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The shame of Britain's intolerance of children

Release Date: 17 Nov 2008

There is an unjustified and disturbing intolerance of children in the UK according to a shocking poll commissioned by Barnardo's.

The poll shows that society casually condemns all children, with more than half the population (54%) thinking that British children are beginning to behave like animals.

Research conducted by YouGov shows that the public holds a negative view of all children, despite the vast majority of children making positive contributions to their communities, attending school, taking part in activities and a significant number volunteering.

The findings show:

  • just under half (49%) of people agree that children are increasingly a danger to each other and adults
  • 43% agree something has to be done to protect us from children
  • more than a third (35%) of people agree that nowadays it feels like the streets are infested with children
  • 45% of public agree that people refer to children as feral because they behave this way*
  • nearly half of people (49%) disagree with the statement that children who get into trouble are often misunderstood and in need of professional help

The public’s intolerance is also reflected in the British Crime Survey, which indicates that the public felt young people committed up to half of all crime when in actual fact young people are responsible for only 12% of crime.[1]

Commenting on the findings Barnardo’s Chief Executive and former Director General of the Prison Service, Martin Narey said: 'It is appalling that words like "animal", "feral" and "vermin" are used daily in reference to children. These are not references to a small minority of children but represent the public view of all children. Despite the fact that most children are not troublesome there is still a perception that today’s young people are a more unruly, criminal lot than ever before.

'The British public overestimates, by a factor of four, the amount of crime committed by young people. The real crime is that this sort of talk and attitude does nothing to help those young people who are difficult, unruly or badly behaved to change their ways.'

Launching the report Breaking the Cycle... alongside this survey, Barnardo’s demonstrates that children who are troublesome and engage in antisocial and criminal behaviour are often those most in need of support. Evidence shows that the children most at risk of criminality and antisocial behaviour are:

  • most disadvantaged – they come from the poorest families and communities
  • have the poorest educational experiences – leading to lack of training and employment opportunities
  • more likely to suffer from poor health, including mental health and substance misuse

Martin Narey continues: 'Barnardo’s is not naïve: we recognise that a minority of children are anti-social and some commit crimes. When that happens, both in the interests of the child and in the interests of the victims, firm action needs to be taken. But the vast majority of children are decent, enthusiastic, caring and conscientious. The minority who are not, and those who do start down the path of bad behaviour can be helped to change direction. Simply expelling them from school or locking them up frequently does nothing to help them mend their ways.'

Barnardo’s will break the cycle in their first ever major TV advertisement to air on Monday 24 November.

Notes to editors

*45% of people disagreed with the statement 'People refer to children as feral but I don’t think they behave this way.'

  1. YouGov interviewed 2021 UK adults online over the dates 14 - 16 October 2008. Results were weighted in order to be nationally representative.
  2. Barnardo’s is not alone in its concerns about ‘intolerance’ towards children. Last month, the United Nations reported that British children are at risk of being treated unfairly because of a 'general climate of intolerance' towards them. The publication from the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child states that the UK should ‘take urgent measures to address the intolerance and inappropriate characterisation of children, especially adolescents, within society, including the media.'
  3. Access to case studies and Barnardo’s projects is available from the Barnardo’s media office on 020 8498 7555.
  4. For more information about celebrities involved with the campaign please speak to Sarah Brody or Kate McGown on 020 8498 7555.
  5. Barnardo’s works with more than 100,000 children, young people and their families in 383 specialised projects in local communities across the UK. For more information about Barnardo’s see what we do. We believe in the potential in every child and young person, no matter who they are, what they have done or what they have been through. We will support them, stand up for them and bring out the best in each and every child.

[1] Youthnet and the British Youth Council (2006): Respect? The Voice behind the Hoodies.

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