Hardcore truants by the thousand
By LANE NICHOLS – The Dominion Post | Saturday, 20 December 2008
Thousands of the most at-risk children are still missing from classrooms, forcing education officials to act as detectives hunting long-term truants.
Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft said the “unexploded time bombs” who were mainly male represented the hardcore youth offenders. It was unacceptable that so many had fallen out of the schooling system.
“They’re our toughest kids with a constellation of problems. As Youth Court judges, we’re terribly concerned by the lack of engagement in education of these top-end offenders.”
A year after The Dominion Post revealed a “lost tribe” of nearly 7000 children not enrolled at any school, the Education Ministry admits more than 2500 are still missing “on any given day”.
About 450 have not been to school in more than six months 148 of them in more than a year. Most are junior high school pupils.
Education Minister Anne Tolley has ordered an urgent briefing from officials and warned yesterday that parents who failed to enrol their children were jeopardising their futures and committing a serious offence.
Ministry senior manager Jim Greening said numbers had dropped significantly in the past year but the situation remained unsatisfactory. Pupils who dropped out of the school system were at risk of spiralling into trouble later in life, he said, potentially costing society millions of dollars through crime and their drain on health and social services.
“We’ve got people across the country working very hard on this issue. We want to give all these kids every chance we can.”
All the missing kids are aged under 16 so are legally required to attend class but have been absent for at least 20 days.
Mr Greening said the hardcore truants were revealed by a computer enrolment tracking system in all schools since August last year. More than 30 staff were employed nationally to find the truants.
Of the nearly 7000 cases identified last year, many of the most-difficult pupils had been hunted down and re-enrolled.
An information-sharing agreement with the Immigration Service showed thousands of others had left the country, or were on the list only because of processing errors. But many hundreds more were missing.
“Often they don’t have any address,” Mr Greening said. “[Officials] go to the place where the family was. If they’re not there, they’ll ask neighbours. It becomes a detective thing, I guess.”
The missing children often came from dysfunctional families with complex problems. Ministry officials sometimes alerted other agencies such as police and Child, Youth and Family. “The really long-term hard ones, our people might locate. But we know in three months’ time our people are going to be looking for them again because they won’t be in class.”
Judge Becroft said Youth Court judges had always suspected a group of up to 3000 pupils had fallen out of the education system, but the ministry had only now been able to quantify it.
Children’s Commissioner Cindy Kiro said non-enrolled children were being denied their right to an education.