Part 3 of the Bill: parenting contracts
and related matters
20. Clause 18 of the Bill contains provision for
schools to enter into 'parenting contracts' with parents whose
children have truanted or been excluded from school. In the contract,
a parent would agree to comply with requirements set out in the
contract for a specified period. This may include a requirement
to attend counselling or guidance sessions. The burden would be
balanced by an undertaking by the LEA or school governing body
to provide support for the parent for the purpose of complying
with the requirements.
The purpose of the requirements is to improve the pupil's behaviour,
or in the case of a truanting pupil to ensure that the pupil regularly
attends the school at which he or she is registered.
21. The Government does not consider that these provisions
engage Convention rights. In theory, as the Government points
out, entering into a parenting contract would be voluntary,
and breach of the contract would not impose any legal liability
in contract or tort.
In practice, however, there would be pressure on parents to sign,
and some legal consequences would follow from a parent's refusal
to sign or to comply with the terms of the contract. Refusal would
not necessarily lead to an application for a parenting order,
but if the child is later excluded from school, the LEA could
apply to the magistrates' court for a parenting order imposing
requirements by law.
If the parent had refused to enter into or to comply with a parenting
contract under clause 18, that would make it more likely that
a magistrates' court would make the parenting order,
which could compel the parent to comply with specified conditions
for up to a year and to attend weekly counselling or guidance
sessions for up to three months.
22. We are prepared to accept that provision for
parenting contracts does not engage Convention rights. However,
in our view, the imposition of requirements on parents under a
parenting order would certainly engage the right to respect for
private and family life under ECHR Article 8.1. It is not necessary
for action or legal provisions to impose legally binding obligations
or sanctions in order to fall within the ambit of Article 8. Even
providing assistance to someone may interfere with the right to
respect for private and family life if the assistance is unwelcome.
23. The question is whether it could be justified
under Article 8.2. It is not clear what legitimate aim under Article
8.2 is advanced by making someone attend a parenting class or
by forcing them to receive counselling against their wills. We
asked the Home Secretary what legitimate aim clauses 19 and 20
were designed to advance, and why the Government thought that
the measures are necessary for and proportionate to that aim.
24. The Government replied that the measures would
advance the prevention of disorder and crime, because those who
truant or are excluded from school are twice as likely to offend
as regular school attenders. Furthermore, the measures may advance
the protection of the health or morals of the children, helping
parents, who have a significant role to play in helping children
to avoid crime and anti-social behaviour, to discharge their responsibilities.
25. The Government argues that there is a pressing
social need for the measures because of the harm to victims, communities
and young people caused by juvenile crime and anti-social behaviour.
Only 8 per cent of persistent truants obtain five or more good
GCSE passes, and early intervention is most effective at preventing
offending. "Parenting support has been shown to benefit both
the child and the parent."
26. The Government argues that the measures would
be proportionate to the need which they would meet because they
are voluntary and preventative, helping parents to improve their
effectiveness and moving children away from crime and anti-social
behaviour by concentrating on improving the child's attendance
or behaviour at school.. The interference with private and family
life is very limited when balanced against its objectives, seems
to be well regarded by most parents who undergo it, and is effective
in reducing reconviction rates for the children.
27. Taking all
these factors into account, and despite representations referring
to research by the Youth Justice Board suggesting that the use
of parenting contracts is by no means a 'quick fix' for the problems
of truants and their families, we have come to the conclusion
that the Government is entitled to take the view that the provisions
of clause 18 would be compatible with ECHR Article 8.
28. We take
the same view in relation to clauses 24 to 26, which would allow
a youth offending team (the inter-disciplinary teams with assorted
powers and responsibilities under section 39 of the Crime and
Disorder Act 1998), to which a child or young person has been
referred, to enter into a parenting contract with the parent of
the child or young person if any member of the team has reason
to believe that the child or young person has engaged or is likely
to engage in criminal conduct or anti-social behaviour.
14 Cl. 18(1), (4), (5) Back
Cl. 18(6) Back
EN para. 45; Annex A to the Home Secretary's letter, p 27 Back
Cl. 18(8) Back
Annex A to the Home Secretary's letter, p 27 Back
Cl. 19.This would complement the power to make parenting orders
in proceedings relating to non-educational matters under the Crime
and Disorder Act 1998 Back
Cl. 20(1) Back
Annex A to the Home Secretary's letter, p 27 Back