By Stephen Burke,
Co-chair, Grandparents Plus and
Director, United for All Ages
Beyond the recent riots, our efforts must be on prevention. Prevention not just of more riots but to ensure that young people in particular have the chances and the support to do well in life.
The cranking up of the criminal justice system in August shows that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Politicians hope that swift punishments will act as a deterrent.
Now we need to devote as much energy to the underlying social issues. Much of the debate has focused on parents – where were they, what have they been doing – and whether they should also be punished for the crimes of their offspring, for example by losing their home.
But for many young people the wider family are or could be just as important as their parents.
For some children, the parents can’t be there because they have died or are seriously ill, have drugs, alcohol or mental health problems, or simply can’t cope. In these cases the wider family from grandparents to aunts and uncles are often the best alternative.
But family policy in Britain is two dimensional – focusing only on parents and children. We need a family policy that is multi-generational and multi-dimensional.
Hundreds of thousands of children already benefit from full-time care provided by their grandparents. They should be the first resort for social services. Extended families really are the early intervention many argue for, and low cost too.
For the vast majority of children, there is an important adult in their wider family beyond their parents – someone they can talk to in confidence, someone they respect and who is a role model.
Families are a wonderful resource. We need to use them, support them and recognise them for what they do and can do to give all young people the best start in life.
Let’s hope the post-riots review leads to a fundamental shift in how society views the wider family.