Social workers' fury at plans for `parents' army'

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THE GOVERNMENT infuriated social workers yesterday when it announced that an army of volunteer "trained parents" is to be recruited to work with vulnerable children.

The Home Office minister Paul Boateng said people with experience of parenting would be taken on as part of a pounds 30m package to help primary school aged children at risk of becoming involved in crime. The trained parents could include health workers, teachers and members of voluntary organisations.

He said that the success of the scheme depended on the co-operation of the children's real parents and that some families regarded contact with social services as a "stigma".

Mr Boateng said: "I make no bones about it, the notion that social workers are the repository of all wisdom and knowledge in parenting is not a notion with which this government has much truck."

His comments met with immediate criticism from social workers. John Buttle, of the British Association of Social Workers, said: "A lot of people in the profession are very fed up with Mr Boateng and his attitude. It is so negative and unreasonable, it is not true."

Rob Hutchinson, chair of the children and families committee of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said that social services chiefs were "entirely comfortable" with the idea of other professionals giving some support to parents, but warned that "proper checks" were essential if such a scheme were to work.

Mr Boateng said he believed that "progressive" social workers would not see trained parents as a threat but would "embrace" the idea, which has shown to be effective in the United States in reducing behavioural problems among young children.

He said: "What works is involving properly trained parents. We know that some outdated, outmoded approaches to which some social workers are wedded have failed in the past."

The trained parents, who, the Home Office said, would be vetted to exclude known sex offenders, would act as mentors to the young children and offer support and advice to them and their real parents.

Mr Boateng said the trained parenting schemes were designed to be supportive and not judgmental of the child's actual parents.

The Government will begin the trained parents programme by setting up between 20 and 40 pilot projects across the country next year.

Some projects will involve other approaches to turning vulnerable youngsters away from criminal activity.

They include ideas for improving the structure of pre-school education to make it more focused on child-initiated learning. Other projects will involve health workers making regular visits to the homes of children identified as being at risk of involvement in crime.

The key risk factors identified by the Home Office are low parental supervision, siblings in trouble with the police, truancy, exclusions, poor school performance and behavioural problems.

Mr Boateng said that police officers working on a regular beat were able to identify the local primary schoolchildren who were likely to be the neighbourhood's next generation of criminals. But he said there were no protocols in place to allow such information to be shared with other services.