The children will benefit. So will the parents

Families can benefit from broader help from the state (c) Jackal of all trades

Ben Rowan

Yesterday a woman from Carlisle was given a community order for leaving her children in a heated car for 45 minutes. The  were aged between two and eight years old, left distressed and dehydrated after the car’s interior reached temperatures of 40 degree Celsius.

After repeatedly sounding the horn, a member of the public came to the aid of the children and called the police. The police stated that the children did not need hospital treatment but were said to be traumatised by the incident.

Ms Metcalfe Gibson, chairman of the bench in Carlisle, said that “this has been a wake-up call for her [mother]. She has significant problems for someone who is a single parent with three young children”. Ms Gibson also ordered the mother to pay £50 in costs but decided against giving her a custodial sentence.

The community order that the mother must serve is under the supervision of Cumbria Action Social Support, who will focus on developing the mother’s parenting skills. The mother was said to be in possession of amphetamines.

Stories like this are hard to stomach and bring in to question the suitability of some people as parents. With rising child obesity levels, gang culture, high levels of truancy and growing mental health problems amongst the young, should the state intervene to help parents bring up their children?

There is no defined rule book to being a parent and what some people call ‘good parenting’ others call ‘bad’. But there are foundations that are generally accepted like the encouragement of education, the fostering of social skills, good behaviour etc.

In most cases these lessons are taught, and the love that every parent feels for their child ensures that they devote themselves to their offspring and the fostering of these skills. But what happens if the parents are suffering from drug addiction or health problems? What about if they are engaged in criminal activity or become pregnant at a very young age? How much does this hinder the skills of the parent and their ability to impart these vital lessons?

In a lot of these cases parents are busy taking care of themselves. A 16 year old with a child has not had time to develop individually, so how can they be expected to take care of someone else. 38,000 women under 18 conceived children in 2009, and whilst some will have the support of a family network, this is not the reality for all. There is also an extremely high abortion rate for women under 18, standing at almost 50%. Many simply feel they do not have the skills to bring up a child. With help, they may overcome this.

Childhood obesity has a lot to do with parents and has more than tripled in the last 30 years, damaging children’s health and self esteem. There is a very strong link between childhood obesity and adult obesity. In other words, what you learn to eat as a child often stays with you throughout life. Allowing a child to think its ok to have 3 portions of chips everyday is setting them up to fail. The government has announced a seven-fold increase in anti-obesity drug spending from 2000, from £6.6 million to £46.8 million. It’s simple – people are getting fatter. Aside from the obvious economic argument, if we want a happy and content society, this is a problem we have to solve.

The crux of the argument is that more intervention is needed. Some parents need more help and guidance on how to bring up a child. This shouldn’t be perceived as a way of patronising the parents, more of an aid to help them. The state has a responsibility to everyone and therefore they must protect children, from picking up bad habits to instructing parents not to leave their kids in the car when they go to the shops.

Rather than waiting for things to escalate, leading to the children being taken away in to care, simply give lessons and better guidance to those parents in need of it. Children that grow up with their parents are happier and more successful in life, not to mention parents that grow with their children. Make it compulsory for parents to attend classes if they are addicts, under 18, or have a history of criminal offences.

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