There was a sense of déjà vu as the government released its Respect Action Plan last month, with many of the initiatives aimed at children and young people having already made an appearance in either the recent education white paper or youth green paper.
Two elements that are new, however, are the plans for a National Parenting Academy to provide training for frontline staff, and new National Occupational Standards for staff involved in
parenting interventions (see Workforce to learn new skills set).
The action plan states that classes for parents will be delivered through schools and children’s centres, and schemes will be set up to ensure teenage parents access this support when needed. Parenting classes can also be made compulsory through parenting orders, with proposals for schools to be given the right to issue these orders directly expected to be included in the forthcoming education bill.
The plan also promises a new approach to tackling the behaviour of “problem families”. This will involve challenging them to accept support to change behaviour or face new enforcement measures. It will be delivered in part by a new network of intensive family support schemes. These will provide families with co-ordinated, multi-agency support, accompanied with a consistent message on the consequences of disengagement.
Perhaps most controversially, the plan proposes cutting the housing benefi t of families who refuse intensive support for their antisocial behaviour, an idea fi rst mooted and then rejected two
years ago. As yet, there are no clear plans on what safeguards will be provided for the children of these families.
“The Respect agenda is about nurturing and, where needed, enforcing a modern culture of respect which the majority of people want,” explained home secretary Charles Clarke, launching the plan.
The proposals in Youth Matters for a national youth volunteering service, an expansion of the Youth Opportunity Fund, the introduction of youth opportunity cards and peer mentoring are also
all taken forward in the action plan, despite the government not yet having published its formal response to the green paper. Government intentions to prosecute parents who do not supervise their children during the fi rst fi ve days of an exclusion from school were also reiterated.
Workforce to learn new skills set
The new National Parenting Academy will train and offer on-going supervision to social workers, clinical psychologists, community support officers and youth justice workers among others in providing high quality parenting support. It will be steered by a panel of experts, but further details are scant on what shape the academy will take and how it will be funded. Education secretary Ruth Kelly said it would equip a new generation of professionals with the “advanced skills” needed to address the acute parenting and family problems which can trigger antisocial behaviour.
The case for National Occupational Standards aimed specifically at professionals working with children is built on evidence from schemes such as Sure Start, the plan states. The standards are intended to “raise the quality threshold” for all members of the children’s workforce involved in this area, enabling them to identify parents who are struggling and to refer them to appropriate services before problems escalate.