The other side of offence;Books

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
CHILDREN WHO BREAK THE LAW. By Sarah Curtis. Waterside Press. pound;18 + pound;2 pamp;p.

This is a timely book. Concern about youth crime continues to grow, and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is fresh on the statute book.

Sarah Curtis interlinks 100 pages of in-depth interviews with young people who have offended with a wide-ranging study of the causes of and possible solutions to young people's criminal behaviour.

Getting to know the interviewees' families so closely leads the author to a significant generalisation about parents. "The trouble is that 'love' is not always enough to enable a parent to weather the difficulties of rearing a child," she writes, though she does not link this to John Bowlby's famous "security of attachment" concept.

Curtis describes the paucity of help available: "When support had been offered to children and families it was often short-term, unco-ordinated, and petered out before it was effective."

Her overview on how schools can teach morality is very good. She sensitively links "knowing about people" with the ability to make a moral decision, and stresses the importance of combining "cognitive and emotional understanding". I also welcome her emphasis on the need to include education for parenthood for boys as well as girls.

The wide-ranging coverage has good sections on communities working together, mentoring, and how businesses can sensibly work to support the needs of young people.

The final major section focuses on how we deal with young offenders. How many schools have taken into the curriculum the removal of the requirement that a youth between 10 and 14 cannot be prosecuted unless the court proved that the child knew the action was seriously wrong? Curtis's analysis of the court system is cogent, including the depressing fact that 75 per cent of offenders under 21 reconvict within two years of their release.

She finishes with a plea to the Home Secretary: "Take the lead in creating a society in which we combine to fight crime by dealing with its causes and in which we keep those children and young people who have broken the law from re-offending by measures designed to include them in society, rather than by excluding them from it."

Michael Marland is headteacher of North Westminster Community School, and editor of the Heinemann School Management series

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