Criminal intent runs in the family

Diane Spencer analyses a report on links between wrongdoing and the family

Family conflict, scant supervision of children by parents, lack of interest in their education or leisure, harsh or erratic discipline and long-term separation from a parent are key factors in causing juvenile crime, says a report by NACRO.

Families and Crime is the first in a series of reports for NACRO's campaign, Making Society Safer, launched this week. Inadequate parenting is not confined to one social class, says the report, but it is often tied to the additional stress of unemployment, poverty and ill health.

The report offers case studies of successful schemes for reducing delinquent behaviour. The Family Nurturing Network in Oxford, for example, works with parents who are at risk of abusing or neglecting their children. A family connections course uses a video parenting programme coupled with play sessions and a nurturing programme offers training on parental skills.

The West Leeds Family Service Unit aims to relieve stress and support parents in a deprived area. Drop-in sessions for mothers, money advice clinics and play schemes are among the activities on offer.

"Making Society Safer - cutting crime towards the millennium" has three main aims: to widen the understanding of "prevention" away from locks and bars on windows towards projects for diverting potential offenders from crime; to encourage a higher priority for crime prevention; and to shift public opinion from the idea that "prison works" in favour of more effective punishments - such as community sentences for less serious offenders.

NACRO recommends improved support for vulnerable parents through a national programme of parent education courses, better child care and more home visiting from health workers. Jail sentences for 15- and 16-year-olds should be replaced by intensive programmes of education, reparation and mentoring, and schemes developed to change anti-social behaviour, and tackle car crime, violence and drug abuse.

The campaign will also focus on helping ex-prisoners go straight by providing better prison education, training and pre-release courses, employment projects and support with housing .

Families and Crime, NACRO publications, 169 Clapham Road, London SW9 OPU, Pounds 2.50 inc pp

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