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Alan Challoner MA MChS
Part Four — Developmental and Educational Influences
The responsibility of the parent for a child’s early learning has been one of the main propositions of this book. It has a place in the promotion of social welfare and social order. This is supported in the valuable evidence contained in the recent Royal Society of Arts report, Start Right:
The influence of early learning is so important that, if you give children a good start, there is much less risk of things going wrong later: but if you don’t (and things do), it is very difficult and expensive to put them right. Prison doesn’t work. Along with health care and parental education, investment in good early learning for all its children is arguably the best investment a nation can make. (Ball, 1994)
Legal experts, moralists, and society in general have been taxed by the awful consequences of children who kill. There are particular cases that are in the minds of every thinking adult at this time, and the details are so familiar and so gruesome that it is both unnecessary and distasteful to repeat them here. What strikes me as surprising is that those children have drawn all the flack, in person. They have been held to be completely and categorically responsible for their acts. They and they alone have been made to atone. Cavadino cites many contributory factors that cause children to kill: • • • • • • • physical and sexual abuse; exposure to repetitive or extreme violence, including the witnessing of it; parental mental disturbance; parental rejection; neurological abnormalities; drug or substance abuse; mental illness.
He takes the view that although instances of homicide by children are rare, the conditions listed above are not. He concludes that From 1979-1994 210 many more children are potentially capable of killing. young people aged under i 17 in England and Wales My belief is that children are born into this world were convicted of murder ostensibly innocent. If they bring with them any and 220 of manslaughter. predisposition to kill, then that is something that all children bring. Most don’t of course; many don’t even feel it would be possible, but for those few who do, and act upon it, then it can only be that their upbringing has not established a proper conscience. This view seems to be supported by Marshall, who suggests that psychopaths are made, not born, and with the right parenting, “can become successful stockbrokers instead of serial killers”.ii Her research, conducted amongst 50 psychopaths in Scottish prisons, showed that inconsistency in the discipline that they received as children from their parents was a key factor in the development of their criminal lifestyles. Such people, she suggests, need a career with a high level of stimulation, and they are especially suited to work in the high-risk, fast-moving world of the financial markets. They have a propensity to be in situations where things are changing all the time and they don’t have to make long-term plans.
A child who kills can have had no concept of what the world might think of such an act. The responsibility for forming that conscience lies with the parents or the alternative carers. If our society produces children who kill, then we must take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that: • • • the parents are aware of their omissions; society, i.e., everyone else, is aware that we have turned a blind eye to the ways in which some parents have, and are, bring-up their children;
if society does nothing about this débâcle, then we all must accept the responsibility. Children in their immaturity are very susceptible to unfairness and loss of hope and expectation. This can bring about a failure of confidence not only in those around them but also in them. When that happens they may also lose their willpower to pursue what is right or good as well as their sense of responsibility. They begin to look up to those who have achieved the power to control their own lives, and many of those do so through lives of crime. Others who stand out as potential paradigms to the young mind are in such fields as the entertainment industry and sporting activities. They take their guidance from how they behave and unfortunately this is not always the best model. One of the greatest sources of learning after parents is that of the peer group. This has been exceptionally successful in counteracting bullying.
Young people learn from their friends and contemporaries. Peer-led education is therefore recognised as a powerful way to assist young people in sorting out problems and making responsible choices. The evidence of educational psychologists shows that 15-17 year olds learn best from their peers about aspects of social education. [Crime and Social Policy Report, 1995.]
Some look towards schools as a place where all the potential failings of parenthood can be corrected. This is of course not only impracticable but in many respects psychologically irrational. Whatever good intentions there are in this respect within schools it should be recognised that children spend a maximum of about 13% of their time there. Consequently the remaining time can very easily cancel out any good that might have accrued from the earnest and sincere efforts of their teachers. There are schools that have a good record with problem children as Graham has pointed out.
Through their capacity to motivate, to integrate and to offer each pupil a sense of achievement irrespective of ability, schools would seem to possess the capacity to prevent some pupils from being drawn into the juvenile justice system. The converse is also true. There are processes in school which, albeit inadvertently, categorise certain pupils as deviants, inadequates and failures, and this in turn increases the risk of such pupils drifting into delinquent activities and ultimately delinquent careers.iii
Once children get to secondary school level, the relationship between staff and pupils can become more distant. Classes are taught by several teachers each day and this reduces the likelihood of them getting to know each child as a person. The subjects taught at this level may also be outside of the capabilities of the child’s parents to grasp, and this reduces the link between parent and school. Arising from both these significant events there may well be a low teacher-community involvement. This will be more so if teachers live outside the locality of the school and its catchment area. This is a great pity for as Utting et al., have stated:
One of the most important ways in which schools can have a delinquency reducing effect is through building a strong and trusting relationship with parents. (Idem,)
It is unfortunate that the children who need most help in these areas may have parents who are least likely to have contact with the school. The current government plans to institute contracts between school and parent may help. However one is reminded about taking a horse to water! A DoE circular is available (8/94) which states, inter alia:
Some parents may be unwilling to engage constructively with the school. But schools can use prospectuses and other communications to convey and reinforce the nature of parental responsibility and the notion of home-school partnership. Head teachers should in turn ensure that their schools provide a welcoming environment for parents. Contact with parents should not be confined to parents’ evenings; it should be an integral part of
school life. It may be possible to bring together groups of parents to discuss problems in an atmosphere of mutual support.
Some good may come from the Lower Attaining Pupils Programme set up in 1983. Its aim has been to:
assist schools in planning and executing an effective curriculum for pupils whose motivation and self-esteem are low and career prospects poor. Teachers are encouraged to identify characteristics of pupils who are low attainers and to discuss with them the reasons for this. The Department for Education evaluation of the programme suggests a number of benefits arising from it, including, in particular, an awareness by schools that the school experience is relevant to pupils’ tendencies to become involved in vandalism, to underachieve, and to be absent from school. [Crime and Social Policy Report, 1995.]
There are links between children’s school careers and their involvement in crime. The National Prison Survey showed that prisoners aged 16-39 are much more likely to have no qualifications than the equivalent age group in the general population (Walmsley et al., 1992). For prisoners aged 21-24 this is particularly marked, with 46% having no qualification, compared to 16% in the general population. In general, young people who are unhappy with their school and are disruptive or truant or who have been excluded are more likely to become involved with the police or the courts. There seems to be a strong link between truancy and crime. The National Prison Survey showed that 30% of prisoners had mostly played truant rather than attending lessons after the age of 11 compared to 3% in the general population (Walmsley, Idem). Children who truant have more of an opportunity to commit offences but equally they have an incentive to avoid attracting attention. Truancy is, nevertheless, a matter to be taken seriously. If there is an established link, for example, between low educational achievement and crime, then prolonged truancy may indirectly increase the likelihood of an adult criminal career by damaging a pupil’s education to their subsequent disadvantage in the labour market. According to Graham:
Schools which permanently exclude their most difficult pupils or ignore those who persistently fail to attend school, may themselves be contributing to the promotion of delinquency.iv
The growth of bullying in schools is recognised as a serious and widespread problem. The Department for Education circular on pupil behaviour underlines its serious consequences:
Bullying or other forms of harassment can make pupils’ lives unhappy , can hinder their academic progress, and can sometimes push otherwise studious children into truancy. In extreme cases it can lead to pupils taking their own lives. (Department for Education, 1994)
A particular age-group is also significant in crime. The Magistrates’ Association has reported that the preponderance of cases with which its members deal on a regular basis are aged between 11 and 22. They are usually male and come from dysfunctional families. It is reported that by the age of four or five it is possible to know which children will become future offenders. A typical description is given as:
… they are hyperactive, with a short attention span, have difficulty relating to other children and adults, are desperate for affection and gain attention through misbehaving.v
Later when they are placed in a young offenders’ institution such as Feltham it is reported that:
… it was a miracle to meet a boy who had a father and mother in more or less working order. Most of them were doomed from conception. (Idem)
Many already have children of their own, so they start off as inadequate parents themselves and, coming from inadequate parents, not having had much schooling, nor any ideas about bringing-up a child, it is not surprising that the situation is repeated in successive generations. Rosemary Thomson advises that:
Children need clear standards of right and wrong, to learn to respect other people and their property, and to respect themselves. You need to teach people how to be parents, and that means really early intervention. (Idem)
A recent survey by David Regis and others in Exeter (in preparation, 1996) indicates that one third of teenage girls, and a quarter of boys find that fear of bullying makes school attendance an ordeal. It goes on to suggest that one in five secondary school
boys carries a weapon for protection. In 1995 the telephone counselling service, ChildLine, received 14,000 calls from children in connection with bullying. This number exceeds that for any other type of call. The responses in a survey carried out by the Exeter team found that victims of bullying had low self-esteem or low self-confidence. This makes them easier prey to those who seek to take advantage. Beiervi commenting on the behaviour of those with mental handicap in relation to delinquency writes:
At the present time, only one conclusion regarding the association of mental retardation with delinquency and criminality seems justifiable. The mentally retarded are capable of delinquent and criminal acts as are their intellectually normal brethren. However, factors other than intellectual ones appear to be more important in the aetiology of such behaviour, and these factors are those commonly cited as important to the development of delinquent and criminal behaviour in the general population. Though not a direct cause of delinquency or criminality, mental retardation is a complicating factor especially in terms of treatment... . Smith vii pointed out that rather than having any propensities toward crime, the mentally retarded may be involved in delinquent and criminalistic actions as a result of lack of insight, misunderstandings, or lack of appropriate supervision.
He also emphasized that society must become concerned with “life rather than just school planning for the mentally retarded individual”.
Cavadino, P. [Ed.] Children Who Kill. Waterside Press, 1996. Marshall, L. British Psychological Society, criminal and legal division, conference; York, 3.9.96. iii Graham, J. Schools, Disruptive Behaviour and Delinquency: A Review of Research. Home Office Research Study No. 96, HMSO; 1988. iv Graham, J. Crime Prevention Strategies in Europe and North America. Helsinki Institute for Crime Prevention and Control; 1990. v Thomson, Rosemary, JP. Chairman, Magistrates’ Association. In The Valerie Grove Interview. The Times, 25.10.1996. vi Beier, Delton C. Behavioural Disturbances. In Stevens, Harvey A. & Heber, Rick. [Eds.] Mental Retardation: A Review Of Research. The University of Chicago Press Chicago; 1969, [pp., 453-487]. vii Smith, J. O. Criminality and mental retardation. Training Sch. Bull., 59: [pp., 74-80.]; 1962.
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