The violence of last summer highlighted the difficulty some parents have in exercising their authority. The government wants to sanction those it considers “failing” to hold them accountable. The Pilgrim went to meet them.
That evening, when the phone rang, Stéphanie (all first names have been changed) felt her legs give out. “Your son is in police custody. » At the heart of this month of July set ablaze by the death of young Nahel (1), the voice of the police officer on the other end of the phone came to tell her what she feared the most: her son Kevin, 13 years old, had been arrested after having looted a supermarket in Lens with other kids from their small town in Pas-de-Calais; he left with packets of candy and bottles of alcohol in his hands. Five months later, she still doesn’t understand. “I didn’t educate you like that,” sighs this canteen, addressing her boy whose blond head, buried in his shoulders, remains stubbornly turned towards the lit TV screen.
However, Kevin already has several acts of delinquency under his belt: theft of electric scooters, running away and damage… “He’s the boss, I can’t get the upper hand,” admits Stéphanie. She soberly recounts the beatings from her violent father when she was pregnant, which became real beatings after the birth, before the child’s eyes. She explains that she asked for help. A social worker, an educator and a social and family intervention technician – a sort of “Super Nanny” who comes regularly to the home – supported her. Kevin was placed in a foster home. He was just beginning to calm down when the riots broke out.
What does this single and helpless mother think of the idea put forward by Élisabeth Borne last October, then taken up two months later by Aurore Bergé, then Minister of Solidarity and Family, to impose a fine and community service on parents of children who commit crimes? “It’s stigmatizing, they give us a label. » The former Prime Minister had announced “parental responsibility courses or community service sentences” for those who evade their educational duties.
Parents that Aurore Bergé describes as “failing”. If the term is accusatory, the analysis of the profile of the delinquents of last July raises, in fact, numerous questions: among the young people arrested, no less than a third were minors. Most of them, with very few qualifications, were still living under the family roof at the time of the unrest. Where were their parents?
“School is not his thing”
Julien’s stepson was also on the street this summer. The young man started dropping out in middle school. “School wasn’t his thing,” his stepfather recalls. Julien continues to be excluded and starts hanging around outside. Her mother, a housekeeper, and her companion, a security guard, return every day around 10 p.m.
Left to his own devices in his neighborhood of Saint-Ouen (Seine-Saint-Denis), in the Paris suburbs, the teenager goes off the rails. He becomes a small hand of drug traffickers, the arrests by the police follow one another. When his mother and stepfather prevent him from going out, he is capable of “smashing” the front door or jumping out of the first floor window… “We tried to go through mediation, but that didn’t work. was useless, there’s nothing more we can do,” sighs Julien.
“We are giving families a bad trial by using the threat of repression against parents in vulnerable situations,” believes Pierre Périer (2), sociologist and member of the Center for Research on Education, Learning and Didactics (Cread ). 74% of the municipalities which experienced unrest in July are home to disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Poverty, choppy working hours, overcrowded housing, single mothers who run the household at arm’s length, lack of educators and sports equipment, overwhelmed social workers… Despite all these obstacles to education, a certain number of The inhabitants manage to make themselves obeyed, but when energy, mental strength or simply natural authority are lacking, this context becomes explosive.
“Catalyst of inequalities”
“Single moms sometimes have two jobs and two hours of transportation. They don’t always have the time to manage the children, take them to school and see if they have grades to show them,” notes Fatimata Sy, from the mothers’ collective Les Gilets roses (3). However, as sociologist Pierre Périer points out, “the first years of college are a “catalyst of inequalities””. And in families of foreign origin, the language barrier complicates school attendance.
In the eastern suburbs of Paris, in Bondy (Seine-Saint-Denis), young people, dressed all in black, keep watch to alert drug traffickers in case the police appear. “School dropouts whose parents are less present or have little authority are an easy workforce to capture,” notes the mayor, Stephen Hervé.
With his hands buried in the pockets of his winter coat, Karim observes the city. A few years ago, the son of this burly fifty-year-old “almost went wrong”. When he arrived one evening with new designer clothes, Karim understood immediately. “I tore the clothes off on the spot. » For a year, day and night, this father, then on sick leave, did not let go of his teenager for an instant. After more than forty years of “seniority” in the neighborhood and a stint in prison for theft, going around the city at two in the morning to pick up his son was neither a question nor a problem. The young person is now a community leader.
The punitive approach is of course not the only one adopted by the public authorities, who have been talking about “support for parenthood” since the 1990s. “But on the ground, this policy is gradually becoming structured…” modestly observes sociologist Claude Martin, who contributed to the development in 2018 of a national charter on the subject. “We often change ministers and the reports pile up. »
The budget devoted to these actions has increased by 74% in seven years, reaching 122.3 million euros in 2020. Various initiatives are available: family mediation, support for parents in the school context, reception centers to enable them to to breathe and find advice… In Bondy, the Maison des parents et de la famille offers prevention tools such as discussion groups, workshops on addictions in the family, etc. The team even attempted a time for discussion between adults and teenagers. The experiment only lasted a year and a half. The teenagers no longer came…
What’s wrong? Access to families themselves. Many of them stay away from the systems, through lack of knowledge or distrust of institutions. Claude Martin advocates a collective and political approach to parenting. “Young people are not only educated by their parents, but by a generation of adults, teachers, social workers, local police officers, who also play a role. » As for Stéphanie, she will soon be determined about the fate of her son. He goes before the judge next spring.
1) Caused by the shooting of a police officer on June 27 while the teenager was attempting a hit-and-run.
2) Author of Invisible parents. School facing family insecurity, Ed. PUF, 288 p. ; €25.
3) Interviewed on BFMTV in December 2023.
What measures have been put in place to restore order?
- “The riots faced an implacable response from the State,” declared Emmanuel Macron, during his press conference on January 16, even mentioning a “record of arrests and convictions”: nearly 1,800 people were punished with prison sentences.
- A plan to prevent another conflagration was presented in October by former Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne: strengthening of the powers of the municipal police; deployment in certain municipalities of a “republican action force” made up of police officers, magistrates and social workers; development of “defense classes” in closed educational centers; carrying out community service within military units for young delinquents; banning penalty on social networks of up to six months for minors…
- The difficult relationship between police and population remain one of the blind spots in the state’s response to the violence of July 2023.