Updated: Feb 10, 2022
There has long been a stand-off between those in a position of authority as to who is to blame for the crimes of today’s youth.
Many arguing, it is their social upbringing, it is the lack of power from the police, it is the lack of respect in Schools or the government and the laws which are put in place to protect have gone too far.
Turning on my social media page, my local police beat page flashes up. The familiar post stares me once again in the face… “do you recognise these youths?” Or “dispersal in place this weekend in town centre following anti-social behaviour from youths”.
In the year 2020-2021, 15,800 under 18’s was cautioned or sentenced in England and Wales of which 8,800 were first-time offenders.
During the lockdown, the number of arrests, cautions and sentencing have been at their lowest since times began. The Statistician behind the figure believes that lockdown and the fact that children were home-schooled was a major factor in these figures being so low.
However, what does that mean? That schools lack the authority to keep children under control? Lack of peer pressure, keeping away from the wrong crowds? Maybe, that children are looking for the attention of their parents? How about police presence was more obvious during lockdown due to no one being out? Or was it all of these put together?
The blame game pushes the responsibility of who is at fault from one-to-another with no real resolution to the situation. The Government blames the parents; parents blame the schools & police and police & schools blame the government.
Not every parent whose child breaks the law blames someone else. Most will discipline their children in a way they think is reasonable. This may be grounding them for a week; taking away a possession important to them, or even sending them to a relative, but what happens when that doesn’t work?
There are a number of parents who think that other authorities need to do more to keep the children in line.
Whilst society may think that the children who offend come from broken homes, parents who do not work or ‘sitting at home on benefits’ This is often not the case.
Speaking to Trish Spiller an ex-nurse from a local Young Offenders Institute, she advised ‘many come from single-parent families who had to go to work often leaving the children unsupervised. But some come from families with both parents and decent incomes.’
This asks the question are children committing crimes to get the attention of their parents?
Very often parents have to make the difficult decision of choosing between looking after the children or going out to work to earn the money to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.
Although, what happens to the children during this time? Are they looked after by other family members? That’s okay if they are there to help.
What about friends maybe? Again, very often they will be in a similar situation, and with more rules being in force, such as having to register with Ofsted if money is exchanged for childcare for more than two hours a day, many will look into alternatives.
Parents may turn to afterschool clubs, but these mostly run-up to a certain age and the cost of the clubs is often more than the parents earn.
Some parents feel that schools need to do more to help parents in these situations.
If we look back to pre-1980’s, bad behaviour in school was punished at an early stage. Step out of line and corporal punishment was administered mainly in the form of the slipper or cane. In 1982 the European Court of Human Rights allowed parents to stop the punishment if they so wished of which many did. By 1986 Corporal punishment was banned in England in state schools but was not banned in private schools until 1999 in England and Wales.
Since then, the authority schools have on children has dwindled. No more standing children in the corner of the room or telling them they are naughty.
According to the government website, the main examples of punishments are: a telling-off, a letter home, removal from class, confiscating an item, detention or exclusion either temporary or permanent.
Whilst students once feared a telling off from a teacher, a typical come back from some students witnessed in schools these days is ‘what are you going to do about it’.
Unfortunately, apart from one of the punishments above which more times than not will disrupt a lesson more, not much will normally be done, meaning a student is left laughing, but for the behaviour not to be addressed at an early stage can see the child spiral out of control.
If a child is excluded the responsibility is put back on to the parent, who as stated above may be working, if the child is found in a public place within the first 5 days of being excluded it is the parent that may be prosecuted.
Schools are being asked to act as referees between the fine line the government issues them, which are put in place not only to keep the children safe but also the welfare of the teachers, and the line of which the parents or police ask them to go by, keeping them entertained until parents get home, whilst keeping in line with the times' government sets that child need to be in school learning and playing, keeping them disciplined so they know right from wrong, fearing teachers enough that they won’t get in trouble but not feared enough that it is seen as abuse.
Has the lack of respect some children have for teachers and the school environment in general, led to high rates of crimes we have seen in past years of youths?
Should schools do more to keep children out of trouble and if so, how can they work with the police to collaborate in keeping children in schools during the day especially with all the rules set by the government tying them up in red tape?
The blame game continues between the police and society with many asking where the police are to man our streets and keep some of our youths today in order.
It is hard to ignore the calls of recent years to have more police, manning our streets.
Many ask where the ‘bobbies’ have gone from the beat?
Our missing police task has been blamed on a lack of funding with cuts to police forces over recent years with MP’s advising that more police on our streets will not lessen the crimes which is a direct contradiction to a supposedly leaked government document in 2016.
In 2020 – 2021 there were 115,663 stop and searches on children and 50,784 arrests (including those which resulted through means other than stop and search).
The Police were another service which was feared years ago, brought home by a policeman and you knew that you were in trouble due to the collaboration between police and parents at the time. If the police brought you home, you were not only in trouble with them but also your parents and punishment was served twice as it was allowed.
The powers the police have does not seem to work on the youths of today’s society. Whilst the rules and legislation has been put in to try and rehabilitate the youngsters the question has to be asked if sentencing guidelines have gone too far.
As it currently stands, cautions will be given where possible. If the crime is one that needs more than a caution, then an absolute or conditional discharge can be given meaning the sentence will be spent on that day or a day up to three years in the future. A financial order may be given if the youth is in a positive financial position or a youth rehabilitation order. A sentence will only be given to youths who are persistent offenders.
Does the term persistent offending act as a determinant for our children? Is this too lenient on a society who for some like to see how far they can push the boundaries?
With many officers working on their own on the beat or two at the most having large groups of 20 youths to manage must seem intimidating and confrontational.
Do the police do enough to talk to these individuals to ask them why they are doing the crimes they have committed or is it easy to say, ‘where are your parents?’ Are they not home, wondering where you are?’ Or have their hands been tied too far by a government trying to protect both parties?
Whilst the police have systems in place to work in collaborative situations, this may seem patronising to a child. Surrey police use a system called Targeted Youth Support to help those aged 12+ who have or may be at risk of offending, but with officials often blaming other institutions it is no wonder a child is sometimes reluctant to open up.
Whilst government will sit through hours of consultations, listen to experts of situations, and will put legislation in place to protect all, you have to wonder if whilst protecting the rights of one party you are harming another.
It is right that the punishments of older days were banned, however, it was due to many going too far and taking it to the edge and beyond of abuse. However, there seems to be such a lack of respect for the law and society by certain members of today’s youth that you have to question has taking everything away gone too far?
Take away the corporeal punishment and the smacking, but don’t be so lenient on youth sentencing guidelines? Should the government give more powers to the police? That would be fine but as you can see by the figures it is not the stop and searches and the arrests that are the issue. Going back to my much earlier point about my local beat on social media, most of the time it is about finding them.
The real issue is the need for services but for that, there needs to be money. Schools are often under-funded and oversubscribed but the government advise that schools need to do more to engage the students. That is difficult when class sizes are increasing, and teachers are leaving the profession at a high rate.
Youth centres have been closed meaning that there is nowhere for youths to gather apart from our streets and parks. Again this is a lack of funding, but the government is blaming our local councils to do more for the children.
The government continues to put legislation in which penalises the parent for the activities of a child which is sometimes out of their control. They believe the child is at school in a classroom where they dropped them off that morning. However, 4 days later they receive a phone call to advise they have not been in school all week. If that continues, a parent can then be fined.
If a child is expelled but does not stay home, the parent can be prosecuted. There have been calls for expulsion to be banned due to the rising number of them and parents unable to control the child once out of school due to work and other commitments.
The government again blames the parents and schools for not doing enough to engage the children, but if funding was given then there may be more resources available to put the opportunities in place to engage the child.
The blame game is just a circle where everyone goes round and round and no solution is found. Speaking to a source from Youth Services they advised ‘in the blame game, there is one important person who is forgotten, the most important person. The child’.
If everyone stopped blaming each other and worked together as one and with society, they may get to the bottom of the reason why the child committed the crime in the first place.
Are we really listening and acting up the reason behind youth offenders or are our children just another pawn in society’s blame game.
Written By: Victoria-Jayne Scholes
OULS News Editor
 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/youth-justice-statistics-2020-to-2021/youth-justice-statistics-2020-to-2021-accessible-version https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1050107/Youth_Justice_Statistics_2020-21.pdf
**Originally written for www.legallypowered.co.uk