We need new ways to secure children’s education.
Denis Naughten TD has welcomed the acknowledgement by Barnardos that the current legal system – which drags the parents of up to 200 children who miss over a month of school without any reason through the courts – needs to be reformed.
Each year the parents of 800 children who have missed more than a month of school, for no good reason, are threatened with prosecution yet many organisations believe this model of enforcement from the 1800s should continue as they are opposed to a modern-day technological solution.
“The children in question are not those who are sick or home schooled but those who have at least 20 unexplained absences from school in a year, which in practical terms is within a six-month period.,” explained Denis Naughten.
“It is acknowledged by Tusla that November, because of its dark, cold and damp mornings is one of the worst months of the year for school attendance, which means that either children or their parents are not motivated to attend school.
“Rather than diverting limited Tusla resources away from supporting families to drawing up files to prosecute the parents of around 200 children annually, it would make far more sense to link up the systems in the Department of Education, Tusla and Social Welfare.
“Along with enforcing the current law on the payment of child benefit this would have huge long-term benefits by ensuring that children from vulnerable homes get every chance within the education system by tying child benefit payments directly to school attendance in terms of unexplained absences.
“School attendance up to the age of 16 years is a statutory requirement under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. Consequently, all recipients of child benefit are legally required to attend school up to this age. In fact, for children over the age of 16, the law is that they must attend school to get child benefit
“Enforcing the current law on the payment of child benefit can have an impact on the issue of truancy within our school system and cut down on bureaucracy. Linking child benefit directly to school attendance would be an added incentive for some parents to ensure that their child has a full attendance at school, rather than keeping them at home because the morning is too dark.
“More important than just the cost savings in administration, courts and family support services there are potentially huge long-term savings by ensuring that children from vulnerable homes get every chance within the education system by tying the payment directly to school attendance.”
In the case of Jenny, who is six years of age, in December her school principal contacted the National Education Welfare Board to say she had been absent for 65 days. The education welfare officer contacted the family, called to them, wrote to them and issued legal threats, and eventually the family ended up in court. The mother was fined €200 and the father €300. Since they went to court Jenny has attended school.
“Was that a good use of limited social work resources, the State’s legal resources and the court’s time and associated costs along with the loss of a valuable year in school for Jenny before action was taken to bring that about?
“In this instance Jenny would have been far better served by the threat of her parents losing their child benefit at the beginning of October than a fine of 3.5 months’ child benefit the following year,” stated Denis Naughten.
“Such an initiative can work; it can ensure that young people attend school and gain a real opportunity to progress through our education system and we also need to acknowledge that when these children fall behind in class it’s leading to disruption for the whole class.
“We need to rethink the way we do things, to get the basic things right, ensure that every child with the ability to do so should leave primary school being able to read & write and start using the limited resources of the State in a smarter manner to deliver for today but also for our children’s future.”