Dad's atonement benefits family

21st October 2005 at 01:00
Blind rage swept through Mark Francis after he was told by the court that he was going to be subjected to a six-week parenting order because of his sons' criminal behaviour.

Three years on he still attends parenting classes, by choice, and the anger has been replaced by a burning conviction that the order has helped transform his family.

Mr Francis is one of an increasing number of parents subject to the orders, which require parents to attend courses after a criminal action by a child.

Introduced in 2000, the number issued has risen from 979 in the first year to 1,273 in 2004-5.

At present only local authorities can apply for the orders. The Steer committee has called for that right to be extended to schools, even where a pupil has yet to be excluded.

Mr Francis, 48, said: "My boys were getting into a lot of trouble after they lost their mother in 1997 when she took her own life. Both Mark, then 10, and Christopher, who was nine, were getting involved with older boys who would put them up to petty street crime. I was spending an awful lot of time in the youth courts and I did not know how to cope. I was shouting at them."

In 2002, with his sons once again appearing at Stratford youth court, Mr Francis, from Forest Gate, east London, was told he would have to be given parenting order.

He said: "At the time I thought, 'Why am I being punished?". I had done nothing wrong and I was doing my parenting to the best of my ability. But when I went to the group I realised that I did not know everything and they taught me that some things I was doing were wrong. I learnt how to approach children. Before then they spoke to me but I did not listen. All I wanted them to do was listen to me. I was the boss."

Christopher, now 17, is planning to start a plumbing course at a local college, and 18-year-old Mark has recently moved into his own flat and wants to study music.

Mr Francis said: "When you talk to other parents you realise you are not alone and you can learn so much."

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