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Mother jailed for girls' truancy
May 13, 2002 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Mother jailed for girls' truancy A question for our British gang, is truancy such a problem in the UK now that this is really necessary? When I went to school in England, lo those mumblemumble years ago, I don't remember it being this bad. For the rest of the world, do you think truancy in your country would justify locking up the primary caregiver or is this punishing the wrong person? Can parents be held responsible for everything a child does? And better said, should they? When should we grant children the priviledges and penalties of their own autonomous actions?
posted by dejah420 (27 comments total)

 
I'd sooner have the parent of a persistent truant locked up (provided adequate care exists for the child) than have his or her benefits docked. As the report says, this isn't an instant reaction: lord knows how much the local council has spent on trying to sort this out. And as the earlier link makes clear, the threat of jail is only for parents who refuse to attend court hearings, so there's an element of contempt of court there as well. (And there's yer numbers: 9,000 cases a year go to court.)
posted by riviera at 8:29 AM on May 13, 2002


I blame the bloody government..... twenty years of underinvestment in infrastucture, the consequences being truancy at epidemic levels. 'What I wanna bloody know iz wot fhat tony blurr is gonna do 'bout my kid who won't fuckin' go to bleedin' school. I don't know why I voted for the useless fucker. Next election I iz gonna vote for the BNP at least they'll keep all those bleedin' immies out of here, and er keep little jimmy at school.......or somfink'.

compulsory sterilisation for all fuckwit parents would be a start. Retrospective would be excellent, but at least an effort to prevent any further impregnation.
posted by johnnyboy at 8:36 AM on May 13, 2002


Can parents be held responsible for everything a child does?

If the parents aid and abet the child's actions or, on a base level, are aware of them and refuse to do anything about it (as this woman clearly has, after multiple court orders), then yes, they should ultimately be held responsible.

If children were adequately prepared or able to take care of themselves, they wouldn't need parents, the legal age of adulthood (at least in the United States) wouldn't be 18, and we wouldn't have things like compulsory education.
posted by Danelope at 8:36 AM on May 13, 2002


While there are probably other causes (jophnnyboy?), I still think parents should be forced to take care of their children, under the threat of legal penalties. For sure.
posted by magullo at 8:42 AM on May 13, 2002


not quite what I was getting at some parents neither know nor care what their offspring are up to. It is after all anybodies, for instance the governments responsibility to nurture their young. As for the other point about the BNP, well I am sure that there are some parents who can see a correlation between truancy (unemployment, hospital waiting lists...etc) and immigration.
posted by johnnyboy at 8:48 AM on May 13, 2002


I think you've got to tread carefully when punishing parents. After the age of about 12, strong-willed kids are more influenced by their friends than their parents and if they're really determined to go off the rails there's very little anyone can do. Having said that, parents should be willing to co-operate with the school/social worker or face the consequences.
posted by Summer at 9:07 AM on May 13, 2002


Of course parents are responsible for their children's behaviour - the personality of the child is surely deeply influenced by its parents' attitudes towards it throughout its development. Raising children is a huge responsibility and parents who allow their children to develop antisocial behaviour are at fault. The same is true of parents who stifle the development of the child's personality. And if a child does not have the ability to overcome undesirable personality traits which are a result of its upbringing it is likely to pass them on to its own children, who will be even more fucked up.
posted by mokey at 9:15 AM on May 13, 2002


Summer - Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

At 12 I was a fuckwit. I was hanging out with a couple of losers because I didn't have friends among the 'popular' kids, and I was antisocial and becoming violent. My parents took note, kept me home (sometimes by force) when I wanted to be out and my dad got me interested in computers.

At least one of the other neighborhood fuckwits is in jail right now. That coulda been me, because I certainly didn't have any (and still don't have any) street smarts. I'm living across the country in a beautiful part of a small city, finishing school and starting a career. I'm happy.

I think that the biggest problem is that people beleive that kids should be able to do what they want, and don't want to "squelch their individuality" or some other psychobabble. Said psychobabble has reduced our educational institutions to psychologist's playgrounds where everyone has one disorder or another and the biggest duty of the teachers is to keep a student's self-esteem up.

Parents are the other half of the problem. It's a lot easier to "keep johnny's self-esteem up" than it is to discipline him properly and provide a set of rules that are enforced, and to teach him that his actions have consequences. The biggest problem, as I see it, is that the kids being raised by high schools (note: not by parents) these days have no concept of consequences and are very, very, VERY surprised when the real world smacks them full across the face.
posted by SpecialK at 9:28 AM on May 13, 2002


That's kind of my thinking as well Summer. I mean, I was a fairly strong willed kid...and despite the high walls and restrictions about leaving the campus, I took off from school and went to London all the time. :) Because, there were things to do and see and taste and play with in London. (Like boys...and the Marquee...and Camden...ah, youth...it's wasted on the young.) Now, punishment was swift and harsh when I got back, but the fact is, it didn't really stop me from doing it again, I just factored in punishment as part of the gig.

Then again, my parents were back here in the States, safely away from my teen angst and any and all reprecussions thereof. (Which, of course, is why they sent me to school across an ocean, really.) I'm not sure if I would have behaved similarly if there were the threat of my parents being punished, simply because when they got out...I would have to enter the witness protection program to be safe. :-)

By the same token, despite my youthful indescretions, I turned out to be a normal, albeit slight odd, adult. I don't run around breaking the laws willy nilly, I don't shoot people who annoy me...even when I think they really need to be shot, I pay my taxes, stay under the radar, and get on with life. I hardly think that I was permanently "fucked up" as monkey put it. Nor do I consider my behavior particularly antisocial, if anything, it was a quest for pro-social. :)


posted by dejah420 at 9:30 AM on May 13, 2002


After the age of about 12, strong-willed kids are more influenced by their friends than their parents

Not necessarily, specially if the parents have done a good job. And I am speaking from experience here. Visiting museums with my parents and later being able to smoke pot with them, to pick two random things, made me realize a lot of things about both high-brow culture and drugs. They also made me realize my parents knew what they were talking about. And that is they key. I don't think you have to smoke pot with your kids, but you do have to arrange things so that there is a solid base of mutual respect. And then opinions, deeds and sayings can vary. But they won't stray.
posted by magullo at 9:30 AM on May 13, 2002


Summer's point mirrors a claim of Steven Pinker's (that's where I read it anyway, don't know if it's his or not), that peer groups have a much larger effect on children than parents. In your example, SpecialK, your parents replaced your peer group with themselves. It doesn't disprove Summer's claim.
posted by yerfatma at 9:31 AM on May 13, 2002


Parents have been jailed in several US states, also.

My son's middle school gives the student detention for every 3 unexcused latenesses or absences, and it works. Before this year my son would wake up every morning begging to stay home or dilly-dallying to the point where he missed the bus and I had to drive him. This year he's out the door 15 minutes after he wakes up. The kids call detention the Ice (for isolation) House. Like prison.
posted by iconomy at 9:37 AM on May 13, 2002


is truancy such a problem in the UK now that this is really necessary?

Truancy may or may not be increasing, but the perception is that persistent young offenders are not being sufficiently challenged by parents to remain in school, and to see that learning is a legitimate alternative occupation to crime ( and, long-term, the only way to secure prosperity for yourself and family).

do you think truancy in your country would justify locking up the primary caregiver or is this punishing the wrong person?
Generally, if you lock up Mum or Dad, and there is no other adult responsible, you have more of a problem: the local community have to provide foster or residential care, which, if it is to be of a high standard, is not cheap, not very effective (the influence that non-related care givers have over adolescents is much less than the already depleted sway the primary carers had) and brings its own attendant problems ( non- related teens of different genders and orientations in the same quarters... uh-oh), and including greater risk of bullying, exposure to drug misuse, and a breakdown in school placement exacerbated by relocation (all of Oxfordshires Childrens Homes are in the City, sometimes 30 miles from the school/family home.) The main point here is that if the parents have not taught the children that there are ALWAYS consequences to actions (initially >>> no school, no treat; no chore, no pocket money; then >>> reading = learning; learning = job; job = prosperity, etc.), in a sense like the laws of physics, whether good bad or indifferent, then the kids get a mighty shock to discover a criminal sanction imposed, where previously there was no sanction at all.

Riviera: lord knows how much the local council has spent on trying to sort this out. Not sure on the specifics, but theres less and less every year for this authority (which happens to be my employer)

Summer: Having said that, parents should be willing to co-operate with the school/social worker or face the consequences.

Pony, anyone?

(and.. what Danelope said.)
posted by dash_slot- at 9:47 AM on May 13, 2002


A good percentage of fucked up kids are the offspring of parents who who have no business being parents. Allowing inept people to be parents then punishing them for their teenager's inept actions is retarded and might feel good (in a revenge sense) but won't accomplish anything good. As long as every person has the inalienable right to reproduce, there will be as many (or more) fucked up kids as we have fucked up adults. And that is a lot.

In our society you can't catch a fish without a license, you can't drive without a license, you can't vote or own a gun if you are a convict, you can't buy alcohol or tobacco until you are 21/18 (ages vary in diff places of course) BUT, no matter how psycho crazy fucked up stupid you are, you can bare a child, ruin its life, and thrust the consequences on the rest of society, all with society's tacit approval!!! How fucking stupid is that????
posted by plaino at 9:50 AM on May 13, 2002


Plaino: I so agree with you! As i've said before, the quickest way to turn a Liberal into an authoritarian is to get them to work in a childrens home! I usually fall on the left of the spectrum, but I would say that it should be made very difficult to get benefits, housing and other community support if you won't qualify for a Parents Licence [tm], which itself depends on successful completion of a Parenting Programme only available to adults 18+. That, compulsory Sex Ed. and bromide/contraceptions delivered to all teens, in the water: I mean, do we need any more teenage parents? (",)
posted by dash_slot- at 10:02 AM on May 13, 2002


Summer - Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

I'm speaking from my own experience. When my brother was about twelve or thirteen he went a bit mental, seemingly in reaction to my dad leaving. It never went as far as breaking the law but he did do strange things like attacking the furniture with a knife, rowing with my mum and not trying particularly hard at school. He didn't spend much time at home.

If he'd gone to some inner-city hell-hole school where truancy and crime were common then I'm pretty sure that's the path he would have taken. As it was he went to a middle-class rural school and just fucked up his exams. What could my mum have done? Absolutely nothing. She didn't have the physical strength to restrain him and shouting doesn't work where there's no fear or influence. I'm sure a lot of parents, particularly single mums in rough areas, feel totally impotent when it comes to their kids.

Teenagers are notoriously moody, secretive, contrary and aggressive towards their parents. Couldn't that be part of breaking away from the family and finding a new life? Maybe that's why many parents lose control.
posted by Summer at 10:10 AM on May 13, 2002


Local reports on this case (inc. the excuses we're used to from family members) and creative solutions from my local school in Oxford, showing that court action really seems to be the last resort, and Banbury, the town in which the newsworthy family live.
posted by dash_slot- at 10:28 AM on May 13, 2002


not to condone child abuse, but if I could be put in jail for something my kid does, then I better be able to "knock some sense" into my (deliquent) kid without penalty. ofcourse, how the child was raised before the teen years is probably going to affect how troublesome they are in their teens. I'm not saying punch the kid out of his chair for spilling milk, but if my child was going to ignore my rules and then go out and do something that was going to land ME in jail, threats of physical harm would be my next step (followed by the physical harm...).

don't worry, I don't have any kids...
posted by stifford at 10:33 AM on May 13, 2002


When I was a teenager, there was a special police force which patrolled the local streets picking up truents. Chronic offenders would be taken to juvenile hall, if I recall correctly. Alas, gone are the days when people (even teenagers) were held responsible for their own actions.
posted by plaino at 11:15 AM on May 13, 2002


SpecialK, your parents replaced your peer group with themselves. It doesn't disprove Summer's claim.

No, they didn't. After they yanked me from the peer group that they found unacceptable, I found a new peer group that was much more supportive, found a mentor in a student organization and went on to be a state officer, and became the weirdo that you know and love today. I'm sorry I made it seem that way, I try to avoid confusion... Anyway. I don't claim that what worked for me will work for anyone, but having discipline in my life and parents who cared and explained consequences to me mattered more than anything else.

It never went as far as breaking the law but he did do strange things like attacking the furniture with a knife, rowing with my mum and not trying particularly hard at school.

I did some of that stuff, especially the fighting. The biggest thing I remember from when I was 12 was the day I had a screaming match with my mom about cleaning my room, and she smacked me full across the face. My parents NEVER hit me or threatened to lay a finger on me, except for that time. I knew that she'd just call the cops if I hit her back, and besides, what kind of man hits his own mother?... but to this day, I still remember that if I'm about to start a fight with her.

Why did it work... one smack across the cheek? How did that one incident when I was 12 (I don't remember anything else from that year, I don't think...) stick in my mind and make me not afraid, but cautious of my mom and what I said and how we fought from that time on? I don't think that there's a problem with being a single mother, although I wouldn't want to be in that situation. All that matters is that you've got a parent who loves you enough to challenge you. If the parent isn't responsible enough to do this, then there's consequences, which is why I don't think there's a problem with holding a parent accountable for the kid's actions.

Look, obviously there are problems with kids who do this kind of stuff. There were problems with me. So what's the solution?




Oh, I love preview...
Alas, gone are the days when people (even teenagers) were held responsible for their own actions.

Reference: My comments above about what's wrong with schools and popular parenting.
posted by SpecialK at 11:19 AM on May 13, 2002


Now let me get this straight. Kid won't go to school. Mom/Dad for whatever reason can't force kid to go to school. So we'll put Mom/Dad in jail! Now that kid will surely go to school!

Yeah, that'll show 'em.
posted by ilsa at 11:46 AM on May 13, 2002


If you got thrown in jail because your son was being bad, what would you do, Lisa?

My answer would be: Anything to straighten that kid out. Anything.
posted by SpecialK at 12:25 PM on May 13, 2002


Ilsa - see the report at thisisoxfordshire (quote): "It's a harsh lesson for them to learn. They realise they have done wrong and they are going back to school. They have been really affected by it. It has been a shock to everybody." (Mrs Amos's eldest daughter, Kerry Cowman)
It does seem to have shown them...
posted by dash_slot- at 12:50 PM on May 13, 2002


I agree with ilsa, and I think that punishing the parents instead of trying to equip them with some real world child-rearing skills seems counter productive. And I suspect this kind of measure might well put some kids at higher risk of abuse from their parents. I just don't see how the problem gets solved by giving the parents jail time, the parents need help with parenting, they don't need to be treated like criminals. A parent who already can't handle their kids is unlikely to magically become able to do so simply because they've been to jail. Send them to parenting school instead.
posted by biscotti at 1:15 PM on May 13, 2002


Part of my point is that if Mom is in jail then she CAN'T be there in the morning to make sure the kids get to school, now can she?

As for dash_slot-'s example, bully for them! Glad it worked in that one case! Most of the chronically truant folks I went to school with would have been glad to be rid of the parent.

And as for what would I do if my kid were truant? (I assume that "Lisa" is me?) For starters I'd find out why. I'd actually talk to my kid, amazingly enough. The next step would depend entirely on what I found out. If the school is the problem, I'd find a better school. If the kid is the problem, I'd get appropriate mental health help. I wouldn't let it get to the point where the courts get involved. Needless to say I hope I never have to implement that plan of action.
posted by ilsa at 1:48 PM on May 13, 2002


This isn't the sort of penalty automatically applied to every parent of every truant child. This is a last resort to try and force a spectacularly bad parent to take more responsibility for their actions. I have no problem with that. There has to be that ultimate sanction to make parents realise that they have to cooperate with the relevent authorities. At the end of the day, what matters more than anything is the welfare of the child. If the parent isn't willing to take that responsibility then something has to change. At the very least, this news should be a wake-up call to every other parent in Britain who just couldn't give a fuck.
posted by salmacis at 2:58 PM on May 13, 2002


This is a last resort to try and force a spectacularly bad parent to take more responsibility for their actions.

So do we bang 'em up before or after we take their child benefit away?
posted by CatherineB at 4:07 AM on May 14, 2002


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