Children of black mothers 'more likely to turn to crime'

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Children born to black mothers are more likely to be expelled from school, suffer alcoholism and get in trouble with the police than their peers, according to controversial new government research published tomorrow.

An extensive inquiry into "families at risk", by the Social Exclusion Task Force, says government agencies have failed to help the 140,000 most "at risk" families in the UK, whose lives are blighted by a dangerous combination of poverty, poor housing, drug abuse and criminality.

Children with the worst prospects in the UK have many characteristics in common, it concludes, including coming from single-parent households, living on council estates and in homes where the mother's first language is not English. The risk of problems is exacerbated if the mother's ethnicity is black, or, to a lesser degree, if she is Asian, according to the paper, Reaching Out: Think Family.

The report, to be announced by Hilary Armstrong, minister for social exclusion, will propose targeting whole families - rather than just children - because "the root causes of children's disadvantage... often lies in the difficulties of their parents".

"Some families with multiple problems can create significant harm to themselves and the communities in which they live," the report says. "They may externalise their problems through criminal or antisocial behaviour which can have an impact on whole communities."

It said the risk of a child experiencing severe disadvantages is triggered by eight key factors, the top of which is living in council accommodation, and the second the lack of English at home. Third is being born to a single mother and fourth is if the "mother's ethnicity is black".

Children born to families with several such characteristics were far more likely to find problems at school, in socialising and in their prospects in later life.

But black advocacy groups cautioned against saying race is a factor in poor prospects for children. They said the data reflected the fact that m any black and Asian mothers find themselves living in poverty with little support and few opportunities.

Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote said the Government was wrong to suggest race is a reason for dysfunctional families and social problems. "This is not about race. This report implies that there is something intrinsic about your race which is problematic. That is not the case. It's the circumstances that black mothers find themselves in or the lack of opportunities that are the major factors."

The report also looked at the impact of broken homes on children and found that "authoritative" but warm parenting had a very positive impact on children. Children from broken homes with warring parents "tend to have lower academic performance, independent of their socio-economic status," the report found.

But it said that, following a break-up, "a good relationship between both parents acts as a buffer from many of the negative impacts of parental separation and divorce".

"In particular, continuing contact between effective non-resident fathers and children after a divorce is positively associated with the child's achievement at school."

Sadiq Khan, Labour MP for Tooting, said targeted intervention was needed to help the most disadvantaged families. "If you are a child of a first-generation immigrant, who may have had a basic education and not the same views on education, it is not surprising you won't do well," he said.

Further reading: Reaching Out: Think Family, Analysis and Themes from the Families at Risk Review, is available from tomorrow on Cabinetoffice.gov.uk

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