December 09, 2008

How to fix Britain's parents

Ian McEwan’s book The Child In Time puts its protagonist on a Thatcherite Official Commission on Childcare, a body formed to write an “Authorised Childcare Handbook” on behalf of the government, and dripping in sinister, authoritarian intent.

Twenty-one years after the novel was published, is it time to ask whether the handbook is such a bad idea?

Ironically it’s New Labour who have moved towards that ground since 1997.

In 2000, the then Home Secretary Jack Straw said, in a speech given after the passing of the Human Rights Act that:

parenting is a public – as well as intensely private – act… We must recognise people’s right to act according to their own lights, and their right – it’s in the ECHR – to respect for their private and family life. But Government cannot duck its responsibilities to help people make a success of parenting. This is essential if we are to achieve our goal of a stronger civil society, offering people more opportunities in life. Parenting is hugely important to creating the kind of society we want to live in.

Three years later, Clem Henricson wrote a report (PDF) for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, suggesting that a legalised parenting code is needed:

a code has the potential to influence attitudes to parenting, enhancing its social significance and creating an ethos where parents have a more fully recognisable role.

This is, after all, a problem where Britain is doing worse than many other countries. A 2006 report by the Institute for Public Policy and Research put the UK right at the bottom for teenage behaviour in Europe.

But the proof that a parenting code is needed comes not from reports, speeches and academia.

The failure of parenting is there to see on television and on the street.

Jeremy Kyle, Supernanny, Jamie’s Ministry of Food, even the grain of truth in Vicky Pollard on Little Britain, all point to there being something wrong. For every great parent, there seems to be another whose children will inherit all of their bad attitude and bad behaviour.

I was nearly pushed in front of a bus a few weeks ago, for instance (maybe the kids read my blog?). Every time I go to Tesco, I see a parent dragging their child around, screaming at them and showing little sign of affection towards them.

Gangs and knife crime are directly linked to inadequate parenting. But it’s not always the parents’ fault. The circle of bad parenting from one generation to another can only be broken by intervening.

Jo Frost, the Supernanny, who’s found fame on both sides of the Atlantic with her parenting classes, appears to have no problem finding parents who just don’t know how to control their children. But by the end of the episode, nine times out of ten, she’s taught mum and dad how to love their children.

How can we get every parent a supernanny? It doesn’t immediately seem like something that can be taught in schools – and teachers have got enough on their hands already.

Is an “Authorised Childcare Handbook” the answer? No, almost certainly not. Never mind the authoritarian undertones, parents would store it along with the government’s 2004 booklet Preparing for Emergencies. In the bin.

But maybe what we do need is an army of Supernannies. Such an army is supposed to exist – Tony Blair promised it in 2006 as part of his ‘Respect’ agenda. But a review carried out this year found ‘parenting practitioners’ are spread thinly and sporadically around the country.

And figures released by the DCSF after an FOI request show just 3500 families have received help from trained parenting advisers since 2006.

That’s supposed to be expanded to most local authorities over the next three years, but it feels like things aren’t moving fast enough.

We need cutbacks in government spending during the economic downturn, but we can’t afford to cut back on helping parents be parents. If we do, the next generation of children will be the same as the last.


- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. I think one of the problems nowadays is that we don’t really get taught how to be parents by our parents. Smaller, planned families mean that we rarely see how our parents do it, and it is often seen as uncool to go and see how you can help your Auntie Una with your newly arrived nephew (though Auntie Una could probably use the assistance or just some company!).

    And the group of people who could probably most use the help of their parents, young single mothers, are immediately segregated along with their own offspring into their very own lonely council flat miles away from the very people whose assistance they most need there and then. No wonder some people find it hard work! And this, we are told, is progress and empowerment.

    But… there is also this utopian ideal that everyone should be a good parent, that it is somehow every woman’s destiny to be the Earth-mother, every man to be a superman at changing nappies whereas the truth is that we are all different: some people are great parents and some are just not cut out for parenting though the discovery is often not made until after the fact when it is a taboo to admit that they are failing. The rest of us just work it out as we go along and hope that we don’t make too much of a mess of it. And that is also probably the most profound thing that we discover about our own parents, too.

    09 Dec 2008, 16:20

  2. My house never got the ‘Preparing for Emergancies’ booklet. I suddenly feel very insecure.

    09 Dec 2008, 21:29

  3. Sue

    I think the vast majority of people who become parents make a reasonably good job of it.

    09 Dec 2008, 22:02


Add a comment

You are not allowed to comment on this entry as it has restricted commenting permissions.

Twitter Go to 'Twitter / chrisdoidge'

Tetbury Online

Most recent comments

  • To quote from PM Cameron's speech at Munich Security Conference on the failure of State Multicultura… by on this entry
  • Not sure whether their installation can do that (though I assume it will), but I personally have a D… by Pierre on this entry
  • Yup. The figure at the end I guess isn't so much a sign of falling standards, as failing policy. by on this entry
  • Didn't the compulsory GCSE in a language get ditched a few years back? by on this entry
  • Yeah, that was a Brown–like kiss of death. by on this entry

Search this blog

Blog archive

Loading…

Tags

December 2008

Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
Nov |  Today  | Jan
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31            
Not signed in
Sign in

Powered by BlogBuilder
© MMXIX