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‘Mother-blame and constructions of maternal (ir)responsibility in mothers of offenders’


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This paper draws upon research from two different studies to explore the ways in which mothers of offenders are held to be morally, and in some cases legally, accountable for the criminal or anti-social behaviour of their children. The first study focused on the experiences of relatives of adult offenders convicted of serious crimes such as murder, rape and child sex offences and included long, searching interviews with seventeen mothers of serious offenders.

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‘Mother-blame and constructions of maternal (ir)responsibility in mothers of offenders’

  1. 1. Mother-blame and constructions of maternal (ir)responsibility in mothers of offenders <ul><li>Dr Rachel Condry </li></ul><ul><li>Lecturer in Criminology </li></ul><ul><li>Department of Sociology </li></ul><ul><li>University of Surrey </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul>
  2. 2. Drawing together work from two studies to explore how mothers are made accountable: <ul><li>Condry, R. (2007) Families Shamed: The Consequences of Crime for Relatives of Serious Offenders (Willan), and </li></ul><ul><li>Ongoing work on parents and parenting work in the youth justice system. </li></ul>
  3. 3. New Labour’s obsession with parenting and anti-social behaviour & crime <ul><li>Youth justice at the forefront of New Labour’s criminal justice agenda – a raft of reforms introduced. </li></ul><ul><li>Many reforms centred on the responsibilisation of young people and their families </li></ul><ul><li>Along with the birth of a new form of parenting expertise (parenting practitioners, Parenting Academy) – new body of knowledge, ways of talking and thinking about parenting. </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on ‘problem families’, a ‘parenting deficit’ as a cause of youth offending </li></ul><ul><li>Ultimately this results in criminalising ‘inadequate parenting’ (Muncie 1999) and an individualised analysis which fails to take account of structural inequalities. </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>“ At the heart of Labour’s new youth justice lies a familiar analysis of family breakdown, poor parental control, failing child rearing practices and a dependency culture (Muncie, 2002) despite repeated research findings that young people in trouble with the law have complex and systematic patterns of disadvantage which lie beyond any incitement to find work, behave properly or take up the ‘new opportunities’ on offer. The percentage of children in poverty is higher in Britain than in any other country in the European Union: rising from some 10 per cent in 1979 to 25 per cent in 2003/4. Family difficulties and prior contact with the care system are also notable characteristics of ‘known offenders’ (Crowley, 1998; Goldson, 2000b). Ignoring such contexts allows New Labour to persist with populist assumptions about the ‘normal orderly family’, ‘lack of respect’ and the necessity of waged labour.” (Muncie 2006) </li></ul>
  5. 5. Parenting Order <ul><li>Introduced in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 , further widened in its use in the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 </li></ul><ul><li>In 2007/8 there were 1,649 parenting orders recorded by YOTs (1,507 2006/07, and 1,505 in previous year). </li></ul><ul><li>Hilary Benn, Home Office minister 2002. A parenting order is not meant to be a punishment, but “a positive development for the concept of parental responsibility.” </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Parenting orders will help and support those who are genuinely trying to control their children’s unacceptable behaviour. Sanctions will be available for the minority who stubbornly evade their parental responsibilities’ Jack Straw, Home Secretary 1998 </li></ul>
  6. 6. <ul><li>“ the attribution of blame to parents for their children’s behaviour up to the age of 16 underestimates children’s independence and overestimates the ability of parents to control the behaviour of young people as they grow older” (Henricson and Bainham 2005: 103) </li></ul>
  7. 7. Though presented as gender neutral, actually primarily mothers rather than parents <ul><li>Parenting workers in my study: </li></ul><ul><li>“ Most parenting orders are given to mothers because they are the ones at the court. Fathers sometimes find it easier to say they’ve had enough, don’t want to get involved, but mothers will say that’s my child, I’ve got to be there.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Parenting orders can be quite discriminatory, targeting single parents or mothers in the family.” </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>“ While governments may talk of “parents”, the impact of policies that impose home-school agreements, fine the parents of truants or require the parents of children appearing before the courts to attend parenting classes falls quite disproportionately upon mothers, not fathers” </li></ul><ul><li>(Scourfield and Drakeford 2002: 627) </li></ul>
  9. 9. Mother-blame <ul><li>The role of ‘mother’ constructed around responsibility for the well-being of other family members and mothers particularly blamed when things go wrong </li></ul><ul><li>Historically, motherhood and mothering have been subject to particular regulation, often targeted at working-class mothers </li></ul><ul><li>Numerous contemporary experts vying to define ‘good mothering’ </li></ul><ul><li>Legacy of Bowlby’s maternal deprivation, neo-Freudian thought, and other expert and therapeutic analyses: ‘good mothers create emotionally secure children and adults, and either explicitly or implicitly, bad mothers create a catalogue of different problems’ (Condry 2007). </li></ul><ul><li>Long history of mother-blame for a raft of different problems (see Ladd-Taylor and Umansky 1998). </li></ul><ul><li>A study by Caplan and Hall-McCorquodale (1985) found mothers blamed for 72 different problems in125 scholarly articles written by mental health professionals. </li></ul><ul><li>Mothers in my study felt shame particularly acutely (Condry 2007) </li></ul>
  10. 10. The Web of Familial Shame (Condry 2007) <ul><li>Kin Contamination </li></ul><ul><li>Association </li></ul><ul><li>Genetic </li></ul><ul><li>Kin </li></ul><ul><li>Culpability: </li></ul><ul><li>Omission </li></ul><ul><li>Commission </li></ul><ul><li>Continuation </li></ul>
  11. 11. Important continuities and intersections between the work of this seminar series and how we might best understand the criminalisation of young offenders’ parents: <ul><li>These parents are a repository for our imagined anxieties about the failing family </li></ul><ul><li>With these families the boundary of state intervention into family life is being re-drawn </li></ul><ul><li>They tell us much about the social construction of the parent and the child in contemporary society and the tensions and complexities inherent in the ways in which parent-child relations are understood </li></ul><ul><li>This is a site in which professionalized parenting expertise has come into its own and is more explicit, and more strongly enforced, than in many other contexts. </li></ul><ul><li>In many ways, these conceptual themes are brought into sharp focus by the censure of parents – and particularly the censure of mothers - who are said to have failed or to be deficient. </li></ul>