News

Galway mum of 14 faces jail over son’s school attendance record

NewsBy Lynne Kelleher
Winnie Ward
Winnie Ward

A MUM-OF-FOURTEEN who is facing prison because of her teenage son’s school attendance record has said he couldn’t get to school be­cause he would have had to walk three miles to get the bus.

Widow Winnie Ward was brought before Tuam District Court this week and was warned her child could be taken into care and she could be put in prison if her youngest child’s school attendance didn’t improve.

Last year, 10 parents were jailed, nine were fined and five were put on probation in Ireland for failing or refusing to make their children go to school last year.

The widowed mother cried as she told how it became impossible for her to pay €150 in weekly taxi fares to send her 15-year-old son to school last year, as she was living in a bog eight miles away.

She admits there was a school bus service available, but claims she had “no way” to get him to the stop three miles from her house.

She said: “I cried for three days over this.

“I was living in the middle of a bog with no transport and they brought me to court for it. It was getting him there that was the problem.

“I don’t know why any parent should go through this. It’s wrong. It was eight miles to his school and there was no school bus.

“I don’t want to be locked up and my child taken. There is no reason for it. He’s well looked after. I need help to get him to school.”

The Galway mother said she believes the State should try and help parents rather than putting them behind bars.

She said: “They should change this. No mother or father deserves to go to jail over their child not going to school.

“It terrified me and the child. Still when I lie down at night I worry. I have never been in trouble in my life or any of my children and every one of them went to school.

“It was so shocking. I nearly lost my breath in court when they talked about jail. I really panicked. I thought my child was going to be taken that day and I was going to be put to prison.

“My son is terrified he is going to be taken away. He’s my baby. It’s not right.

“It was €30 a day to send my son to school when we were in the bog. I was there nearly a year. I just ran out of money. I couldn’t keep it up. I tried to walk it in, but I wasn’t able because my chest isn’t great so I couldn’t get in.

“Sometimes in the bog the water sur­rounded it and you couldn’t get in or out in the depths of winter. That blocked us a lot as well.

“I asked for help. I asked for a bus to bring him to school, but it was three miles way and I had no way of getting there. I didn’t want to send him on his own. It is so upsetting.”

The widow said she moved to a new halting site on the outskirts of Tuam last summer, which is still more than two miles from the school.

The court was told her son’s attend­ance during September and October was exemplary, but his attendance record was very poor subsequently. The court was also told there was no issue with the boy’s behaviour and his teachers felt he had ability.

Winnie said her youngest child be­came very sick with an abscess in his jaw last November, which ac­counted for a big chunk of his non-attendance.

She said: “He was in and out of the doctor for three weeks. I was so upset. I have made an appointment in the hospital and they have to operate to get it out. I got certs and brought them to the school.”

However, as she is still a few miles from his school she said taxi fares are still costing her €50 a week, which is almost a quarter of her social welfare payment.

She said: “I’m only on a few pounds a week on the dole. I get €215 a week. He is going now every day, but we hire a taxi. It’s a tenner a day.”

She said she moved last sum­mer to the halting site in Tuam for her son’s sake.

“We are the qui­etest family that was ever known. We never mix with anyone. We’re here for my child’s sake.

“It’s not my fault the child gets sick, he has asthma. My husband died seven years ago from heart disease and I’m doing my best. He is back in school and is doing the Junior Cert. If there was a bus to bring them to school there would be no problem at all. I would like to get help in getting him a bus to school.”

Home schooling mother-of-six Monica O’Connor touched a chord with the nation when she was put behind bars in 2014 for non-payment of fines relating to not sending her children to school.

The home birth facilitator and her husband Eddie O’Neill, a secondary school teacher, were both incar­cerated for failing to let the State assess their home schooling, as they felt it was their constitution­al right to educate their children at home.

Ms O’Connor said she doesn’t believe locking up parents ever helps to improve a child’s ed­ucation.