Head of the Youth Justice Board Lord Warner has announced hopes for
a 600 per cent increase in parenting classes at a cost of
£11m. The plan will mean 50,000 parents of children in trouble
will be assessed annually. More than half would then be invited or
compelled to attend classes. In a bizarre leap in logic, 18,000
parents, if they refused, could be imprisoned for up to a year, to
the obvious detriment of their children.
Research by the board on pilot schemes has found that most parents
who attend the weekly courses are resentful at first but 91 per
cent subsequently said they had benefited from the experience.
Their offspring also committed 50 per cent fewer offences in the
year after the programme ended. If the expansion goes ahead, Lord
Warner believes it will be the most cost-effective measure for
cutting youth crime.
Two objections come to mind. The first is that the scheme should be
retitled. Just as the government is searching for a new phrase to
describe “children at risk”, so it should consider replacing the
condescending term, “parenting classes” with, say, “family
Second, experience tells us that the multiple problems associated
with delinquency can only be tackled by multiple solutions. A
year’s homework for mum (since only 18 per cent of fathers attend)
is not enough. Among the many US schemes pioneered in the 1990s
tackling problems associated with troubled adolescents, is
Communities that Care, devised by David Hawkins and Richard
Catalano, professors at the University of Washington. Some of the
principles of Communities that Care have now been incorporated into
various neighbourhood renewal schemes here – community leaders,
assessing local risk factors, deciding resources and endeavouring
to involve young people as stakeholders.
The results have been mixed: some success, a lot of duplication and
too many good projects running out of steam due to a lack of
long-term resources. But what has also emerged from Hawkins and
Catalano’s research, among other things, is the importance of
constantly providing new opportunities for young people to forge
positive bonds with other adults not just in their teen years but
throughout their adult lives. A parent who has been taught to set
boundaries; demonstrate affection and give praise is an invaluable
part of a young person’s panorama – but she is still only a part.
It will be a tragedy if in the excitement of Lord Warner’s
wholesale expansion, that fact is forgotten.