Blaming The Troubled Parent: Should couples require a license to parent?
Battle of Ideas – After the riots
Saturday 20th October 2012
Last summer, hundreds of British children aged between 11 and 14 participated in looting shops and wantonly destroying property in UK cities. Immediately after the riots, Prime Minister David Cameron noted, ‘The question people asked over and over again was “Where are the parents?”’. He went on to assert there were 120,000 ‘troubled families’ and that he would implement a new initiative to turn these families’ lives and prospects around, warning that his government would be less sensitive than before to accusations that its intervention was ‘interfering or nannying’. A similar explanation for rioting youth was one of the key findings of the Riots, Communities and Victims panel’s report, published early in 2012. That report used different statistics, referring to 500,000 ‘forgotten families’ who ‘bump along the bottom of society’.
Some of the practical policy consequences, such as the government’s commitment to spend millions of pounds giving mums and dads Boots vouchers for parenting classes, have been derided. But many critics argued Cameron’s initiative missed the target of real problem families, favouring more effective intervention rather than opposing it in principle. There is certainly a consensus among experts and policy makers that deadbeat dads and slack mums are responsible for all sorts of anti-social behaviour. Labour MP Frank Field reports that he has travelled the length and breadth of Britain and discovered there is ‘clearly a problem of chaotic families’. When Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and his think-tank, the Centre for Social Justice, called for an aggressive ‘early intervention’ programme to educate parents about how they conduct their family lives, he echoed opinion formers across the political spectrum. It is now orthodoxy that what happens in a child’s first five years stamps them indelibly for life.
With so much emphasis on what has been called ‘parental determinism’, the case for the state taking greater responsibility seems to be growing in strength. Adoption tsar Martin Narey argues that many more children should be taken into care, while documentary filmmaker Roger Graef insists that ‘undue respect for birth parents’ rights’ amounts to a harmful political correctness. Is it wrong that children should be left in problem families? Indeed, are there some people who shouldn’t be parents at all? Is it true that without intense state intervention, we can expect more rioting youth in the future? Or is it not the place of the state to decide who are good and bad parents, and dictate what are the best outcomes for children?
Labour councillor, Highgate; former co-director of communications, Family & Parenting Institute
|Professor Roger Graef
CEO, Films of Record; award-winning filmmaker; author, Living Dangerously: young offenders in their own words
convenor, IoI Parents Forum; contributor, Standing up to Supernanny; director of finance, DACS; chair, Association of Photographers
CEO, Production Guild of Great Britain
Source: Battle of Ideas
Professor Roger Graef, producer of 20 films on children at risk, including the remarkable “Hold me tight, let me go” controversially opened by proposing that mothers who are not able to take care of their babies should opt for voluntary sterilisation. According to Professor Graef, “every 3 days a child dies in a chaotic environment” and systemic neglect of children exists within our society i.e not just within homes, but in the way agencies respond. However, is voluntary sterilisation the answer to this growing problem?
Jane Sandeman argued that parenting is not a science. She states that one of the reasons for the current situation is that parents are undermined and therefore have no confidence in their ability to raise their children. She goes on to argue that our perception of young people is distorted; we perceive them as “vulnerable individuals”.
We are aware of the failure of social services to protect children. Those of us who work with families are also aware of the transgenerational or socio economic issues that impact on mental health and subsequently parenting skills. However the importance of early intervention through health professionals was not discussed as a way forward.
I leave you to ponder on some of the unanswered questions generated by the discussions.
- Is the government to blame for the lack of manpower and finances which is needed to support early intervention programmes?
- What would society be like if we assume that parents could cope and were able to bring up their children?
- Should we focus on early intervention for parents rather than pouring too much money and effort into what has been described as “chronic families”?
- Were the riots a direct result of poor parenting or the result of a society that devalues its young people?
- Licence to parent…… Who should decide whether or not ‘troubled families’ should have children?
Tiemo Talk of the Town
4th November 2012
Links and further reading – Battle of Ideas