Thirty thousand mothers and fathers of errant children could be told to take lessons in good parenting in a programme aimed at driving down youth crime.
Ministers are studying a proposal to give parents classes in making sure their children attend school, do not stay out late at night and keep good company.
The £11m plan would mean 50,000 parents of troubled children being assessed annually, and 60 per cent of those being invited or compelled to take lessons. Those who refuse could face up to a year in jail.
The Government's youth crime adviser, Lord Warner, has recommended that 300 parenting programmes be set up across England and Wales. The plan involves an expansion of an existing network of 50 schemes that give lessons to an estimated 4,000 parents a year.
Lord Warner, the chairman of the Youth Justice Board, told The Independent that evaluation of parenting programmes had established that they were the most cost-effective measure for cutting crime by young offenders. Research has shown that children whose parents attended the classes committed 50 per cent fewer offences in the year after the programme.
But Lord Warner said: "The availability of these programmes is geographically patchy. It looks as though we have got to expand capacity by 600 per cent – it's that order of magnitude."
Although it is hoped that many of the parents will attend classes voluntarily, Lord Warner's plan would inevitably lead to a sharp increase in the number of Parenting Orders issued by the courts. The orders, given in respect of children aged between 10 and 15, carry a one-year custodial sentence for non-compliance.
The Youth Justice Board estimates that if parenting classes were to be made available across England and Wales, then the numbers of Parenting Orders issued by the courts under the Crime and Disorder Act could rise to 18,000 a year from the current level of 1,169. Lord Warner said: "The courts are currently reluctant to make Parenting Orders where there are no programmes available."
The expansion programme, if it gets backing from the Treasury, will take around 18 months to implement.
But the Home Office and the Youth Justice Board are concerned that only 18 per cent of the parents who are currently attending classes are fathers.
Research by the board has found that most parents are resentful at being made to attend classes and feel they are being punished. But after attending the weekly classes, which can last for 12 months, 91 per cent of participants said they had benefited from the experience.