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Shovel Award: Education Minister re – punishing parents of truant children

A Shovel Award goes to Education Minister Anne Tolley for her bill increasing the punishment for parents of truants (children not attending school).

Her education bill proposes increased fines for truants’ parents, from $150 to $300 for the first offence and from $400 to $3000 for subsequent offences.

The Shovel is awarded because this approach will be ineffective and costly; adding yet more layers of bureaucracy to New Zealand’s already cumbersome and burgeoning punitive system.

There is no evidence the existing punitive approach (fining parents) with the aim of forcing parents to ensure their children attend school has worked, because truancy has continued to rise.

As Andy Parr, a Christchurch truancy officer said, the tougher fines will have no effect on the families he deals with, “the main ones we deal with are parents who have lost control and the student is usually calling the shots.”The Press, 12 December, 2008 pg 1

This legislation appears to be a knee-jerk response. There seems to have been no attempt to understand why some students don’t want to attend school, i.e. that there can be very real reasons, such as that for many school can be unsafe (New Zealand schools lead the world in bullying) and unwelcoming. Nor is there an appreciation of how difficult it can be to force reluctant children to go to school, and other pressures, such as parents in paid work (where, currently, the government wants them to be), with physical or mental health problems and so on.

On the other hand, there is evidence that increasing fines will be costly – to parents and children concerned and to taxpayers.

For instance, the increased layers of bureaucracy needed will cost more in terms of time needed to process records of students (not attending school), of parents (or care-givers deemed to be responsible), of legality i.e. claimed offences (reasons for absenteeism to be checked out), and of dealing with defences put up for the said offences. What if, also, another agency or agencies are already mentoring or otherwise handling the alleged offending family?

The above, collated information from multiple records, has to then make its way through education, court and prison systems that are already highly stressed and overloaded well beyond their capacities to process what society has already put their way.

It could save a tremendous amount of time and human and physical resources to pause and take time to get an appraisal of the real underlying problems, and how to deal with them more effectively, perhaps even more humanely.

Your comments?

Your nomination for a Ladder or Shovel Award?

Read: Greens slam Maori Party voting, “Green Party MP Mitiria Turei has accused the Maori Party of disgraceful behaviour for voting to increase fines to $3000 for parents of children who repeatedly skip school.” By TIM DONOGHUE – The Dominion Post | Monday, 15 December 2008

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