Holding parents responsible for preventing punishable behaviour by their children

Parents are primarily responsible for keeping adolescents on the right path. The way children are raised is crucial to preventing criminal behaviour. Minister Dekker (Legal Protection) has explored the possibilities for holding parents responsible to a greater degree than is currently the case, when they fail in this respect, by providing better parenting support for parents who cooperate and using coercive measures for parents who are unwilling to engage with their children. This was written in the Minister's letter to the House of Representatives, based on the study entitled Jeugdcriminaliteit en opvoeding (Youth crime and upbringing), a follow-up to the Weapons and Youth action plan to tackle the increased number of stabbing incidents.

Minister Dekker explains 

‘Underage children are being apprehended carrying knives or for being out on the streets late at night vandalising property. It makes you wonder where the parents are. We offer parenting assistance, but it is also necessary to be more emphatic towards parents about their responsibility for their children.’

The latter can be done, for example, by making parents responsible for the financial consequences of their child's punishable behaviour.

More support

Voluntary parenting support may help prevent more severe measures from needing to be taken later, as has been demonstrated by the British approach using a ‘parenting contract’, a voluntary agreement between parents and care services. In such an agreement, parents state that they agree to certain conditions that will apply for a certain period of time, such as participating in coaching or a parenting support course.

More coercion

Another possible measure is to increase the liability of parents for damage caused by their children. Parents are currently liable for damage caused by their children aged 15 and under. Any damage caused by children aged 16 and 17 is the sole liability of the children themselves. The possibility of recovering damages from the parents of such adolescents would provide an additional incentive for parents to take responsibility.

The financial consequences for parents could also be increased using an order subject to a penalty. Orders subject to a penalty are currently being used in a number of municipalities to prevent children from leaving home with a weapon for a second time running. Expanding this to other municipalities would seem to be the obvious course of action.

In order to gain the cooperation of parents and others in a parental role, the ‘parenting order’ currently in use in England could also be considered. When a child receives a conditional sentence, the court's decision may also require the parents to cooperate with certain conditions, such as accepting help with the upbringing.

The next government will have to decide on introducing the measures and their precise details. In the meantime, Minister Dekker will continue to work on the plans.