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 parttime 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 cooperating 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 record. 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. [1996]



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.

DOCUMENT USE/COPYRIGHT Permission is granted to reproduce these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit beyond the cost of reproduction) provided that the author receives acknowledgement and this notice is included: Reprinted with permission from: For Want of a Better Good Author: Alan Challoner MA (Phil) MChS Any additions or changes to these materials must be pre-approved by the author. COPYRIGHT PERMISSION ACCESS Organization: PR Research E-MAIL:

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