Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lets Learn About ASBOs!

Hi, kids! Do you know what an ASBO is? It stands for Anti-Social Behavior Order, and is used in the United Kingdom to put behavioral contracts into effect for people who have "committed acts causing or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress."It is basically a contract the person signs, agreeing that they will not engage in certain behaviors. The prohibited behaviors are usually things that would lead to a criminal behavior. For instance, if a person had been known to break into cars and steal radios, the order would not say, "You are prohibited from breaking into cars and stealing radios." Instead, it might prohibit the person from carrying tools used to break into cars, or from getting within a certain distance of a car that he doesn't own. If the person breaks this contract, he can face criminal charges.
How does this apply to kids?
In the UK, a new program will require children with known behavior problems to sign ASBO's prohibiting them from certain problem behaviors. Again, the behaviors the young people would be required to avoid would not be behaviors that are against the law, but behaviors that could lead to the child breaking a law or doing something else disruptive that he's been known to do before. For instance, a child who has been known to shoplift may be prohibited from going into stores without a parent.
They would be given support from government case workers, in order to help them stay away from the behaviors.
If the young people didn't cooperate with the ASBOs, they, like their adult counterparts, would face criminal charges.
Children as young as five years old will be eligible to be handed ASBOs, although the authorities putting the program into effect expect mostly children ages ten and older to receive ASBOs.
The plan may later include collecting DNA samples from children as young as five years old who show signs of anti-social behavior. The DNA would be kept in a government database that already exists, consisting of DNA from people who have been arrested but never charged, as well as people who have been charged with crimes. When a criminal act is committed that involves DNA, authorities are able to search the DNA database to find matches. The children's DNA would now be included in those searches.
Some people say that this plan is a good one, and that it is meant to pinpoint children with behavior problems who aren't getting the right support and services from their families. It would force families to get help for the most troubled children.
On the other hand, many people feel that this plan could get out of hand. Would children who get into fights at school, or egg houses on Halloween, be given ASBOs and included in the DNA database?

The thing I don't like about this is that authorities describe it as targeting "the children who are most likely to fail as they grow older," and "the children who are possibly going to be the biggest threats to society."
In my mind, this is an extreme version of labeling children negatively! I think this plan could definitely become a huge burden to families with children with behavior and emotional disorders and certain other special needs. For instance, I used to work with an 11-year-old boy who had Bipolar disorder, autism, developmental delays, and Oppositional Defiancy. He was the sweetest little boy most of the time, but when he got out of control, he was really out of control! There were times when this little guy screamed outloud and ran away from me inside stores, knocked things off shelves, and tried to kick random people. When security guards tried to intervene, things easily got worse. My job was to take the boy out into public places as much as possible to try to get him to learn the rules of society, and the consequences of certain behaviors. Sure, I got punched in the stomach a few times, got scratched at and sworn at and kicked at. But it was all part of the boy's educational process.
If that boy lived in the UK, I can imagine that he might be included in this new policy. I can imagine him being asked to sign an ASBO saying that he had to stay out of certain stores, for instance, or stay out of places like Chuck E Cheese where there were younger children present. I can also imagine how his parents would feel if the government came to take some of that boy's DNA, explaining, "We're going to need this because, as your child grows older, he's probably going to be a major threat to society."
Kind of scary, isn't it?
I'd love to hear what readers think of this...

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