‘Nanny State’ Row as Problem Kids Are Targeted Before Birth

Labour’s nanny state is to spread its reach to make unprecedented inroads into the lives of families and teenagers. Unborn children are to get social workers as part of the Government’s scheme to improve the lives of a million people caught up with unemployment, crime, drugs and anti-social behaviour.

Sex education in schools will be extended and more contraceptives distributed to schoolchildren in a new push intended to cut teenage pregnancies.

And ministers are to give approval to high-cost experiments like ‘family intervention projects’ that give families full-time social workers in the attempt to grapple with the difficulties of the people described by Tony Blair last week as ‘deeply excluded’.

Attempts to hand out more contraceptives and condoms to schoolchildren will be accompanied by trial projects in which 14-year-olds considered possible teenage parents will be sent to nurseries to learn the harsh realities of looking after babies and toddlers.

The proposals were set out in an ‘action plan on social exclusion’ aimed at those whose problems, the Prime Minister said yesterday(Mon), ‘are multiple, entrenched and often passed down through generations’.

But critics called the uncosted scheme a bid by Mr Blair to try to polish his legacy by piling on more of the policies that ministers admit have failed to make significant cuts in teenage pregnancy levels and which have failed to improve the lives of the worst off.

Publication of the plan yesterday followed the Prime Minister’s promise earlier this month increased state intervention so that action to help families would be taken even before children were born.

These were instantly labelled ‘Fasbos’ – anti-social behaviour orders for foetuses.

Yesterday’s paper said: ‘Evidence suggests that intensive health-led home visiting during pregnancy and the first two years of life can radically improve outcomes for both mother and child, particularly in the most at-risk families.’

The paper said midwives and health visitors would be trained to help families and that trial projects would be established in which the benefits of intervention by social workers would be demonstrated.

Social services chiefs will be asked to spend money on schemes that work and cut funding for those that do not, it said.

Efforts to cut teenage pregnancy will concentrate on towns and boroughs where numbers have been going up fastest or failing to fall.

There will be more advertising aimed at persuading young people to use contraceptives.

The plan failed in 100 pages either to refer to single parent families or to mention the word marriage. It ignored overwhelming evidence of the high risk that children who grow up without fathers will fall into problems at school, poor health, drugs, alcohol, anti-social behaviour, crime and early pregnancy.

Instead it spoke of teenage parents and drew attention to the destructive effects of bad parenting.

Mr Blair said yesterday that the new scheme was aimed in particular those at teenagers likely to become pregnant and children in problem families.

Research projects for the Government have found that eight out of ten problem families are single parent families. However, this finding was ignored in yesterday’s action plan.

Instead it said: ‘We must be cautious about labelling and stigmatisation,’

It also said problem families should not be punished.

The document also foreshadowed a new teenage pregancy strategy to be published today (Tues).

It said the new scheme would include extensions of sex education in schools, together with a new advertising campaign and greater efforts to distribute contraception.

There will be new trials of a scheme in which girls aged 14 to 17 will spend two hours a week with a toddler in a nursery ‘to understand the reality of caring for children’.

However, officials said the new strategy will not include changes to compel primary schools to introduce sex education or make it compulsory for pupils over 11, who can currently be withdrawn from sex lessons if their parents wish. Both have been pressed on ministers by their advisers. Contraception is already available through schools to children down to the age of 11.

Mr Blair said: ‘We propose action to reduce teenage pregnancy because we know that despite the good job many young mothers do, teenage motherhood often leads to reduced opportunities for mother and child alike.’

Critics said the action plan amounted to a redoubling of policies that have already failed. Robert Whelan of the Civitas think tank said: ‘Tony Blair is concerned about his legacy, and part of that legacy is that millions of families have multiple problems. Part of the reason for that is that the Government has not recognised the importance of marriage in supporting two-parent families. ‘Instead he thinks that failing families can be shored up by public servants. There is no basis for this belief. ‘The Government talks about “evidence-based” policies, but it has shown no sign of looking at the evidence which shows its policies are not working.’

Jill Kirby of the Centre for Policy Studies said: ‘There is no sign here that anything is going to change. There is nothing to make a young girl who thinks having a baby will provide attractive benefits and a good lifestyle change her mind.’