Does fining parents reduce truancy? Expert reaction to government proposal

Parents of children who skip school are currently fined £60 in England. This doubles after 21 days to £120. The Prime Minister has warned that for those parents who don’t pay risk the penalty fine being docked from their child benefit.

“All the evidence is that if children consistently miss school, they get a worse education, they get worse results and as a result they have less good prospects for the rest of their lives,” said David Cameron.

But why do children play truant and what will be the effect of taking the money from child benefit. Here Dr Raymond Arthur, researcher and reader in law, Northumbria University, explains:

“The government’s proposal to remove child benefits from parents of young people who truant will guarantee that across England and Wales those families who are amongst the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in the country will be penalised, despite the fact that the treatment they will receive is likely to harm them further and compound their problems. This proposal reduces the responsibility of society, encourages a blaming culture that does not take account of the full circumstances, and leads to ineffective punitive sanctions rather than the holistic support-based interventions which are required.

The government’s proposal to penalise parents ignores the complex patterns and interrelated problems that such children endure. This plan is premised on the assumption that parents of children who truant have not accepted their responsibility and that they can be made to do so by the threat of withholding benefits. The root cause of truancy and youth crime are viewed in terms of a breakdown of morality associated with dysfunctional families and a delinquent underclass. Dr. Arthur’s research (2015a, 2015b, 2007, 2005) on families and children in trouble has found that demonising parents, like demonising children, will exacerbate a situation that for many parents is already complex and strained. In the early years of children’s lives the aim should be to strengthen families, enabling them to play a full part in controlling their children’s behaviour, and not to penalise families or to take responsibility away from them.”

Notes to journalists

Research references:

Arthur, R. (2015a) Troubling times for young people and families with troubles – responding to truancy, rioting and families struggling with adversity Social & Legal Studies, 24, 3, forthcoming.

Arthur, R. (2015b) Recognising children’s citizenship in the youth justice system Journal of Social Welfare & Family Law 37, 1, pp. 21-37.

Arthur, R. (2007) Family Life and Youth Offending: Home is where the hurt is London: Routledge

Arthur, R. (2005) Punishing Parents for the Crimes of their Children, Howard Journal of Criminal Justice 44, 3, pp. 233-253.

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