The cycle of violence that begins with bad parents

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The Independent Online
Today's report on Children and Violence makes dismal reading. The spiralling cycle of violence and abuse of children leads them to grow up to become violent and abusive parents. Ninety-one per cent of young people committing seriously violent offences suffered severe abuse or trauma in childhood.

As a shopping list of solutions, some of the commission's recommendations seem a touch ineffective and naive. Banning boxing may or not be a good idea but it is hardly central to the issue of catastrophic parenting. A plea to broadcasters "to realise the huge potential of the media for promoting pro-social behaviour and non-violent conflict resolution" seem a little unlikely to bear fruit.

Similarly, some of their admonitions to parents on smacking seem a little far from real life. If you stand in the supermarket queue and watch some parents whacking their children, dragging them about, shaking them and yelling, the idea that "non-violence should be clearly and consistently preferred and promoted" doesn't seem much help.

However, someone needs to keep promoting best practice, in the face of official attitudes that are deeply ambivalent about violence to children.

An outcry followed a local authority's attempt to strike off the register a childminder who smacked her charges. The "moral" right, who think a good smacking never did them any harm, led a successful campaign to get her reinstated. Hitting children is not only often very tempting, but deep in the culture and hard to eradicate.

But the real problem is with disastrous parenting by those who were scarcely parented themselves. How do you break into that cycle of despair? Like most social problems, there may not be total solutions, but there are ways of making significant improvements - at a price. If there is the genuine political will, much can be done.

Take the Greater Shankhill Partnership: it has just received pounds 7.5m from the EU and other sources to target every single birth in the area over the next five years and prove what can be done to improve the children's social and educational prospects. About 400 babies a year are anticipated. A group of 50 local mothers are being trained to NVQ standard and then employed to befriend each new young mother even before the baby is born. There will be a nursery place for each child. It may not be a cheap option, but nursery school is cheaper than prison.