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Prosecution of persistent truants getting results

12 April 2005 Media Statement
Prosecution of persistent truants getting results

A South Auckland trial of a streamlined process to prosecute parents who condone the truancy of their children is having encouraging results, says Associate Education Minister David Benson-Pope.

Mr Benson-Pope says the trial began late in 2004 and is being jointly undertaken with a Crown Solicitor's Office. The trial simplifies the prosecutions process for non-attendance by providing schools and District Truancy Services with a template, which records all the evidential paperwork necessary for a prosecution to go to court.

"When the paperwork is streamlined in this way, the matter can be referred directly to the Crown Solicitor and heard in the Manukau District Court within two to three weeks," he says.

A total of eight cases have been heard in the District Court so far. Outcomes have been, conviction resulting in fines, and convictions with sentencing deferred to allow for improved attendance at school.

However, Mr Benson-Pope says the greatest success has been in the number of cases that have not proceeded to court because of improved attendance following the commencement of the process. Of the initial 30 students whose attendance was being monitored as part of a trial, over half (16) have shown a significant improvement in attendance following a prosecutions warning letter being sent to parents.

"Bearing in mind that all these cases involved chronic truancy and had previously involved considerable efforts by schools and attendance officers to get these students back into school, this is a very significant result.

"While it is still too early to tell, the initial evidence from the trial suggests that, when used appropriately, prosecution can help to reverse patterns of chronic truancy and re-engage students in learning. The cases which have been heard so far also suggest that prosecution is a relatively cheap intervention option, with the average cost of hearings being between $300 and $500."

The prosecutions project is part of a four-year $8.6million programme announced in October 2003 to support student engagement in schools through a suite of initiatives known as the Student Engagement Initiative (SEI).

Fact sheet: Truancy initiatives

The government funds 42 separate programmes and spends over $650 million a year providing additional support for at-risk students to succeed in education.

Truancy and Engagement Initiatives
- The Suspension Reduction Initiative (SRI) is a targeted programme for schools with relatively high rates of suspension to reduce exclusion and suspension.
- The Student Engagement Initiative (SEI) is a recent expansion of the SRI to a package of initiatives with a focus on ensuring engagement in education. The SEI includes:
- a review of District Truancy Services (DTS) to ensure that the system is appropriately structured to help schools manage truancy, and that the funding for DTS is allocated proportionate to need
- the development and pilot of a streamlined truancy prosecution process for parents who support or condone their children’s non-attendance
- early notification of absence and truancy through text message and e-mail
- a new student management system for tracking re-enrolment of students
- further research into barriers to learning and engagement

Interagency Work
- Full Service Education is an interagency pilot for the provision of social, health and education services to at-risk students.
- The Youth Offending Strategy is an interagency initiative, which includes the development of teams to support youth offenders in learning and the provision of specialised educational needs assessments for youth offenders.
- Successful Youth Transitions provides pathways to employment and further learning for post-compulsory students (16-19 year olds) through school- and workplace-based programmes such as Gateway and STAR.

Alternative Pathways
- The government funds Alternative Education providers, Activity Centres, and Teen Parent Units to provide alternative learning settings and courses for students that are disengaged or alienated from mainstream schools.
- The Correspondence School provides distance learning opportunities for students that have disengaged or been excluded from school.

Specialised Support
- Behaviour Support Teams support positive participation by students with severe behavioural problems. Their role encompasses both crisis management and one-on-one support to decrease inappropriate behaviour.
- Social Workers in Schools, administered by CYF, provides social workers that work closely with primary schools and other health and education professionals in the community.

ENDS

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