Day in the life - Stevie Bennett - Truancy Patrol

10th October 2008 at 01:00

Just after 9am, the police officer I work with picks me up in his van. I've already had a call about a pupil who's not turned up at school, so we head round to their house and knock on the door. There's no reply. But I've a feeling someone's home and often, when we call round like that, the young person is back in school next day. People don't like police officers on their doorstep.

We think carefully on every patrol about which areas to target. Today it's raining, so there's a good chance truants will make for the shops. Sure enough, a security man on Camden High Street gives me a tip-off about two possible truants. We soon catch up with them and, while they aren't happy about being caught, they don't make any excuses. Then we spot a mother with her son. About 45 per cent of truants are primary age, and they're nearly always with their parents. You hear all sorts of excuses: "It's his birthday" or "We're going to buy a gerbil." This time the mother's attitude is simply: "It's OK, he's with me." Part of my job is to help parents understand their legal responsibilities.

We do one patrol a week, sometimes more, and try to be as visible as possible, with special jackets and magnetic signs we put on the van. Some of the public find us amusing - but they're supportive of what we do. Today we only picked up four truants. By December, it might be four times as many.

Every young person we return to school is a job well done. Truants aren't just bunking off to go shopping - often they're worried about something, or struggling with their learning. Getting picked up by the truancy team can be the first step towards sorting out their problems.

Stevie Bennett, truancy patrol officer for Camden Council, was talking to Steven Hastings.

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