Dublin mother jailed for three weeks after child misses 240 school days in two years

The child has a 67% absent rate in this school year.

A DUBLIN MOTHER wept in court yesterday when she was jailed for three weeks after her eight-year-old son missed more than 240 school days over the last two years.

The woman, who is in her 30s, was convicted at Dublin District Court of neglecting the boy’s education following a prosecution by Tusla, Child and Family Agency.

Imposing the sentence yesterday, Judge Anthony Halpin did not accept the woman had been doing her best to get her child to school and the situation got worse since her trial in October when sentencing was adjourned.

He said: “I’m not satisfied the defendant has got the message.”

He added that she had,“not learned anything from the court hearing, the child is suffering and his development has been significantly affected”.

A parent could be fined up to €1,000 and jailed for a month if convicted of breaking the Education (Welfare) Act for not complying with an official warnings about a child’s school attendance.

Under the Act the minimum school-leaving age was raised to 16 years or the completion of three years of post-primary education.

The lone parent had been found guilty following a hearing on 8 October last and Judge Anthony Halpin heard yesterday that her son’s school attendance continued to get worse.

The west Dublin mother had been cleared of the same charge in relation to the child’s older sibling who was suspected of suffering from depression and anxiety.

Education and Welfare officer Georgina Traynor agreed with prosecution solicitor Shane Reynolds the boy had been absent from the school roll on 139 out of 175 days during the 2017-2018 year. That was a 79% absent rate.

So far in the 2018-2019 year there were 134 school days and the boy had missed 90 of them, an absent rate of 67%, Judge Halpin was told.

The education officer told the court, this “was going to have an obvious effect on teaching and learning” for the boy.

She agreed there were concerns the woman failed to put in place a routine to ensure her son attended school. This had a knock-on effect on a speech and language service provided to the boy who attended five out of nine of those sessions since November.

Judge Halpin noted the school principal had given evidence of learning and development delay which was “inextricably linked” to the child’s attendance.

Pleading for leniency, defence counsel Beatrice Vance said the teachers agreed the boy was bright, enjoyed school and seemed happy.

An older sibling of the boy was thought to have anxiety and depression and it had been difficult for the mother to get that child to school as well. Sometimes the eight-year-old boy mimicked that behaviour, counsel said.

He had also needed to get his tonsils taken out, the court heard. Counsel said health problems impacted on the boy’s ability to go to school.

A letter from his GP was handed in to the judge.

The barrister said the woman was the sole carer for her children and was doing her best.

However, the judge said he did not agree she was putting in her best effort and the doctor’s reports stated the boy refused to go to school and copied the behaviour of his older sibling. There had been a “blanket refusal” to engage with the school.

He thought there would have to be an improved attendance level for a mitigation plea to have any reality.

He said there was no alternative but to impose the custodial sentence.

The woman, accompanied to court by her own mother hearing, wept as sentenced was passed. She did not give evidence during the hearing yesterday.

In the event of an appeal bail was set at €1,500.

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