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The Child-Parent Relationship in Violence and Crime

Alan Challoner MA MChS

Part Six — Locality and Crime

There seems to be a complex inter-relationship between crimes and certain


neighbourhoods. This link has delinquency as one of its roots. Foster and Hope have
suggested that:
This increased risk (of crime) generally goes hand in hand with a greater incidence of
other disorders such as vandalism, litter, graffiti and a greater probability that those
responsible also live in the same area. Thus both to relieve the burden of crime for those
residents and to reduce the level of victimisation overall, there is merit in targeting crime
preventive action on the poorest council estates. 1
These events do not happen within such communities by accident. There is a
connection between crime, the nature of the communities, and the breakdown of
community controls and supports. This is particularly so where young people are
involved. There is an increased likelihood of undisciplined behaviour and serious
vandalism and this makes intervention difficult because other residents feel
unsupported even though they are members of the same community. From
experiences in the USA Skogan writes:
disorder undermines the mechanisms by which communities exercise control over local
affairs ... disorder sparks concern about neighbourhood safety, and perhaps even causes
crime itself. 2
The Department of the Environment completed a study of hard-to-let estates in 1981,
and concluded that some estates gained a bad reputation that, when combined with
property maintenance problems there was a steady decline characterised by vandalised
and poorly maintained public spaces, no sense of community, and the departure of the
more responsible and independent tenants to other locations (Foster et al., Idem). The
houses were then only wanted by those could get no other form of housing, and who,
once housed, had difficulty moving on again. An atmosphere of neglect emerged,
making it even harder for housing services to cope with increased problems of
maintenance, lettings, and rent arrears.
The make up of a neighbourhood bears heavily on certain types of crime and
consideration for others. Page identified a strong connection between vandalism and
the numbers of children on the estate 3 . The critical factor appeared to be the ratio of
children to adults aged 20 or over. Where the ratio is relatively low, adults are more
likely to exercise informal controls over children, but this becomes much more difficult
where the number of children is high. High proportions of children are particularly likely
in areas with a high ratio of lone parents. This in turn is related to high levels of
vandalism 4, which in itself makes public space less attractive and more frightening.
However the proportions of children are not much greater than in the population as a
whole: 23% as against 21%. The likely difference is between estates with more
established and stable populations, and those in which the majority of tenancies are
new lets. The latter are more likely to be full, whereas established tenants whose
children have grown up and left home may have more than the minimum space they
require (Page, Idem).

1
Foster, J. & Hope, T. Housing, Community and Crime: The Impact of the Priority Estates
Project. Home Office Research Study No. 131, HMSO; 1993.
2
Skogan, W. G. Disorder and Decline: Crime and the Spiral of Decay in American
Neighbourhoods. Free Press; 1990.
3
Page, D. Building for Communities: A Study of New Housing Association Estates. Joseph
Rowntree Foundation; 1993.
4
Wilson, H. C.; & Herbert, G. W. Parents and Children in the Inner City., Routledge and Kegan
Paul; 1978.
The proportion of new lets made to lone parents as a priority housing group will also
affect the ratio of children to adults. Less desirable estates with high turnovers of
population may have higher proportions of children and therefore are more likely to
suffer litter, graffiti, vandalism, and rapid wear and tear, thus moving further into the
spiral of decline.

Part Seven — Conclusions

If young people feel rejected by the society in which they live then it is an indictment of
that society. Each society develops its own character and if it allows part of that
character to be blighted by poor environmental influences then it must look to the basic
education of those who form the greater part of it the parents.
There will be few who feel that it is easy to become a good parent. Indeed if becoming
a good parent was as easy as becoming a parent, such books as this would not need to
be written. In the last thirty years or more, each succeeding generation of children are
said to have been so different from their parents that both have failed to cope. Where
this is the case we have to look at the reasons for such change. There cannot be any
difference of consequence in the basic physiological and psychological aspects of
development. So we must assume that it is the environmental changes that are
responsible for the difficulties that have caused us concern. Many of these are within
the family. It seems to be the case that delinquency which has started in childhood has
been preceded by distortions in the parent-child relationship.
A very large number of families face severe problems associated with high levels of
stress. These include unemployment, poverty, a lack of affordable child-care, poor
housing, urban decay, discrimination, school problems. Most of these problems are
associated, one with another. All of them can create problems for children and can
result in increased delinquency and crime. Substantial family stress is connected with
changes in family organisation and this seriously complicates the task of parenting, and
reduces the enjoyment and fulfilment that ought to be there.
There are a number of initiatives which offer families under stress intensive practical
support from specialist social workers. These can be highly effective and are now
administered around the Children Act 1989.
Parents are also affected by this changing world, and if they have not kept pace with it
or have become out of tune with it, then they cannot expect to influence their children
for the best. The child is the citizen of its own age and it needs to be guided
accordingly, otherwise it will lose its way and will be in peril from every passing conflict.
Parents have a vital rôle in bringing up their children in ways that will allow them to
avoid the pitfalls that may lead to delinquency. It is of such importance that its default
is almost inexcusable. One wonders whether the time has come for the judiciary also to
contemplate contracts with parents of offending children, particularly where it is plain
that they are responsible for some or all of the deficiencies.
The authors of Crime and Social Policy asked themselves, “Where does the
responsibility for crime lie?”. It fudged the issue suggesting that none of its putative
explanations, “provides an adequate answer”. It attempted to put some of the blame
on society. But we are society. Each and every one of us is a part of that ethereal body.
If we do not play our part then how can we expect anyone else to? The authors’ final
response was, “…the task is to create a world where it is easier for people to be good
and harder to be bad”.
Who is responsible for creating this world? Crime is the responsibility of those who live
in it. Each of us is therefore responsible as individuals in a world where, collectively, we
represent its population. There are probably only two ways that we can effectively
reduce crime:
• do not commit crime as an individual person;
• bring up your children in a way that will give your children meaning and a sense of
order to prevent or at least reduce the prospect of any of them committing crime.
The ordering of meaning requires both predictability of behaviour and continuity of
purpose. Purposes arise out of, and remain closely analogous with, attachment. We
need to find the conditions that can reinforce our ability to maintain our organizations of
meaning so preventing the disruptive, unintelligible, or unexpected events which would
otherwise overwhelm us. It is the duty of all parents to ensure that their children do not
find themselves with the ambivalences and insecurities of childhood that can inhibit
their adult strategies for coping with uncertainty.
In the interim, and whilst parents are coming to terms with their enormous
responsibility in these respects, the onus for filling the (hopefully) temporary gap must
fall to a large extent on the educational establishment. For it is only these people who
have the opportunity at the right time in a child’s life to exert the sort of influence that
can draw them back from the brink.

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