Frontlines – Targetting people before they are born

I see from the news that Tony Blair is planning to identify “yobbish” children before they are even born, and put in extra measures to tackle their behaviour.

But can you really predict that a certain child will grow up to be a menace to society – or is the intention to target the lot of  them on so-called “sink” estates?

Where I live, in Sheffield, it is a tale of two cities. From the affluent, leafy suburbs which spill into the Peak District to the council estates across the city, regularly featured on Traffic Cops for their proliferation of stolen and burned-out vehicles.

It’s true that the estates are home to many a car thief and drug addict, but one also produced a former home secretary and many members of my family. Like most people from there they lead useful lives.

Although you may not always agree with David Blunkett’s policies or personal life, you can’t deny he managed to overcome the obstacles of disadvantage and disability. I wouldn’t want to dismiss these proposals out of hand – but I’m not sure what sort of targeting we’re talking about or what sort of measures. How do you force pregnant women to take advice and support they don’t want? What are the sanctions?

Enforced abortion? Taking children to be “looked after” at birth? Doesn’t this all smack of eugenics?

It also reminds me of a very unpleasant comment I heard during the bombings of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. A health worker I knew at the time told me she thought it was OK for innocent children to be killed in bombings because they wouldn’t then grow up to be terrorists. No doubt this was, and is, a commonly held view, but not one that is usually publicly expressed by so-called caring professionals.

To me there is a parallel here, with targeting potential antisocial behaviour in babies and foetuses. How do you know?

Let’s go back to the leafy suburbs and focus on a multi-millionaire former boxing champion who has ruined a man’s life by his dangerous driving and served just four months in prison. You don’t have to be poor or to have a certain postcode to be antisocial or to provide suitable material for Traffic Cops. You might just not be subject to the same sanctions.

Jennifer Harvey is a day services coordinator working with people with learning difficulties

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