Dangerous families, public inquiries and child protection
The ‘underclass’ debate is one manifestation of public anxiety about family matters and their connection with social deviance. The image of the young never-married woman living in a deprived housing estate may be commonly associated with problems of criminality and incivility, but it is also associated with problems in parenting and, increasingly, child abuse. Concern about ‘the underclass’ is therefore not solely about welfare dependency and withdrawal from the labour market, as often stressed by the political right, it is also a significant theme in public utterances about child protection (see Hendrick, 1994, 242–57). This is because of attempts in recent years to identify the social and economic characteristics commonly associated with child abuse cases. The profile of the most likely abusing family is one in which the mother lives with a male partner who has a criminal record and is often unemployed; the man is not the biological father of the child or children in his joint care; the family will have financial and accommodation problems; the parents are considered to possess a combination of immature personalities and a tendency to express themselves in aggressive ways. Further, it seems that families associated with child abuse are disproportionately drawn from those at the lower end of the social hierarchy and concern is voiced that child neglect resulting from material deprivation is a phenomenon closely related to the infliction of actual physical harm on a child.
KeywordsChild Abuse Family Life Social Control Child Sexual Abuse Public Inquiry
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