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Family Law

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16 AUG 2011

Penny Booth: Mountains and Mole-Hills

Penny BoothThe papers are full of it; the media generally breathing a sigh of relief that the normally quiet August period which starts off by looking for silly stories, moves into the annual accusations that school examinations are getting easier and then waits for September so that the end-of-the-summer, new-education-year approach to stories can get going, is not left looking for stories mid-summer. Wow!!!

Before we progress to these turbulent times of criminal acts in major cities around the country, may I just get my two penn'orth in first on the examination results annual exchange - or in my case, just the one? Notwithstanding better equipment for climbers, there are more people climbing Mount Everest than ever before - does that mean the mountain is noticeably shrinking? I thought not. So how come exams ‘seem' easier because more are passing them? Answers on a postcard... complete rethink required. I am not saying they are or they are not getting easier, but I am not prepared to make a judgement about results-creep on the little evidence that merely strokes one's biased preconceptions. But - may I make a plea for families with exam-focussed children wherever they may be - please don't rain on the parades of results-recipients right now, because they have enough problems as it is, and families could do with a bit of support.

We have radio, television and newspapers full of the recent events over the last ten days in London and around the country which seem to have involved criminal activity and lawlessness by sometimes just plain wicked individuals and a kind of collective loss of good sense by the rest.

I see (surprise, surprise) the activities have provoked expected extremities of views - families and parents getting it in the collective neck again - the place of parents is in the wrong. In a way, this is no surprise. Who else would politicians blame? There must be something of  a background with all this - there must be a social context which allows the poorly managed family to fail to provide the secure and stable foundation which results in some not behaving badly. The context is important. I do find it strange, however, to be lectured from the television by those politicians who have had their generic fingers in so many pies, some of whom appear to have got away with creative accounting with respect to expenses (there goes my knighthood) or youthful exuberances of their student days with dining clubs ending the evening on an all-expenses-paid mini-riot of their own. Pot - kettle, anyone?

Actually, if I was the victim (carefully chosen word) of rioting and wanton criminal acts and my property was damaged, I would feel furious, and be looking for someone to blame and for financial recompense to put the damage right. Maybe it is the latter that is the problem. When something goes wrong, rarely is there ‘recompense' in a criminal act - retribution, punishment, hand-wringing even, rarely appropriate recompense. If there was ‘punishment' and a requirement to help put it right, that might be a better approach with time to think about the consequences of criminal behaviour.

The danger is, though, that the pendulum will swing the other way - we shall lose gains made in human rights by equally mindless immediate reactions to these terrible events. We risk making mountains out of mole-hills with exam results, and assuming it will be easy to climb the mountain of lawlessness among the young (and not-so-young) by thinking we have made it too easy for them, and blaming the families. Many of the parents are the children of the eighties and all we talked of then was making money and how important that was - and how useless you were if you didn't. I am not advocating ‘soft' or ‘tough' but I am advocating some thought. Early experiences can be so very significant and powerful. We risk, yet again, demonising children and losing care and special consideration for them and their needs, in collective reaction to mindlessness on a large scale, simply because we did not provide the proper support. If only. Be careful not to lose your mind - Kipling may have had it right.

Penny sets the questions for Family Law journalCPD, a new way to gain CPD points by answering multiple choice questions based on the content of the journal.

She is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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