Following an attack by two Doncaster children on two of their peers, commentators have called for an open recognition of the social problems caused by family dysfunction.
It has emerged that the ten and eleven-year-olds accused of the attack were abused by their father, while their mother has a total of seven children by three different fathers.
Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith warned against dismissing the episode with the usual calls for an inquiry and a tighter system, which he said would fail to tackle the root problem.
Mr Duncan Smith said: “The inconvenient reality is that, in Britain today, there are a growing number of dysfunctional families with multiple children who will, in turn, go on to breed even more dysfunctional children.”
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Duncan Smith pointed to a long-term New Zealand study following ‘at risk’ children from their birth in 1972.
By 21, the boys were far more likely to have criminal convictions and to have abused their partners; all the teenage pregnancies in the study were among the ‘at risk’ girls, and many of those were in abusive relationships.
By the end of the study, the authors concluded that the next generation of ‘at risk’ children had already been born.
Columnist Melanie Phillips echoed Mr Duncan Smith’s concerns, arguing: “Whatever needs to be done to address the weakness in social work, surely what is necessary is not just to try to pick up the pieces of shattered family life but to prevent it from breaking in the first place.
“The key is to switch off the motor behind this catastrophe: the prevailing attitudes of a ruling elite which, pretending to be non-judgmental about family background, has actually smashed the traditional family to smithereens.”
The Independent’s Bruce Anderson compared the circumstances of the Doncaster boys with those of 17-month-old Baby Peter, who died at the hands of his mother and her live-in boyfriend.
He said, “we have allowed an underclass to come into being” based on “seven deadly sins”.
“First, the collapse of the family. Second, the collapse of fatherhood; Dad’s sole role is impregnation. Third, the collapse of all inhibitions about producing children. Fourth, the collapse of the work ethic. Fifth, crime. Sixth, drugs. Seventh, and underpinning the lot, promiscuous welfare.”
Last month a social policy expert warned that the child protection system is ignoring background risk factors such as broken families because it fears stigmatising children.
Jill Kirby, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, also referred to the case of Baby Peter.
His circumstances were “typical of the average ‘at risk’ child”, she said, listing other common “background factors” including “having a mother who was a teenage lone parent, the presence of an unrelated male in the household, a history of domestic violence, a parent with a criminal record or a history of mental illness and substance abuse”.