Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Initiative for parents a fresh start for families

Andrew Becroft. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times
Andrew Becroft. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times

Youth Court judges are gearing up to make hundreds of orders a year directing young offenders and their parents to attend parenting programmes.

The new parenting orders, part of the Government's "Fresh Start" for youth justice - which also includes mentoring orders and military-style "boot camps" - have just started trickling in because they can be issued only for offences committed since October 1.

But Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft says he has seen such orders working in Britain and for years has advocated their use for serious offenders in New Zealand.

"The Government has signalled a pretty clear intention to focus on and target those serious young offenders in a pretty comprehensive way," he said.

"That is the message that the Youth Court judges have got. We will be responding and using the new orders that are available."

The Government has contracted the national Relationship Services organisation and 32 local agencies to provide 700 places on court-ordered parenting programmes.

Although the number of orders likely to be issued is uncertain, Judge Becroft says it "could be hundreds in a year".

He says t at least 10 per cent of the 4000 offenders aged 14 to 16 who appear in the Youth Court each year are already parents.

Relationship Services has been contracted to run parenting programmes in the four youth justice residences at Weymouth, Rotorua, Palmerston North and Christchurch.

"They will be run for young people who are parents or likely to be parents - in other words, most of them," said its chief executive, Jeff Sanders.

The agency also provides family therapy and sees parenting programmes for young offenders and their parents as a natural adjunct to that.

"That approach looks at the family as a group that is interacting as a system in relationship to each other," Mr Sanders said.

Although in theory both mum and dad could be ordered to attend a parenting course, Judge Becroft says that is likely to be rare.

"Almost by definition, the serious young offenders who come to Youth Court don't have two parents involved," he said.

"The most common, sad position is a mum in tears saying, 'I've done all I can with my teenage boy, can you help?"'

Rob Woodley of the Genesis Youth Project in Mangere, one of the local agencies contracted to deliver court-ordered parenting programmes in South Auckland, says this means few mothers are likely to resist the orders.

"Nine out of 10 of our mums are really keen. They want help," he said.

Judge Becroft notes that most cases that reach the Youth Court have already gone through a family group conference. He expects most referrals to parenting programmes to come out of agreement at those conferences.

Judges will be able to issue parenting orders only if it has also been recommended in writing by a Child, Youth and Family Services social worker.

Mr Woodley says no one is quite sure how the new system will work.

- NZ Herald

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