New method helps parents regain parental authority


New method helps parents regain parental authority

By Ruby Harrold-Claesson, Attorney-at-law





Attorney-at-law, Ruby Harrold-Claesson, is president of the NCHR. This article was written for the NCHR's web site.



In 1979, in honour of the UN Year of the Child, Sweden, as the first country in the world, passed a law - "The Anti-smacking law" - banning physical punishment of children. Parents were - and still are forbidden - to use physical discipline to correct their child's behaviour - no matter what the child had done or failed to do. The law was placed in Chapter 6, section one of the Parent and Guardianship Code.

During the years that have followed the Anti-smacking law, hundreds, may be thousands, of parents have been prosecuted, fined and sentenced to prison for smacking their unruly children. The children have in most cases been removed from their "abusive" parents and put into foster homes. This has caused the total break-up of those families. The police and prosecutors have gone out after parents who discipline their children instead of attending to other crimes in the society. The most recent cases that have come to my knowledge are from
October 16, 2002. Sunne District Court where two fathers, both aged 40 were convicted for having ill-treated one his two daughters, the other his son. It must be noted that representatives for Sweden have all this time firmly denied that parents have been prosecuted - and still are being prosecuted - for physical discipline of their children. A statement issued by Jane Hutt, Health Minister in the Welsh Assembly, confirms my statement. See Parents' code to discourage smacking.


Since the passing of the Anti-smacking law, the surge of prosecutions against parents and the failure of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to address the issue because the Swedish government in 1982 convinced the ECHR that the law was a lex imperfecta, a simple recommendation to parents, and that no parent would be prosecuted according to law, which in fact is Chapter 6, section one of the Parent and Guardianship Code, parents in Sweden have become afraid to correct their children's behaviour. This has, needlessly to say, had a very adverse effect on Swedish children's behaviour at home, at school and everywhere.


However, a new method is on the way - a method that will help parents regain their parental authority - at the expense of the taxpayers. For those of you who read Swedish, there is a link to the article Ny metod hjälper föräldrar att ta tillbaka makten. Artikel i from the Scandinavian section of the Nordic Committee's web site.


As everyone is aware, the major part of all crimes is committed by a very small group people. Different methods are being tried in order to try to prevent young people from ending up in a life of crime. One of the methods is MST. It is designed for young people who commit crimes and who have taken over the power that parents formerly had.


The method that is called MST, it stands for multi systemic therapy, and it comes from USA. In Sweden, several municipalities are interested, but so far the method has been tested in Upplands Väsby, north of Stockholm, where over 20 girls, and most guys, have gone through the training and in Halmstad. Two companies will be started in Gothenburg after the summer.

The idea is to give back the authority to parents, explains Agneta Dahlberg, the head of the newly started company Vårljus. The company started in March 2003 after a team from the
USA came and educated them together with the group from Halmstad.

– The method is designed for so-called asocial youngsters who use drugs, are truant, petty criminals and extremely provocative, she says. Generally speaking one can say that there are youngsters who have taken over their parents’ authority and who simply make the rules at home. This method is aimed to change that situation and see to that the parents claim back their parenthood.


Have taken over their homes
The youngsters that can qualify for this program are between 10 and 18 years of age, commit crimes, use drugs, have problems with finding suitable friends and most important of all - they have full control over their parents.

In MST it is the parents who decide whether or not the family will participate in the program. They then receive help from a therapist who is available for them around the clock with the sole purpose of giving back the parents their authority.

– The parents are given concrete situations to practice on, says Agneta Dahlberg. For example: the nearest two weeks you will see to it that your son gets up out of bed at seven thirty so that he can be at school at eight o'clock. And if you can not manage it yourself, who should you turn you to when you do not have the resources yourself? You could maybe call grandmother or see to it that his friend comes over, for it is the friend who will see to that your gets up. The focus for MST is that it is short and intensive, one works with the family a maximum of five months.

The adults shall decide
Something that is often focused on is to find buddies, get rid of those who use drugs and commit crimes. Maybe by finding something that our youngster likes to do, play indoor bandy maybe, and also find people nearby that can help. A teacher, your son's greatest friend's daddy maybe would want to volunteer to look for him when he does not come home on time. The lesson is that it is the adults who decide.

The company Vårljus (Spring light) where Agneta Dahlberg works is a municipality owned corporation. It started only this spring hence the name "Spring light". It specializes in selling the new child-rearing method. A training period costs 300 000 Sw. crowns. She says that results from
Norway and the USA show that between 25 and 70 percent are helped by the method. The alternative, says she, is institution care and that does not work, and is far more expensive.

No one knows the results
But how effective is it to try to prevent youngsters from committing crimes through that work preventively? According to an article on the Swedish Radio's web site, Tommy Andersson who is a University lecturer in Umeå and teaches future policemen and women and social workers, says that no one knows.

– There are no evaluations of the different projects. But as far as we know it can decrease criminality, but it does not eliminate it in any way.

Our knowledge is little, according to Tommy Andersson. He thinks that the knowledge that exists not taken advantage of by the authorities today. There are ideas and maybe a desire to want seem on top of things, but less interest to run scientific tests to see if it indeed has any effect, he says.

Worth investing in the young people
Tommy Andersson said however that he still thinks that one ought to invest more than today in finding the young people who risk landing up in the small click of the population, maybe five percent, that commit a big part of the crimes, maybe half the number of crimes.

He thinks that that group of youngsters often have serious social problems maybe far down in their early childhood and there are possibilities to try to prevent their criminal development already there. It is difficult and it is tough and one does not always succeed. He also thinks that we should succeed to a lot better than we do today, if the method is employed.



On the question why children are misbehaving so badly, and whether or not the permissive parenting that has been forced on Swedish parents since 1979 when the anti-smacking law was passed is to blame for the present problems with unruly youngsters, Agneta Dahlberg says that it is a philosophical matter. She reiterated that violence should never be used when bringing up children and that the parents must have positive solutions when dealing with their children. The home should never be a dangerous, unfriendly place for the child, she said.


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