It is always good to see a constructive proposal from a political party in opposition. With the Government still feeling its way with inquiries and the like, and National so recently in office, former ministers must have plenty of suitable subjects to advance. "Suitable" means not contentious between the parties. A bill proposed by former Education Minister Niki Kaye surely is one.
It would put more education officers into youth courts where a pilot programme under the previous Government found they appeared to reduced the rate of re-offending by juveniles who ought to be in school.
The Children's Commissioner, Andrew Becroft, a former Principal Judge of the Youth Court, estimates 65-70 per cent of those before the court were truants or not even enrolled at a school. Nearly half of those dealt with by the court soon re-offend. When an education officer was put into three courts in 2011 a small sample of those dealt with found just 13 per cent re-offended.
It stands to reason that if a 14- to 16-year-old can be steered back to school, their behaviour and life prospects will improve. But steering a youth back to school is not just a matter of having an education officer in court for a family conference. Kaye's bill would require the Education Ministry to provide whatever staff and finance is required to carry out any decisions made about an offender's education.
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With 23 youth courts around the country, the task could cost more than the $2.5 million annually that she estimates. But there seems no reason apart from cost for the Government not to take up this idea and make it happen.