Blunkett’s plans leave social workers in quandary over ‘enforcement’ role

The government took another step towards fulfilling its pledge
to eradicate antisocial behaviour with the publication last week of
the white paper Respect and Responsibility – Taking a Stand
Against Anti-Social Behaviour

Addressing the House of Commons last week home secretary David
Blunkett said that although crime had dropped by 27 per cent since
1997, “more than one in three consider that antisocial behaviour is
still affecting their quality of life.”

The white paper places emphasis the “early identification” of
children at risk of committing antisocial behaviour. There will be
£75m over the next three years to support measures such as
giving police powers to disperse gangs of youths and extending
fines for disorder offences, known as fixed penalty notices (FPN)
to 16 and 17-year-olds.

While Blunkett is offering “support and help for those who are
prepared to accept it” he promises “clear, speedy and effective
enforcement, when they are not”.

Parents are to be held accountable for their children’s behaviour
and police officers, school and local education authority staff
will have powers to issue FPNs to parents who ignore truancy.

Local education authorities and youth offending teams will be given
powers to issue parenting contracts to parents of truants, excluded
children or young offenders. Both can also apply for parenting
orders where a child has been excluded for serious misbehaviour or
there is antisocial or criminal behaviour.

The Youth Justice Board claims parenting orders are “extremely
effective” but children’s charity Barnardo’s believes “it is wrong
to assume that criminal or antisocial behaviour is always the
result of poor parenting”.

The white paper recommends intensive support schemes for families
where parents cannot cope with a child’s behaviour. Fostering on
remand will be promoted and the government will “take powers to
enable intensive fostering to provide an alternative to

Principal policy officer at Barnardo’s Pam Hibbert believes the
idea of intensive fostering is contrary to the spirit of the
Children Act 1989, which says that children should not be removed
from their families unless there are serious grounds of risk to the
child or others.

Reintegrating children into the family after foster care is
difficult and often does not work, she adds.

But the Fostering Network hopes the plans will see the development
of support care for younger offenders or those at risk of offending
who need early intervention but will be kept within the family.
These children could be offered overnight or weekend fostering
placements to provide breathing spaces for work to take place with
the child and family.

“For older offenders and those remanded into local authority
accommodation, who cannot stay in the family home, intensive
fostering packages, including remand and therapeutic programmes
would be viable,” says Ena Fry, Fostering Network’s development
worker for young people.

The Fostering Network dismisses the idea that intensive fostering
would dip into the already shallow pool of mainstream foster carers
because intensive fostering will draw on a separate pool of highly
trained and well supported staff.

Kingsmere remand unit in Birmingham ran an intensive fostering
experiment last year and following its success, intends to extend
the scheme this year. Manager of remands at the unit Steve Eyre
says their recruitment campaign for intensive foster carers may
even target social care professionals for this highly skilled

Critics have also focused on plans to make 16 to 17-year-olds who
receive an FPN pay their own fines.

The National Children’s Bureau says it is unrealistic to expect
this age group to pay the fines themselves. The measures will
“increase financial pressure on poor families and may exacerbate
tensions between parents and children”, a spokesperson says.

Sharon Moore, policy manager at the Children’s Society, says:”This
is not going to address the causes of such behaviour.” The charity
also raises similar concerns about plans to withhold housing
benefit as a punishment for antisocial behaviour, believing it will
“plunge families even further into poverty”.

The government proposes to develop the intensive supervision and
surveillance programme, a community sentence that is an alternative
to custody, from the current six months to 12 months, a move the
YJB welcomes. It also aims to ensure antisocial behaviour orders
(Asbo) operate more effectively and will introduce a new individual
support order in the Criminal Justice Bill. This will require young
people with on Asbos to accept help such as drug treatment.

The proposal to lift automatic reporting restrictions on ASBOs to
allow newspapers to name and shame has also been criticised.

The NCB says that removing such restrictions could “fuel the
demonising of young people” and damage young offenders’

It is also against plans to give powers to the police to disperse
groups of youths and impose fast-track child curfews, claiming such
measures would penalise young people with nowhere else to go and
damage relationships between young people and the police.

This raises questions about what constitutes antisocial behaviour.
Robert Lake, Association of Directors of Social Services
representative for the custodial system, says a group of youths
hanging around a shop and getting together for a chat could be seen
by others as threatening.

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 definition is that a “person has
acted in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment,
alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household
as himself”.

The white paper says such behaviour creates an environment in which
more serious crimes takes hold and that families and government
have a responsibility to tackle it. In between is a role for
councils, social services and other agencies to discourage
antisocial behaviour. The white paper claims many of its proposals
have come from local authorities, who are on the front line in
tackling the issue.

But this raises questions about the impact of a more punitive
stance on the working practices of social workers and council staff
generally. Social workers face antisocial behaviour on a daily
basis and education welfare officers could now find themselves with
more powers regarding fines and parenting orders. Could this result
in a shift away from a support role to one of enforcement?

Ian Johnston, director of the British Association of Social
Workers, believes the measures will fundamentally alter social
workers’ function. “Who will provide the traditional welfare
services if social workers are pushed into an enforcement role?” He
warns it could heighten the recruitment and retention crisis. But
Lake at the ADSSsays social workers have already become enforcement
officers. The days of coming into social work to “do good” went a
long time ago, he says. “We have been the iron fist in the velvet
glove for a long time. Social workers will have to accept their
role as agents of social control.”

In its short life, the white paper has already provoked controversy
in the social care field with numerous objections to the proposals,
many of which are planned for inclusion in the forthcoming

While the government’s desire to tackle antisocial behaviour is
worthy, many feel there is a risk it could exacerbate social
problems by further damaging already fractured family
relationships, making the poor poorer, and generating more of the
antisocial behaviour that the measures are designed to reduce.

– Respect and Responsibility – Taking a Stand Against
Anti-Social Behaviour

White paper proposals

  • Intensive fostering as an alternative to custody.
  • Promotion of fostering on remand for young people.
  • Intensive support for parents struggling with a child’s
  • Giving local education authorities and youth offending teams
    powers to issue parenting contracts and seek parenting orders for
    rents of excluded children.
  • Fixed penalty notices for parents who condone truancy.
  • Fixed penalty notices for disorderly 16 to 17-year-olds.
  • Intensive supervision and surveillance programmes to be
    extended to 12 months.
  • Antisocial behaviour orders to be more effective.
  • The removal of automatic media reporting restrictions.
  • Make begging a recordable offence.
  • Consulting on introducing housing benefit sanctions.
  • Giving police powers to disperse gangs of youths and take home
    unaccompanied children late at night.


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