“The punitive response is far from being a solution”

“The punitive response is far from being a solution”

Is imposing community service on so-called “defaulting” parents or imposing a fine on those who do not appear at hearings concerning their children a good way of making them responsible?

In my opinion, the punitive response is far from being a solution. Let us not forget that, in the case of the riots, the judicial reaction was rapid and rather firm: among the young people prosecuted, some were heavily punished with sentences going as far as incarceration, including first-time offenders. Furthermore, community service and parental responsibility courses already exist for parents abandoning their children. But this legislative arsenal is rarely used, because the families concerned are most often destitute and in great difficulty.

Was this the case last summer?

Most of the parents concerned were really shocked by the participation of their child who had not posed a problem to them until then; they did not imagine that he could behave in this way, trained by the group. Some took to the streets to try to oppose it, others were unable to do so because of their work schedules. A father admitted to me that he had not been able to stand up to his son to stop him from going out.

So there is a problem of authority?

A large number of parents that we, as magistrates, meet are in fact overwhelmed and no longer know how to deal with their teenager. But if they are unable to provide a framework for their children, it is because they are encountering significant social, material or psychological problems. Many are depressed. It is not easy to get involved in education when you are psychologically overwhelmed by housing concerns, over-indebtedness, unemployment, etc. Many parents are isolated, far from their loved ones. How can you keep your head above water when there is never someone around you to take care of the children? Social networks and screens also complicate things. These people desperately need help.

What can magistrates do?

When we are faced with such a situation, we prioritize educational assistance, putting in place support measures. I remember a large family in which significant deficiencies had been reported to us: lateness at school, health problems, etc. The parents needed extremely increased help. The educational service therefore supported the family. The first initiative to remedy their unsanitary living conditions was to renovate the accommodation and replace the bedding. Before even talking about the education of children, we had to act on this level. Then, the service worked on the rhythm of life by accompanying parents to school meetings, and by establishing rules of life in the home… In a few months, the situation improved significantly. We, children’s judges, are confronted with cases like this every day. But the waiting lists to benefit from such support are long. In Seine-Saint-Denis, you have to wait more than a year, for example.

How can we support these families to prevent their child from getting into trouble with the law?

We must help them escape from isolation and restore community in the neighborhoods. Support for parenting exists, like parent-child reception centers where discussion groups are set up. But these devices, poorly known, are scattered across the country and they do not necessarily affect the most vulnerable parents. It is important to allow them to regain their power to act; this involves promoting their skills, and not through repression.

Before the reshuffle, Minister Aurore Bergé had set up a scientific commission, in which you are participating, to reflect on concrete measures on the issue of parenthood. What do you want to carry within this entity?

I agreed to participate so that I could reflect with professionals from different backgrounds on how we can better support families. I think we need to give prevention its place again but also give parents and young people a voice to find out what their needs are.

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