Sunday, 13 July 2008

Criminal children call for honesty

In a bid to tackle the growing incidence of violent crime committed by youths, the government is being again pressed into forming and reviewing initiatives concerning the justice system and parenting. However, frontline activists think that it is a radical reform of the social welfare system that is required.

Several government initiatives will reportedly be released in the week of July 14 2008. The focus will be on the justice system and parenting, according to interviews with home minister of state Tony McNulty during the week of July 7.

Proposals for one of these initiatives, a review of school behaviour policies, will include: “pressure on parents” of unruly children to tackle the bad behaviour; the setting up of direct links to teachers to provide parents with support; methods to increase the involvement of parents in their children’s schooling and behaviour management; and how to address the problem of parents who defend bad child behaviour and oppose school punishments such as detention, according to The Guardian.(1)

A dangerous gap
However, there appears to be a gap between the government’s focus and that being called for by leaders in the work of saving and rehabilitating abused and violent children. While the government is focusing on the justice system and parenting, what child protection leaders are calling for is a reform of the social welfare system, which they say is the ultimate cause of the problems.

“Zero tolerance for violence against children will result in no violence from children”,(2) according to Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of groundbreaking child welfare organisation Kids Company. But her reference to violence here is not directly in reference to abusive parents. The violence she is referring to is violence by omission: the negligence of a social welfare system that is failing because it is not suitable to its allotted task.

The system is being forced to be something it is not. “[Social welfare staff] are being forced to mimic business values”, says Ms Batmanghelidjh in her book Shattered Lives (p 23).

The unsuitability of the business approach to social welfare is evidenced in its failure. Less than half of the children that need protection are receiving it – the system can cater to just 30,700 out of 553,000, according to Ms Batmanghelidjh.(3)

But the real danger of this “depleted” and failing system according to Ms Batmanghelidjh is that by being forced to appear as something it is not, it has become dishonest: “The government has still not come up with a way of holding to account local authorities who airbrush out their failures – who checks how many invisible children are left outside the system?”, she says.(4)

Escalation expected
This gap between government actions on child crime and the needs of the system as set out by frontline activists means that the problem remains unaddressed. We can therefore expect the problems to escalate because the failure of the system and the escalation of the problem appear to be mutually exclusive.

“Children see the discrepancy between our pretensions and the reality. The abandoned child waits to deliver his revenge for the danger we expose him to. Threats from children bear a message: zero tolerance for violence against children will result in no violence from children.”5
An editorial on this story can be found in the Editorials section
1 The Guardian, July 11, 2008
2, 3, 4, 5: All quotes are taken from “Zero tolerance for violence against children will result in no violence from children”, Camila Batmanghelidjh, The Times, June 2, 2008.