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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 March, 2004, 17:14 GMT
Truancy trials 'positive impact'
Welfare officers said high-profile truancy cases had a positive impact

Education welfare officers say that the publicity surrounding the prosecution of parents of truants can improve attendance levels among other families.

Oxfordshire parent Patricia Amos has been jailed again over her daughter's truancy.

The National Foundation for Educational Research has recently published an analysis of the impact of such prosecutions.

Local authority education welfare service staff told researchers that prosecuting parents over truancy made them aware of their responsibilities and the importance of school attendance.

Many felt prosecution was more successful with younger children, because parents had more control over them.

If you could have one of those every year that would be good, even a bogus one ...
Principal education welfare officer
But the actual number of prosecutions increased with children's ages, peaking among 14 and 15 year olds.

Over half of the parents interviewed felt prosecution did not work.

They felt it did not result in better attendance and did nothing to address the reasons why their children were not attending school.

But almost all of the 89 principal welfare officers who offered views on the publicity surrounding high-profile prosecutions said it had a positive impact on attendance levels.

"If you could have one of those every year that would be good, even a bogus one, if they made up a family and have them go to court that would be excellent," one said.

Financial difficulties

Eighteen welfare officers reported that prosecution had had a detrimental impact on parents who were given a hefty fine when they were already in financial difficulties.

Although it was reported that fines were generally low, and families were able to pay them off weekly, the researchers said interviewees were adamant that this additional payment had affected some families.

"We have put these families into further trauma and crisis by imposing financial penalties which they could not afford," one said.

Others said many parents prosecuted for their children's non-school attendance were people who had not attended court previously.

For these parents, typically single mothers, going through the prosecution process was "a devastating experience".

Mothers blamed

Some said prosecution often caused friction between the child's parents "because mums are left with the responsibility to ensure that the child attends school", while fathers sometimes "removed" themselves from the situation - by going to work, for example.

So fathers tended to blame mothers.

"You almost see the mother shivering with the weight of the responsibility that is put on her," one said.

Half the principal officers said older children were affected more by prosecution than younger children.

When younger children missed school it was "usually an issue to do with parenting, or the lack if it", it was rarely the child's decision not to attend.

But older children were better able to comprehend the seriousness of the situation.

That said, "not all of them cared" about what they were putting their parents through.

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