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The Child-Parent Relationship in Violence and Crime

Alan Challoner MA MChS

Part Two – Cultural Changes in the Care of Children

Undoubtedly we have changed as a nation and as a cultural example of the sort of

people that we were a hundred years ago. Some may find that dismal to recall, but it
need not be so depressing. If we have changed so dramatically over a period of a
hundred years, then there is hope and reason to assume that we can change again. If
during that time we have lost some of our standards then we can work towards
regaining those that will make us a better society.
One significant change over that period of time has been change within the family. As
incomes and transport improved so people became more mobile. They were able to
take up jobs wherever they were offered. As a result families became more scattered
and the inter-generational authority started to decline. A hundred years ago, not only
did grandparents live in the same household as their grandchildren, but family lines
lived in the same village or locality for many generations. Thus the custom in most
areas was that all adults, not just family ones, acted within generally acceptable limits,
in loco parentis. Thus as Halsey puts it,
There was an inter-generational authority, legitimised by culturally stored solutions to
unchanging problems. But in the shifting populations of large cities, young people are
less ready to accord respect to their elders.…This is the absence of inter-generational
authority. [Idem]
There is a general political consensus towards increased child-care provision and
nursery education, but there is no universal provision. The view has been taken that for
most young children responsibility for day care lies entirely with their parents. The
private and voluntary schemes provide the majority of services, with employers playing
an important part. Local authorities provide a limited and quasi-regulatory role. This
results in a two-tier system of day-care services in which parents either pay the full
market cost of the service or alternatively the facilities are free or heavily subsidised
and the allocation of places is on the basis of special needs.
Day nurseries are the only state-provided form of full-time day-care for young children,
but these are normally available only to children from homes where child abuse,
inadequate parenting or poor home conditions indicate a necessity for alternate
daytime care to be provided for the child. Douglas has shown that, proportionately, day
nurseries cope with four times as many behaviourally difficult children as nursery
schools and ten times as many as play-groups. Altogether 56% of the day nursery
children have a speech, health, developmental, or behaviour problem. (Crime and
Social Policy, 1995)
Much the largest pre-school provision is that of play-groups, which are attended by
nearly 900,000 three and four year olds in the UK. They are seen as a social experience
as much as a learning one. Unfortunately they are open for only a short number of
hours, and for on)y two or three days a week. Despite that they serve to give mothers
a brief respite, but rarely give them the opportunity to take up full-time or even part-
time employment.
250,000 children have places with registered childminders and probably all of these
children have working mothers. Many more parents have informal arrangements with
unregistered childminders.
21% of women whose youngest child is aged between five and nine work full-time.
(Thomas, 1994). Up to one million children in this age group are estimated to come
home to an empty house after school and may also be unsupervised during holidays.
Wilson & Herbert have shown that lack of such supervision is closely related to
offending behaviour. (Wilson and Herbert, 1978)
The high cost of child-care is daunting and can lead to short-cuts as economy
measures. The Daycare Trust has estimated that a childminder is one of the least
expensive options available to working parents. In the late 1990s costs varied from £50
to £120 per week for a full-time place. In order to cover the £50 per week cost, a
basic-rate taxpayer would have to earn an extra £3,421 a year, before tax at 1996
assessments. At the highest charge this would rise to an earnings need of £10,400.
Research in Italy has concluded that children who had been cared for in crèches or day
centres from before the age of one year were more likely to develop problems in co-
operating with other children than those who had been looked after at home. Thus it
was concluded that, at least for some children, when relationships with parents are
impoverished because of early and extended group care in infancy, the growth of some
social abilities relevant to moral development may be problematic.i
Raine has also suggested that children who are separated from their mothers in the first
year of life, and those who have had difficult births, are more likely to follow a life of
crime.ii His study of 4,200 men born in 1959 and who were followed-up until the age of
34, showed that those who had complications at birth and who had spent at least four
months of their first year in institutions, were more likely to have a violent criminal
Four percent of children in his study accounted for 18% of the violent crime committed
when they became adult. The main factors were the breaking of the mother-infant
bond and problems that were connected to birth difficulties such as temporary cerebral
deprivation of oxygen. These two acted in concert rather than being identifiable is
individual causes of the later problems. Raine also identified low heart rate as a
causative factor leading to criminal convictions. He suggests that they had low levels
of psychological arousal and that stimulation from perpetrating crime increased these
to more normal levels. (Idem)
Contemporary studies have sought to identify positive aspects of separation and
divorce. These have tended to find successful outcomes in cases where the separation
has been temporally close to the investigation, and where the child is still very young.
This precludes the study from including the effects of the separation on the child and its
later development, and tends to be more subjective around the emotions of the mother.
However there is a significant need to institute support mechanisms for disrupted
families and to recognise that their numbers are likely to increase. It has been
suggested that by the end of the century ‘nuclear families’ would be outnumbered by
step-families and single-parent families.

Childminders are registered with the local authority, and look after no more than three children under the
age of five in the minder’s home. Playgroups offer up to five sessions a week and can cost £2.25 per session.
University of Milan. British Psychological Society, developmental section conference; Oxford, 12.9.96.
Raine, A. (Univ. S California, USA) British Psychological Society, criminology and legal division, conference,
York, UK, 2.9.96.

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Reprinted with permission from:

For Want of a Better Good
Author: Alan Challoner MA (Phil) MChS
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