Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an NZME. News Service reporter

Truancy service shake-up a 'total waste of money'

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

Truancy officers have slammed a Ministry of Education shake-up of the truancy service, which will boost funding by $4m a year, as a "total waste of money".

The service will be replaced by a new Attendance Service in the New Year, which the Government says will be "more responsive to the needs of learners and their families", particularly Maori and Pasifika children.

It will "reduce fragmentation" of current services, and slash the number of agencies tasked with keeping kids in school from 79 to 18.

But truancy officers are appalled at the move, which has resulted in job losses across the country, particularly of highly experienced truancy officers who have built up long-standing relations with children, families, schools, police and community groups.

Jobs will be lost in Taranaki, Palmerston North, Wanganui, Hamilton and Christchurch, despite funding from the ministry increasing from $5.1 million a year, to $9.1 million a year.

The National Urban Maori Authority has been awarded contracts for truancy services in northwest Auckland, Hamilton, and Wellington.

Christchurch District Truancy Services (CDTS) will be wound up in February. The new contract has been given to Te Ora Hau, a local network of faith-based youth and community development organisations.

Chairwoman of the CDTS charitable trust Dr Christine Kokay said neither Christchurch schools nor local Ministry of Education staff were consulted over the move.

"You're not even asking the people you will be providing the service for," she said.

Dr Kokay, who is also deputy principal at Riccarton High School, said it was a "total waste of money" and could not understand the thinking behind scrapping such a successful and established system.

"We've got some highly skilled practitioners, with a vast resource of knowledge, very good links between, school and home, the police and wider organisations. Those contacts will have to be reformed and it won't happen overnight."

The CDTS, which has been operating for 15 years, bid for the new contract but missed out.

Its five truancy officers were told they could apply for jobs under the new regime but have all declined the offer.

Truancy officer Hayden Mundy will be looking for a new job elsewhere after becoming disenchanted by the "messy" handling of the shake-up by the ministry.

He said there had been a need to link the two existing truancy services - the District Truancy Service (DTS) one which dealt with enrolled students Non-Enrolled Truancy Service (NETS) - and because some kids were falling through the cracks.

But he was "baffled" that the overhaul meant the loss of such experienced and knowledgeable workers.

"All that work you've put in, will be lost. It's gutting," said Mr Mundy, had been with the service two years.

"I've got 40 - 50 schools I look after, and probably have around 100 - 120 referrals a term on average of families I'll go out and work with.

"A lot of it is working inside the home, which is hard because it feels intrusive, and now they'll have to tell their story to someone entirely new again.

"When the new service comes in, they won't have 12 years of notes and histories of working with families, and will have to start from scratch."

Pat Hay, a 12-year truancy veteran, was devastated by the move.

"It's such a shame," she said.

The Ministry of Education said the new service aimed to better target resources where they were most needed.

"When learners are in school they are learning and achieving," a spokeswoman said.

"The service takes the best of the former service and develops new ways to be more responsive to the needs of learners and their families/whanau and communities - particularly Maori and Pasifika learners."

A 2009 truancy survey found more than 30,000 students are truant from school every day.

- APNZ

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