Children's Commissioner urges parents of wagging teens to seek help

The Children's Commissioner is urging parents to seek help if they can't convince their teenagers to go to school.

It comes after the parents of a South Otago teenager, who stopped going to school, were fined for their son's continued absence.

It's lunchtime, and 15-year-old Jamie is not at school. 

"He just won't get out of bed to go to school," says Donna Davey, Jamie's mother. 

"He didn't want an education," says his father, Shane Matthew-Dryden.

His refusal to go has landed his parents with a trip to court and a $50 fine.

"It wasn't good, first time at the court for that," said Jamie's father.

In one term last year, the then 14-year-old missed 38 days at South Otago High School.

"I go and wake him up, but he just abused me, so I just leave him asleep... I can't force him out of bed because it will be assault," says Davey.

If a student is away from school without a good reason for 20 consecutive days, they are automatically bumped off a school's roll. It then becomes the parent's duty to re-enrol them.

Despite a warning from the Ministry of Education, Jamie wasn't re-enrolled - prompting their prosecution.

This prosecution is rare. In 2015 there was only one prosecution, with two in 2017 and one so far this year. 

The Children's Commissioner says it's a last resort.

"Almost nothing is more important than meaningful attendance and participation in school," says Children's Commissioner, Judge Andrew Beecroft.

His advice is for parents to seek help if their teen is refusing to attend school.

"It's not a sign of failure. Push the button, the help is there," says Judge Beecroft.

One parenting mentor says changing what the teen is studying can make a difference in their willingness to go to school.

"Is there support around goal-setting as a family? Is there support around ensuring what the student is studying is actually meeting their interests and their strengths?" says mentor Tracy Jenson.

Jamie is now enrolled in a course working towards farmwork, which his parents hope he will attend.