Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Failing parents to be taught how to raise their children

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

Parents of unruly children in the UK will be sent on residential courses to teach them how to raise a family.

Under a dramatic extension of the state's power to intervene in family life to be unveiled this week, education chiefs will be able to force parents whose children have been expelled from school to take parenting lessons.

The new powers will be controversial, with accusations of a "boot camp" approach and fears of damaging trust between parents and teachers if schools are seen to be judging families on how they bring up their children.

However, government ministers will argue that it is unfair to children not to tackle inadequate parenting and that "tough love" measures can divert them before they slide too deep into trouble.

"We will try to help first and, if that help is refused, we look to a legal sanction," said a spokesman for the UK Department for Education and Skills.

The move, which is to be introduced on Friday, springs from alarm among MPs about anti-social behavior. Last week a 13-year-old girl in the north of England became subject to an order banning her from going into Leeds city center or traveling on a bus unless accompanied by a responsible adult; wearing hooded tops that disguise her face; and mixing with other named children.

Under the new breed of parenting orders, adults whose children are considered at risk of getting into trouble could be sent on weekend courses on how to control their offspring.

Education authorities will also be able to obtain court orders against the parents of expelled pupils to tackle the root causes of misbehavior, backed by the threat of a ?1,000 (US$1,862) fine for failure to comply. They could also draw up "parenting contracts," setting out what each side will do to help a child to improve: contracts will be voluntary.

Until now, youth offending teams could only seek parenting orders against children convicted of a crime. But from Friday they can intervene with those merely considered at risk of getting into trouble.

Some children's charities believe residential courses would go too far, arguing there is little evidence to justify separating parents from their children, even for short periods.

"We wouldn't knock help for parents, but if it's given in a way that is likely to increase tensions within the families, we have concerns," said Sharon Moore, policy manager of the Children's Society.

However the UK National Family and Parenting Institute said some parents would never accept they were doing anything wrong.

"The experience I have had over 30 years in social work is that there are families who do need a lot of encouragement, or to be required to get help," said director Mary McLeod.

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