Why telling people they are bad parents is not the answer

When the issue of fining parents for allowing their children to arrive late to school, for persistent non-attendance, or for taking them on holiday in term-time comes up – as it does regularly – it arouses a whole mixture of emotions and responses, in me and in the public at large. Add to the mix the suggestion that ‘good citizen neighbours’ should be wading in, or that telling people they are bad parents will bring about the desired effect, and you’ve pressed enough of my buttons for me to go firing off at random in all directions!

Many of the issues were addressed admirably in the Guardian last week by Patrick Fagan here and by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett here.

Working in schools quickly shows you that these three bêtes noires have far from simple causes or solutions. Leaving aside the holiday issue for now, what they may be is an indicator that all is not well at home. Perhaps a few simple supportive words will help bring things back on track. Maybe all the family needs is an alarm clock. Or it may be that this is the first sign we have that the young person is experiencing bullying or mental health difficulties, or behaving in an abusive or violent manner to their parents. It is far from easy to prise out of bed someone bigger than you, to send them out the door or eject them from a car against their will. Berating parents for failing to do something they are desperately trying to do already merely adds to their sense of failure, hopelessness and helplessness. Why would they then approach the same agency for support or assistance?

The PEACE project was developed in the Wirral as a direct response to the discovery that child to parent violence was a regular factor in non-attendance. Whether we place practitioners in schools to address the issue, or rely on communication between schools and other agencies, this is an opportunity that can be and should be used to offer support and resolution to families at an early stage. Yes, there will be families where school is low on the agenda and different solutions will be needed; but a bit of early help wouldn’t go amiss with them either and may make the eventual solution less painful for all concerned.

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