People have been much exercised over recent weeks by an apparent huge rise in the number of younger and younger children being involved in serious crime; and bundled in with this is the issue of these children’s violence and abuse towards their parents. Both the Daily Mail and Telegraph published items around this theme, and I saw the same story covered by the website Dad info.
What are we to make of this?
First, we must be cautious about the meaning we ascribe to crime statistics, as to any data. Crime figures have always been affected by reporting behaviour (of both victims and police), societal attitudes (some would like to attribute it to parents giving up their parenting responsibilities to the state), by targeted programmes, categorisation, and also – certainly in the past – by the practice of “manipulation”. The figures, too, come on the back of reported “very large reductions in serious youth violence” in the previous year, reported also by the Youth Justice Board, in January of this year; though there may be some localised variations in this. Scepticism is important, but we need to also acknowledge real changes society, such as an increase in the use of children by gang members seeking to evade the law themselves, or to the impact of different exclusion policies adopted as the picture of school governance changes across the country, which may act to drive up figures of real crime.
Certainly, as I speak to people around the country, agencies involved with supporting families experiencing CPV report an increase in referrals regarding younger children. Family Lives data (a few years out of date admittedly) points towards this, but how are we to know if this is more than the effects of successful campaigning to raise awareness? Do rising referrals from primary schools, for instance, indicate increased serious abuse at a younger age, or do they represent a greater clarity in understanding difficulties, and positive early intervention as specialist agencies are identified and referrals made? Are parents bolder in coming forward as media coverage has highlighted this as a more common issue than they had thought? And what do rising diagnoses of autistic spectrum disorders, often connected with CPV, tell us? (here and here)
A lot of questions I am afraid. I will leave you to make your own answers!
In the meantime, a new TV series starts on Channel 4 tonight. Born Naughty? follows a number of families as it asks the question: how much of this behaviour is to do with parenting style and skill, and how much to do with a condition with which this child was born? The discussion about the inclusion of un-pixellated faces will continue I am sure, but in an interview onWoman’s Hour this week, one of the parents involved spoke eloquently of the absolute desperation that drove her to this position.