'Failures' targeted at birth

Doctors and midwives will identify all children at risk of 'failing' so they can be monitored by state nannies
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Indy Politics

Children at risk of turning to violence or criminality are to be identified at birth and assigned "supernannies" to steer them away from a life of lawbreaking.

Midwives, doctors and nurses are to be asked to identify "chaotic" families whose babies are in danger of growing up to be delinquents, drug addicts and violent criminals.

In a bid to end the cycle of social exclusion, the Government's early warning system will give problem families professional help as soon as their children are born, according to internal Whitehall documents seen by The Independent on Sunday.

The move follows research showing that "early intervention" before the age of three can "reduce anti-social behaviour and other adverse later life outcomes."

Research for ministers shows that children from the most dysfunctional families are 100 times more likely to abuse alcohol commit crimes or take drugs by the age of 15 than those from middle-class and stable families.

Hilary Armstrong, the social exclusion minister, will write to Tony Blair this week telling him that "early intervention" is crucial to help children from families "with complex multiple problems". Babies whose parents or older siblings have been in prison, involved in drug use or have serious problems will be on the Government's intervention list.

"It is the 'supernanny' model," said one source close to the cabinet minister. "There is no reason why midwives who ask mothers lots questions anyway can't ask a few more about the family circumstances and identify families where there may be problems. We need to intervene early to stop the cycle that leads to social exclusion."

The move follows similar programmes in New Zealand, the United States and Wales where children at risk of becoming future offenders have been taught social and problem-solving skills, anger management and how to form friendships with other toddlers.

The schemes have had a dramatic effect on the prospects of children born into difficult homes, or with behavioural difficulties and have successfully reduced violent behaviour.

Judith Roberts (left), a social worker from Bangor, North Wales, and mother of a seven-year-old son, attended a local Incredible Years parenting group in January, part of a series of pilot projects in England and Wales.

"Michael has a speech and language disorder, and because of his difficulties with communication his social development was affected," said Ms Roberts, 34. "It took us years to realise the extent of his difficulties, by which point his behaviour had become quite entrenched. He found school very difficult and would start throwing things and becoming disruptive.

"I have seen Michael come a long way in the past few months and I like to think the group has helped me in giving me confidence and feeling better about what I am doing. It has made me appreciate him so much more and our relationship has just become wonderfully supportive.

"Michael is due to start back at a new school in September. He is so much happier now. I am looking forward to the summer holidays and a new beginning."

Under the new scheme, the Government risks accusations of operating a nanny state and of labelling children from birth.

The internal documents show that ministers are worried about being seen to "stigmatise" families identified as needing intervention. Officials warn ministers should be careful not to "predict" that children will become delinquents, but to emphasise the need for "better identification of risk and more appropriate support before problems escalate".

The Government, which will produce a full report in September on its plans to help delinquent families, teenage parents and people repeatedly in trouble with the police, believes targeting children at birth could save the taxpayer millions of pounds: a teenage mother costs the taxpayer £60,000 in the first five years, while the UK spends £21bn per year on the consequences and prevention of crime.

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