Problem children targeted at birth

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Indy Politics

Tough new plans to target babies and young children in problem families were unveiled by Tony Blair yesterday. He said social workers should intervene much earlier to prevent children in "dysfunctional" families turning into problem teenagers.

His initiative could mean that families who refuse to co-operate would lose state benefits or have their children taken into local authority care more swiftly.

The Prime Minister said it was possible to predict problem children "prebirth" in some cases. He suggested that single mothers might be forced to accept state help before their children were born under the plans to tackle a hard core of more than one million "socially excluded" people.

In his first interview since returning from his summer break, he told the BBC: "If we are not prepared to predict and intervene far more early then there are children that are going to grow up in families that we know perfectly well are completely dysfunctional, and the kids a few years down the line are going to be a menace to society and actually a threat to themselves."

Mr Blair added: "You either steer clear and say that's not for government to get into, in which case you don't deal with the problem. Or, I think we need to deal with these particular issues and we actually do intervene and we intervene at a very early stage."

Denying the plan smacked of a "Big Brother" state, he admitted many people might be uneasy with the idea of intervening in family life but said there was no point "pussy-footing".

Mr Blair was confident that the work would outlast his time in Number 10.

"For us as a party and a government, this is something we are passionate about, that we have developed for a number of years and will continue long after I've gone," he said.

Social exclusion has emerged as Mr Blair's "big idea" for this autumn as he tries to show his administration has not run out of steam. He will make a big speech on the issue next week and Hilary Armstrong, the Cabinet Office minister, will unveil a new government strategy the following week.

The Tories accused Mr Blair of creating a nanny state, while others stressed that the same early intervention proposals had been unveiled four years ago by David Blunkett, the then Home Secretary.

Oliver Letwin, the Tories' policy chief, said: "The answer is... to encourage social enterprise, the voluntary sector, community groups and to help people without trying to run their lives for them."

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