The efficacy of parental responsibility laws in tackling juvenile crimes



In the contemporary world, there have been a plethora of laws that penalize parents for crimes committed by their children. The laws are based on the presumption that the parent of the offender who has not accepted their responsibility to the crime can be made to do so by the impositions of court orders as well as financial penalties (Arthur, 2005). However, the questions remain on how effective are these laws in the war against crimes committed by the youth or should policies that strengthen parenting skills be pursued as a strategy to curb the youthful offending behaviour.

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Parental responsibility for juvenile offenders

Since time immemorial parental shortcoming has been viewed as a fundamental cause of the juvenile offending behaviour. The state, therefore, intended to compel responsibility on the part of the parents. The Children and Young Person’s Act 1933 was the first instrument that gave the court the mandate to charge parents fines or compensation of a juvenile offender (Arthur, 2005). By the time the Criminal Justice Act 19913, was in place there were specific procedures which allowed for the imposition of financial penalties upon parents when delinquencies were committed by their children. Section 58 of the 1991 Act stipulates that parents accompany to court children who have been found on the offensive side of the law. The law goes further and states that parents will be responsible for paying any fines that were imposed on the young offenders. An aspect that made the 1991 Act stand out was the introduction of parental ‘bind over’ which gave the parent powers to exercise control over the juvenile offender.

The logic behind this approach to young aberrant and parental obligation was defined clearly John Patten, the then minister who simply stated that the parents and guardians of the parents were only negligent rather than misfortune and misjudgement.  The crime and disorder act of 1998 were fabricated the principle of parental responsibility by subjecting the parents of a convicted offender to programs that will enable them to control the future behaviour of the juvenile in a specified manner. The order also required parents to attend counselling sessions for a year. This order received criticism from many law practitioners as well as the citizens since it imposed the punishment on the wrong individual while the offender was at large.

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However how efficient are these laws? Does the child reform after the parents have been punished on their behalf? According to Dana Mack (1997)4 argues that the modern society is increasingly hating on the culture of the family formation a factor that offers little respect and support to the parents that subsequently undermine the efforts the parent makes in the attempt to raise their children right. Parents are afraid of imposing physical punishment on their children since they’re scared of losing them (Mack, 1997)4.  The methods that the government prescribes to be used in schools and at home are often inadequate therefore promoting delinquency.

Critics also argue that the states confuse liability with responsibility. Parental responsibility involves ensuring your child has a home, food on the table, good health and has access to education until at least to the age of 16 years. While parental liability is handling any damages caused by the child, the laws and states more often than not implement parental liability under the pretence of parental responsibility.

Critics also argue that parents are ever busy individuals fending for their families from time to time and for this reason they don’t get to spend time at home or even at school with their children. Some of these parental responsibility laws strive for an ideal that is non-existent in the modern society rather the best way to curb the offenses is to enrol the young offenders to guidance and counselling services and an in-depth analysis of why the criminals behave in the way that they do.

The critics of the parenting laws also doubt he constitutionality of the parental responsibility law. Professor Martin Guggenheim of the New York University argues that everyone is responsible for themselves in the criminal law one can’t be found guilty just by association and as such parents should be subjected to the crimes committed by their children.

Conversely, advocates for the parental responsibility laws insist that parents contribute significantly to the juvenile delinquencies. In Philadelphia just like in other cities penalties can be imposed on the parents when their children are out past the stipulated curfew time. For the first time violation, the fine goes up to $150 for the subsequent violations the fines increase up to $500 and a jail term of up to 90 days (Brank, 2011)5. These fines and jail terms have improved the youth crime rates significantly as parents strive to put their children in check.

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Psychological research and practice have revealed the significance of the Parent-child relationship (Brank, 2011)5. The research also indicates that the various parenting techniques lead to different outcomes regarding the behaviour of the children. However, it’ to acknowledge that there are other factors at play when it comes to juvenile delinquencies and it is not clear if punishing the parents would have the envisioned impact of reducing juvenile delinquencies.

However, an effective juvenile delinquency reduction and prevention approach should address the day to day life experiences of the youth and in which avoidance to committing crimes are encouraged through a collective and integrated services. The government should work with the parent and the society to ensure that resources are allocated to interpose objectively in the lives of the young people to deter them from engaging in offending behaviours. The government should implement the children Act 1989 framework of coming up with proactive programs of supporting young offenders and their families. Should the framework fail, an advanced approach to the juvenile delinquency prevention should be taken up. The strategies should aim at keeping the parents and the children out of the justice system.


The issue with the efficacy of the parental responsibility laws is the fact that the offender’s behaviours are not improved instead another individual take the blame and punishment for crimes committed by someone else. The other issue is that these laws are set out to send warnings to negligent parents who fail to take up their duties and responsibilities, and the laws are rarely applied and that in itself evidences that the rules are unreasonable. Experts also doubt the constitutionality of the parental responsibility laws, Professor Martin of the New York University School of law argues that everyone is responsible for themselves in the criminal justice and nobody should be found guilty because of association.

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Therefore, an efficient juvenile delinquency prevention and reduction framework should address the life familiarities of the youth from which preventive measures can be employed through a joint and integrated range of services. The punitive measures imposed on the delinquents and their families mask the states reluctance to sustain a societal infrastructure that affords parents with the support, means, and services they need to so as to care for their families. The parental responsibility laws over-generalizes the composite linkages between parenting methods and delinquency in a reductionist endeavour to blame parents for their children’s crimes.

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  1. Arthur, R. (2005). Punishing Parents for the crimes of their children. The Howard Journal, 44(3), 233- 253.
  2. Eve M. Brank, J. H. (2011, November). Why not blame the parents? Retrieved February 21, 2017, from American Psychological Association:
  3. Government, U. K. (2016, July 27). Parental Rights and Responsibilities . Retrieved from Gov.UK:
  4. Janet, P. (2016, November 8). Parents’ Responsibility to their Childrens’ Action. Retrieved from
  5. Mack, D. (1997). The Assault on parenthood: how our culture undermines the family. San Francisco: Encounter Books.
  6. The Children and Young Persons Act 1993
  7. The Criminal Justice Act 1991
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