Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Children “may face criminal checks”

This was the headline in Guardian Unlimited on (Tuesday 27 March; http://tinyurl.com/32oz4h ). The article started:

A plan to introduce compulsory checks on children to discover whether they are at risk of turning into criminals has been condemned by headteachers.”

This was one proposal in the Security, Crime and Justice Review introduced by Tony Blair today [downloadable review at http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page11353.asp ]

The review states that the government may establish universal checks throughout a child's development to help service providers to identify those most at risk of offending”.

The general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers said that he was astonished by the plan.

It is worth looking at what the Policy Review actually states:

Page 31: Ensure that Children’s Trusts and their partners work together closely with YOTs in order to intervene at the earliest possible point, so that vulnerable children and those at risk of criminality are actively case-managed. This multi-disciplinary approach should be used to coordinate the identification and assessment of risk, for example by considering ‘trigger’ factors, such as a child’s parent being sentenced to custody or being addicted to high-harm drugs

Establish universal checks throughout a child’s development to help service providers to identify those most at risk of offending. These checks should piggyback on existing contact points such as the transition to secondary school.

This suggests looking for “trigger factors” likely to lead to criminality and working with those identified but the report on which this part of the Policy Review is based goes further it states:

It seems likely, therefore, that the most useful framework for developmental measurement and assessment would start from birth with indicators of childhood health and development, together with measurement of family income, education, parenting skill and social ties to the neighbourhood or in terms of wider social and familial networks. As children mature, teacher ratings will become relevant and should be built in. In cases where these forms of measurement indicate high levels of risk, then developmental knowledge of the children’s own physical and mental health, behaviour, attitudes and aspirations might be added, together with more detailed information about the family and social context, in order to inform decisions about intervention and support.”

This area of the Policy Review is based on the work of Leon Feinstein and Ricardo Sabates who produced a massive 122 page report for the PM Strategy Unit [downloadable from http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page10033.asp ].

CHECK FROM BIRTH!!!!

I can understand the desire to improve crime prevention. I can understand the desire to identify children at risk of offending but the idea of checking from birth is abhorrent – however well-intentioned.

The thrust of both the strategy paper and the Policy Review seems to be to work with those children identified as high risk and so reduce the likelihood of their offending. There is no plan listed whose aim is to help eradicate the so-called trigger factors from society. In fact, the Policy Review is worse. It states:

It was never this Government’s belief that poverty and deprivation were excuses for
crime. To say such a thing would be an insult to the vast majority of people from poor and deprived backgrounds who don’t commit crimes and who live good lives.

This portion suggests that because many brought up in poverty and deprivation do not become criminals that these factors can’t cause others to turn to crime. This statement has the same form as Blair’s common theme about the Iraq War not being an excuse for terror in Britain. He’s right but it sure as hell contributes to the problem.

I’ve picked up on only one tiny area of the Review. I imagine Wednesday’s papers will have much more about the entire Security, Crime and Justice Policy Review. My quick glance at it as I wrote this post flagged up many other contentious issues.


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