Real Life: What's gone wrong?: Independent on Sunday readers respond to our special report in last week's paper on juvenile crime, our family life and the way we treat each other

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IT IS quite wrong to blame the ideas of the Sixties as the cause of today's problems. I grew up in the Sixties. They were a time of hope and opportunity - most of all for people from humble origins. There are no opportunities today, only hopelessness.

It was Mrs Thatcher who said there is no such thing as society, and certainly when she had finished there wasn't. She destroyed that delicate matrix which served to bind and guide people. To talk of new custodial regimes to rehabilitate young offenders is pure folly. It is society as a whole that needs rehabilitation.

Chris Waller

Yate, Bristol

MY MOTHER is 84, and for the past eight years the children in the area of Doncaster where she lives have been robbing her of her pension. It was common knowledge among children at the local secondary school that there was easy money to be had at her house.

These are 13 and 14 year old children. I know it is home background that moulds children's personalities. So why not make the parents of regularly offending children attend compulsory training sessions, and try to educate them in the right way of bringing children up? Being poor is no excuse. Many people were poor, my parents included, when I was a child, but we did not go around stealing from old ladies.

Patricia Canniwick

Knaresborough, Yorks

YOU TOTALLY ignored the effects of the built environment. Why not fling money effectively at problem estates? Improvement schemes driven by the residents give people a new sense of purpose and neighbourliness. If no one will give them a job at least they can be at home in comfort and security.

And how about spending more money on visible policing? I lived for 15 months in wealthy Darien, Connecticut, USA. There were some 50 police for around 16,000 souls. The only persistent problem was the 'Darien Onanist' (as named by the press) who has since been caught. I hold no torch for securely ghettoising the wealthy but couldn't we aspire to giving the weakest in our society the same sense of security? I'd pay more tax for that.

Incidentally, in pushing my pram about I notice that it is the young and the elderly who are most likely to hold open a door. The middle-aged and 'empty nesters' are least likely to do so. So much for 'Fifties' values.

Francesca Walkington

St Albans, Herts

YOU REPORT Kenneth Clarke as saying: 'It is no good permanently finding excuses for a section of the community who are essentially nasty pieces of work'. I do so agree. Yet he and his colleagues continue to make excuses for themselves; the rest of us have grown to accept that they are simply nasty pieces of work.

Laurie Buxton

Swaffham, Norfolk

ALTHOUGH Linda Grant's article ('Just another family under fire') omitted to say so, the Family Welfare Association has been working with families such as the Kellys of Northampton for some while. We have been helping them develop confidence, to build bridges between the statutory services and to ensure they will be around after Peter's 18th birthday when the local authority will cease being involved. We have been helping families in this way for a century and a quarter.

FWA believes that the current moral panic reflects society's lack of self- confidence and direction. Solutions that ignore the material as well as the emotional needs of people will fail.

Lynne Berry

Family Welfare Association, London

YOUR editorial comment last Sunday that 'We no longer trust each other; we are all on the make, all looking out for ourselves' is a travesty of reality. The great majority of people in Britain are law-abiding and have a strong social conscience. Their commitment to voluntary and charitable activity is astonishing. They are remarkably tolerant of their fellow citizens and of an archaic system of government.

The central task is to overhaul the institutions which serve us so badly, and change the assumptions which underpin them. We pay a heavy price for our primitive adversarial system of politics, for a parliamentary system that embodies a defunct class structure, and for the imposition of policies by an 'elective dictatorship', elected on a minority vote, which seems grossly out of touch with popular feeling.

Roger Putnam

Ravenglass, Cumbria

SOMEHOW society must define for itself the real nature of good and evil so that individuals understand the consequences of their own relationship with these entities. We all have a responsiblity in raising moral awareness. We are all to blame for what has happened. Only as a society, all of us together, can we make amends.

J R Riley

East Barnet, Herts

MAY I suggest that a major contributing factor to the increasing crime rate is the great growth in car usage: and the resulting reduction in people walking around our urban areas. We take our cars into city centres to visit entertainments and restaurants, we use our cars to go shoppping at huge out-of-city shopping centres, we use our cars for work and we use our cars to visit friends and relations. Our streets are becoming increasingly deserted, while our roads become increasingly congested. People walking along pavements, queueing at bus stops, children playing in the streets must all help to deter crime. We are becoming increasingly isolated from one another, moving around cocooned in our cars. This reduces the social interaction which is so important for a healthy and responsible society, and at the same time makes it easier for criminals to operate.

David Pack

Darwen, Lancs

AS SOMEONE who has been caring for young people in residential settings for 15 years, I can list some of the problems that we face.

Many young people are placed inappropriately by courts and local authorities in homes which do not have the staff or skills to deal with them. The young person will not go to school and will not accept the boundaries of the home: he or she absconds - sometimes for days or weeks - and commits offences. The sanctions the staff might apply are regarded by the young person as trivial and unenforceable: the staff feel deskilled by the system. Staff are assaulted both physically and verbally, yet, tired and mentally exhausted, they are still expected to function normally with patience and a caring attitude.

We are told juvenile crime has gone down; yet I know of many cases which have not become statistics because of the amount of police time and resources it would have taken to process them. Unless we change our attitude, we ain't seen nothing yet.

A Watts

Address withheld

SOME years ago I was a youth and community worker in Liverpool's Bullring neighbourhood: an area where local adults despaired of their own children and the gangs were in control. Survival meant devising a system which would be supported by the majority of both adults and children in the area: so the first street-elected adult and youth councils in the UK were developed.

The neighbourhood centre became the focal point for all services and facilities, shared by all age groups. So there was now a reason for everyone to keep the centre open. When the gangs exerted their powers - cut through roof timbers, brought in stolen cars, stole football kits, assaulted a girl - agreed procedures were set in motion. The youth or adult council dealt with the issue, no police were involved. Gangs quickly realised that privileges could be denied, damage had to be repaired and paid for. Fair, democratic, peer-group pressure was applied, and within a few years the law breakers were becoming the carers: the lesson had been learnt.

Teddy Gold

Priority Area Development

Liverpool

POVERTY, not changing family patterns, is a culprit in the recent increase in crime. Good parenting skills are difficult to learn in the best of circumstances. However, when parents are faced with the added pressure of living with unemployment and breadline benefits, the stresses can take their toll. Support for vulnerable parents makes a significant difference. The 1989 Children Act encourages local authorities to promote preventive services - day care, after-school clubs, family centres. Unfortunately, programmes are not being implemented because of cutbacks. It can cost pounds 24,000 a year to keep a child in care: for the same money, FSU's preventive services can support up to 20 families. It is much more cost-efficient to tackle the causes of crime, including poverty, than to hastily inject additional resources into short-term, unproven solutions.

Adah Kay

Family Service Units, London NW1

IN MY two years in Britain I have been increasingly amazed by the futile debate over juvenile crime. It is difficult not to compare the betrayal of childhood in the West with the experience of childhood in a less privileged but more child-centred non-Western world, where children are the defining feature of family life, not mistakes of youth or options of couples worried about their leisure or sex life.

Parenting has, for centuries, been an act passed across generations by elders who assume new social roles and responsibilities as another generation is born. But the concept of a shared cultural past, extending into a personal present, to ensure continuity with the future, is obsolete in the West, as lives are lived moment to moment, weekend to weekend. It's each for his own, with no relatedness to family, society or the world at large. Why blame children for taking what doesn't belong to them, when all we teach them is that everything exists for our pleasure, ours to exploit and discard?

Dr Swaran P Singh

Nottingham

SINCE the overwhelming majority of offenders are male, is it not time that the problem be tackled from a gender perspective? We are all affected, one way or another, by the culture of masculinity. We cannot hope to tackle criminality without addressing the issues of masculinity, whether it be 10- year-old working-class boys drinking and stealing cars or middle-aged, middle-class men defrauding the City.

John Bensted

Probation Officer, Bristol

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