The mainstream debate about 'parenting' is a blank canvas onto which the ruling class paint an image of moral decay without addressing the root causes of social problems, argues Laura Woods.
A recurring, yet nebulous, phrase that keeps emerging within the debate over the causes of the riots has been ‘parenting’.
The government and the liberal press are attracted to a concept which individualises and blames. ‘Parenting’ is also a concept with no inherent meaning- interpreted by people to meet their own agendas.This is not a new argument. Since time immemorial parents have been blamed for everything from the ‘mods and rockers’ riots of the 1950’s, pregnancies outside of marriage in the 1960’s to the Toxteth riots of 1981- and teenage pregnancies today.
Any discussion about ‘parenting’ also has to bear in mind the ruling class’ traditional attitude to it. This is to pay someone else to take responsibility for parenting your children, whether it be the nanny, a boarding school or the army, or preferably all three in succession.
Many parents living in substandard housing and on tight budgets do not have the luxury of debating Dr Spock or Gina Ford. They are trying to meet the basic physical and emotional needs of their children. The most galling aspect of the current debate is the implication that working class parents do not love their children or want the best for them. Many years of working in child protection have shown me that whilst children come to harm at the hands of their parents, the vast majority of parents love and care for their children against overwhelming odds. It is insulting for those sitting in prosperity to infer otherwise.
It is clear that damaged children become damaged parents, yet successive governments have failed to invest sufficiently in protective or therapeutic services for children. The ConDems have ended the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy with nothing to replace it. This was a successful strategy with the teenage conception rate in 2009 being the lowest since the early 1980’s and falling almost 6% on the previous year. Out of 150 local authorities and PCTs that employed a Teenage Pregnancy Coordinator 56 have axed the role in the last year.
A recent survey by Parenting UK found that over 50% of parenting workers had been affected by funding cuts. Among the services being cut were parent support advisors, coordination and delivery of local parenting programmes and one to one and early intervention parenting support. These are all crucial services to help the most vulnerable parents gain the skills and confidence to care for their children.
The ability of parents to provide stability is crucial for child development. Yet, the ConDems' cuts to housing benefits will uproot countless families resulting in children leaving their friends, their schools and their extended families.
In 2008-9 there were 3.9 million children living in low income households. This figure will increase over the next few years. Low income households will encompass both those living in absolute poverty -where parents really do decide not to eat so that their children can, or where children are going to school in shoes with holes in them and clothes that are too small and with little access to books or toys- and those living in relative poverty. Relative poverty means that families become isolated from important developmental experiences for children. There is no money for outings, birthday parties, friends for tea, holidays, books or leisure activities. Children lose out on social interaction, learning and (importantly) fun.
Parents caring for children in these circumstances should be praised for their resilience not castigated by those wishing to avoid their own moral responsibility for failing an entire generation of young people. This is not a plea for sympathy for those parents doing the best for their children in appalling circumstances. The correct and most effective response should be anger that this is allowed to continue. I just wish that the next time Cameron tries to moralise about ‘parenting’ someone would shove a copy of Gina Ford down his throat.
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