Creating the super-nanny state

 
Post-It messages about last summer's riots such as "Stop burning my city"

Whenever there is some incident of juvenile delinquency or youth crime you will hear the same refrain: "Well, I blame the parents."

And the evidence is that the parents are indeed likely to have played a significant part in the anti-social behaviour of their offspring.

So should the state intervene in the upbringing of the nation's children, offering intensive support and advice to all parents? Should it play the role of surrogate nanny?

At the moment, parents who cannot control their kids may end up being ordered to take classes in good parenting by the courts. But the links with the criminal justice system mean that parenting classes have a stigma attached to them.

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One mum told me the mandatory classes had changed her life; her children told me they had been given a new mum”

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Attendance is often poor, and those that do go represent a fraction of families who could benefit from help and advice. The support is only available after the damage has been done.

About 10 years ago, I reported on a class arranged for the parents of truants. Even though many of those due to attend had been ordered to go by a court, almost no-one turned up. I remember a huge plate of doughnuts sitting uneaten on a table.

However, one mum was there - furious that the others hadn't bothered. She explained to me that she had resented the mandatory classes at first, but how ultimately the classes had changed her life. Her children, aged about 11 and nine, told me they had been given a new mum.

So the government wants to make attending parenting classes a normal part of being a good parent - something that every new mum or dad does. All parents could benefit from some good advice, it is argued, and only by making support a mainstream part of starting a family can those who need help most be encouraged to participate.

Officer with Greater Manchester Police's "Shop a Looter" billboard Blame the parents?

To create that cultural change, they want to build the capacity for a thriving commercial market in parenting advice. If pilot schemes prove successful, free vouchers worth £100 will be given to all parents of children under five in England and Wales - available from Boots on the High Street. The idea is that, once evaluated providers are up and running, the state can pull back from universal vouchers and target state help on those with specific problems.

There is another side to this initiative too. From an expectant mother's first scan in an NHS hospital at about 12 weeks, future parents will get texts and emails linking to information films and advice directly relating to the development of their child at that point.

From conception to the first three months of life, I am told, there will more than 100 separate video or advice notifications for parents. This is an intensive programme based on strong evidence that helping parents form strong attachments to their children in the very early days and supporting them through the stresses and strains of family life can significantly improve the life chances of children.

Experts at the National Antisocial Behaviour Clinic based at London's Maudsley Hospital draw a direct line between poor parenting and a range of social problems including educational under-achievement, criminality and drug misuse.

Newborn baby in nappy Right... what now?

But they also suggest that support works. A 10-year clinical trial into the Incredible Years parenting scheme has begun to show significantly improved outcomes for those youngsters whose parents had taken part.

Ministers are very anxious to avoid the accusation that the good parenting advice amounts to the nanny state. The prime minister has described it instead as "the sensible state".

"It's ludicrous that we should expect people to train for hours to drive a car or use a computer, but when it comes to looking after a baby we tell people to just get on with it. And to those who say that government should forget about parenting and families and focus on the big, gritty issues, I'd say these are the big, gritty issues."

Changing social norms is never quick and is never easy - ministers talk about trying to initiate a generational shift in attitudes. There are clear benefits in improving the nation's parenting skills. The question is whether the state has a role as super-nanny.

 
Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 51.

    "Give me the child till the age of seven and I will show you the man" Whilst I don't subscribe to the Jesuit curriculum, the principle is valid enough. The way a child is brought up in the early years is absolutely critical. Children are no-longer given boundaries other than the limit to which the parents' tolerance will stretch.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 50.

    If the parents don't know what good parenting is, then the state should provide a remedy. We welcomed the permissive society; we adopted liberal values; we abolished censorship; we abolished discipline; we abolished respect for people and property. And they set fire to Tottenham. And now we whine "nanny state" when someone in the government tries to redress the balance.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 49.

    It comes down to basic 'education' education! education!, as Blair said, except they didnt get it and never would have under the system that was introduced 30 odd years ago under Labour. You see the system was teach the 'Mob' what we want them to know and nothing more & eventually you end up with a load of dummies...Now we have to re-educate.....daft I call it.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 48.

    Call it what you will, including "Super Nanny State", but there is that dreadful link between poor parenting & social problems - educational under-achievement, criminality & drug misuse.
    There is also that 10-year trial into "Incredible Years Parenting Scheme"; it has begun to show significantly improved outcomes for those youngsters whose parents had taken part.
    This is what is important.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 47.

    It's not more cash and pandering to lazy, uncaring, immoral parents that is required, it is simple legal requirements for the having, educating, and nurturing of children. If the parents fail to adhere to these principles, they must face the consequences as for any other criminal act, and the state must take custody and complete responsibility for the child .

  • rate this
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    Comment number 46.

    I was a problem child myself, and developed a lack of respect for the system as a teenager because of a frustration at being told what to do by me elders. A fear of them kept me in check, until I wasn't afraid of the punishment, and things went from bad to worse. Having my own kids (responsibility) stopped this instantly.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 45.

    Lack of control....not treating them harshly enough when they do something wrong. Every new generation pussyfoots around kids just that little bit more, trying to reason with them rather than REALLY punishing them. The kids have no respect because they have no FEAR of the system.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 44.

    Shouldn’t we be asking why parenting classes are now deemed necessary? Is this a new solution to an age old problem, or is it something that has changed in society that makes them required? If the latter, then perhaps we should be looking at the cause, not try to treat the effect.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 43.

    Indeed! What mactheredone has pointed out is correct. TV companies are driven by viewing numbers and not necessarily by appropriate and responsible programming. The content of "real life events" soaps that are then taken as the norm by younger viewers can exaggerate the problems later in life.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 42.

    I don't know about blaming the parents, Mark, but surely the BBC has a huge debt of repsonsibility.

    If the BBC fails to educate its young audiences properly they suffer. Who are deserving and who? Those at the bottom and those at the top respectively. But you won't hear that from the Beeb.
    Incidentally, is it S*d Off Friday for Steph, Robert and Nick, the Beeb's top olitical economy bloggers?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 41.

    It is the parents duty to provide their children with IQ and EQ that will prepare them for the rigors of adulthood. IQ = school. EQ is ignored. Instead they let kids do whatever they want. How many parents know how the brain develops and automatically destroys unused synaptic paths to leave their self-centered habits. That's not helping children cope with adulthood. Parenting classes are needed.

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    Comment number 40.

    I found parenting to be the most difficult job of my life. It absolutely taxed every resource I had. I could not use my own horrible upbring as any guide, nor could I depend totally on my wife for for every issue.I had to learn it from the ground up.There are no resources,older couples to turn to,agencies you can ask for help no parents lived near.It was excruciating.I would have loved classes

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    Comment number 39.

    Vouchers seem like more alms.
    Put mothers or fathers who enjoy home-making (full or part time) on the payroll, tied to obligatory skills-development courses like any other employee has to fulfil. Reward the most important job in the world and encourage community involvement.
    http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/is-a-parent-ever-unemployed/

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 38.

    Family structures changed. Put mothers or fathers who enjoy full or part time home-making on the payroll with all the obligations any employer requires as continual skills development from their employees. Parenting is the most important job in the world. Give it status. Can't do links here. Find courseofmirrors.wordpress dot com
    I started a campaign :) see: www.courseofmirrors.wordpress.com

  • rate this
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    Comment number 37.

    Scaaarbeek (25) below : "Men are crucial to family life"
    Maybe that is why this new Information Service to Parents goes a step further encouraging Partners to sign up. The emails and SMS's are tailored so Dads receiving them are more engaged and have more info. I'm a father of two and I wish I had some of this stuff when they were born. In video format too, for those with a short attention span.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 36.

    Why does it have to be the parents fault after all it is not them thats offending.

    Maybe the little darlings need a punishment to suite their crime the government have gone soft on some types of crime as it is cheaper to ignore it or sweep it under the carpet or in this case blame the parents.

    What a disgraceful government we have who are not responsible but expect the parents to be what a cheek

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 35.

    31.jon112dk

    Of course government can and should be legitimately criticised - I'm just not sure this qualifies or is even worth the effort?

    Does this really qualify as 'nanny state' intervention?

    Sounds like some people will try to use anything to have a pop at the Coalition: this seems to me to be a rather desperate scraping of the bottom of the barrel.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 34.

    I have problems with some coalition initiatives but not this one. A mean woman had a go at my mother for not looking disabled enough to use special parking and when i questioned her she reacted with a torrent of abuse all in front of her little kid. This incident left me less angry and more disullusined for that poor child who has to live with her.Only problem is how to make the worst ones attend.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 33.

    #30, you're proving my point exactly. I have a couple of engineering degrees, I work full time, as does my partner (so we get no benefits), and I would probably be better off as a single mum on benefits. I waited until my mid-30s to have children, and don't expect anyone else to support them. WE are not the ones who need the classes, because we are destined to be responsible parents anyway.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 32.

    Maybe we need to look at the curriculum of parenting classes again. If the classes are not working something is wrong. We all need to learn about child development and we all need to be responsible for all children.Checkout my web page.

 

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