BENCH warrants have been issued for the arrest of five sets of Rathkeale parents who failed to turn up at Newcastle West court last week where they were being prosecuted for failing to send their children to school.
The five sets of parents were all members of the Travelling community, the court was told, and they faced prosecution by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, along with two others sets of parents who appeared in court.
Giving evidence in the case of one 14-year-old girl, Stuart Moloney, an inspector with Tusla, said she had been absent for 106 out of 142 days in the current school year, adding that the home-schooling form requested by the parents was never returned. The family travels around Ireland he said and wanted to keep the family unit together.
In another case where the parents did not appear in court, their 12-year-old daughter had missed 108 days out of 142 and the service was “completely unaware of where this child is”, the court was told. One to one support was being made available to children at the Rathkeale school at taxpayers expense but the parents were discounting this and ignoring it, Judge Mary Larking remarked, and at a time when parents were “clamouring” for SNAs.
A 12-year-old boy attending the national school had clocked up 100% absenteeism since the summons had issued in March, Mr Moloney told the court. And in the months before that, he had attended on just one of 29 days. “His mother says he won’t go to school for her,” Mr Moloney said, adding that there didn’t appear to be any sanctions imposed on the child as a result. When he had visited the home during school hours, the boy was watching TV. A bench warrant was issued.
A bench warrant was also issued against the parents of a 13 year old girl who had clocked up 90 absences out of 142 school days. The family was not, at present, in Rathkeale, Mr Moloney said.
Another 14 year old girl was absent for 95 days out of 142, the court heard. At one stage, she had been living with her adult sister in Rathkeale while her parents were away. “She is a super student according to the school, very interes in home economics, ICT and art,” prosecuting solicitor for Tusla Mr O’Donovan told the judge who issued a bench warrant against the parents.
In another case, where the parents were in court, Mr Moloney explained that a boy aged 13 years and nine months was attending the local secondary school but in the current school year had been missing for 98 days out of a possible 142.
He didn’t return to school after Easter, Mr Moloney explained, and the explanation given was the family was attending a wedding. The boy had asthma and thirteen medical certs had been handed in to the school. Arrangements for one to one support had been made for him but he had made very little progress at school because of his very poor attendance, the court heard.
Adjourning the case to September, Judge Mary Larkin said: “It is extremely serious. The education and welfare of a child is at risk if they are not getting schooling.”
And she reminded the court that care orders had been made in other cases where children weren’t attending school. “There is no reason they won’t consider it in this case as well,” she said.
In another case, where the parents were present, the court heard that their 13-year-old girl was in first year but hadn’t attended school during December due to weddings.
There were 76 school days unaccounted for out of 142 and only 10 to 20 of these were covered by medical certs for the girl’s recurring ear infections.
Solicitor Enda O’Connor said the girl’s parents were “very anxious” she would complete her education but Judge Larkin saidl “I tried the earache trick quite a lot with my own parents.” But while she was hopeful there would be improvement, she warned that if the parents were going to continue relying on medical certs, she would want the doctor brought to court to give evidence and his diary examined. “I don’t want medical certs rolled out,” she said.
All the cases return to court in September.