Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Parents should share the blame

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Making it an offence to be drunk in a public place would at least encourage individual responsibility. Photo / Bradley Ambrose
Making it an offence to be drunk in a public place would at least encourage individual responsibility. Photo / Bradley Ambrose

Mike Sabin has been a very busy backbench MP. No lolling around on the beach and soaking up the rays for National's Northland MP. He's been working on not one but four private member's bills that will go into the ballot box (according to Parliamentary rules, an MP is only allowed to put their name to one bill at a time, so Sabin's mates have sponsored the other three. Should one of those be drawn from the ballot box, Sabin will take it over.)

The bill he did put his name to would allow Youth Court judges to set bail conditions for parents or legal guardians and not just for the young offenders. So no booze, no cannabis, no roaming the streets until 3am for the toerags - and no booze, no dope, no staying out all night for the adults.

Sabin says he drafted the bill after consulting police and Youth Court judges. He says at least half of the young offenders appearing in the Youth Court are being let down by the people who are supposed to be caring for them.

Conditions at home are appalling, children are left to roam wild and it's a foregone conclusion that many of them will get into trouble.

Sabin says Youth Court judges would like to have the ability to sheet home to parents that they are responsible for the wellbeing of their children and if their inadequacies have been the catalyst for a young person's crimes then they will suffer the consequences.

I think any parent worth their salt would feel responsible for a wrongdoing committed by their child. I still remember Susan Tangitau, the mother of one of the young pack rapists who terrorised Auckland in 1996. Outside the court where her son, Inoke, had been sentenced to 14 years' jail, she said she took responsibility for her son's offending. "Never in a million years did I think a son of mine could do this," she said. "But I take responsibility. I would die for him and I would do the time for him." It was powerful stuff.

On a lesser scale, when my daughter was younger she stayed overnight with a friend having a 15th birthday party. She was expected home at 10am, but her friend's mum, Desiree, rang to say Kate would be late as she was on clean-up duty. The party had been gatecrashed and when the gatecrashers were expelled they left a trail of destruction. The kids who had stayed the night were put to work by Desiree, cleaning up broken glass, removing graffiti and repairing fences. They hadn't done the damage but Desiree felt responsible for what had happened to the neighbours and, by extension, the kids were responsible, too. Good parent. No wonder her girls have grown up to be gorgeous adults.

It's not always the parents' fault. There are kids who are born wild. I met an armed robber once, filming a bank safety video, who said he came from a thoroughly respectable family. But from the time he was capable of cognitive thought, he wanted to live outside the rules. He said he was sorry for the pain he'd caused his parents, but not sorry enough to give up his outlaw life.

Should Sabin's bill proceed through the House, surely a judge would be able to discern between parents doing their very best and parents who didn't give damn about the welfare of their kids.

- Herald on Sunday

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