Parental Responsibility for Youth Offending
In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice Lancelot declares that “the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children”. Here Lancelot is paraphrasing an old biblical concept that the son pays for the sins of his father. The youth justice system in England and Wales has sought to reverse this ancient adage and instead seeks to hold parents accountable for the delinquency and offending of their children. This view of parents’ being responsible for their children’s offences is one that has also found favour throughout history. For example, Aristotle asserted that in order to be virtuous “we ought to have been brought up in a particular way from our very youth”. Diogenes of Sinope believed that “if the child swears, slap the parent”. This belief has also permeated the rulings of the judiciary, for example the United States Supreme Court held in Eddings v. Oklahoma (1982) that “… youth crime … is not exclusively the offender’s fault, offences by the young also represent a failure of family”.
This chapter will examine the laws which hold parents responsible for the crimes of their children in England and Wales and also in other jurisdictions such as Scotland, Ireland, Australia and the USA. The chapter will consider the association between parenting and youth offending and assess whether these laws are an effective means of preventing youth offending. The chapter will then investigate the duty of the state to provide support to families in crisis. I will consider the effectiveness and availability of policies that strengthen the family, and examine whether supporting families, rather than penalising them, would be a more effective response to youth offending.