Cork and Louth, would help slash the levels of chronic absenteeism and deal swiftly with the issues.
"In cases of chronic absenteeism families are normally aware of the problem. Parents are either unable or unwilling to address it," he said. "Every day in school counts."
Schools are obliged to report any child who is absent for 20 days or more during the school year to the education body.
It is estimated that around one in 10 primary-school pupils, or 58,000, and almost one in five secondary-school students, or 57,000, were missing for 20 days or more during the 2007/2008 school year.
Higher levels of absences are typically associated with a poorer background, dropping out of school at a younger age and poorer performance in the Junior and Leaving Cert.
Mr Doyle stressed that there could be a variety of reasons behind a child missing school.
Bullying has been cited as a factor, while in some cases there may be underlying family circumstances such as financial difficulties or illness.
Under the pilot scheme, the school principal would write to parents if their child has been absent for a lengthy period to seek an explanation.
The case could then be forwarded to the board if the problem continued. Efforts would also be made to engage with children with parental consent.
In one instance, said Mr Doyle, a child missing school frequently explained that she was avoiding PE class because of taunts about her weight. An official spoke with her teachers, who were able to intervene.