Big Brother is watching Brits

England’s problem families will be monitored 24 hours a day via government-operated TV cameras in their homes. Some will be forced to move to “sin bin” housing.

Children’s Secretary Ed Balls wants funding to monitor 20,000 “chaotic” families. The Daily Express reports:

They will be monitored to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on time and eat proper meals.

Private security guards will also be sent round to carry out home checks, while parents will be given help to combat drug and alcohol addiction.

. . . Sin bin projects operate in half of council areas already but Mr Balls wants every local authority to fund them.

Parents who resist may lose their government-owned housing and benefits or risk losing custody of their children.

Britons call these “Shameless” families after a popular TV show depicting a dysfunctional family — Mom’s gone and Dad’s an alcoholic — living in public housing.

Orwellian, writes Mark Steyn, who blames social decay in Britain, at least in part, on “the nanny state’s assumption of all adult responsibilities.”

About Joanne


  1. Margo/Mom says:

    Certainly the whole thing is being presented in an ugly light–Big Brother, sin bins and all, and the emphasis on “monitoring the chaos.” But I have long thought that the current state of response to neglectful families (taking the kids away, putting them in foster families and providing some inadequate kinds of services to change/improve the bio families) is wrong-headed and unlikely to bring about needed improvements for kids. For example–disrupting the kids lives by moving them out (new school, new “parents,” new friends, church, supports, all that) to the max, while leaving parents in all the same dysfunctional stuff in place not only doesn’t help much, it leads kids to believe that there is something wrong with them. I have often wondered about the practical cost of instead moving a social worker onto the premises in cases that are deemed to be recoverable–or moving the parents to a hotel and bringing in a nanny to provide temp care while the parents got their act together.

    There are, in fact, situations where unprepared parents are primarily overwhelmed, unsupported and just plain ignorant when it comes to developmentally appropriate child nurturance. These are the cases where parents are typically given a series of hurdles to overcome (attend parenting classes, obtain appropriate bedroom furniture, go to AA) in order to “get their kids back.” Then the court closes the case, Children’s Services provides minimal monitoring for a short time. Six months or a year later, the same pattern begins over again. Every time the kids bounce, they develop new pathologies that just make everything that much more difficult for the parents that were lacking to begin with. Childhood is short. We need to provide enough intensity to treatments to ensure a very high likelihood of success when we pronounce their families “healed.”

    I don’t know if Britain has “gotten it” yet. But an emphasis on working with the family as a unit, while the kids are a part of it, seems like an emphasis that should be supported.

  2. But who decides what are “proper” standards? And this is class-based, which is impossible to ignore in the UK.

  3. Richard Nieporent says:

    And if that doesn’t work Margo/Mom then there is always the rat cage.

  4. If they did away with their over-generous socail welfare programs, i.e. the “dole”, and acutal had moral, ethical standards of behavior, they might find a significant amount of the chaos would be limited.

  5. Yes, Stacy, but that would limit their power. That is not the goal.

  6. haha… ed balls…

  7. How positively sick. The thing you didn’t tell us is how these families feel about it? Some people would be more than willing to sell their freedoms in order to have a place to live at a free/reduced price. They don’t put a value on freedom because they’ve been under the system so long. Just like those here in America who are born in the cycle of government welfare, government health care, government- subsidized groceries, and government education. Also, just like Americans who would sell the freedoms of all of us for the nominal benefit of a few.

    Again, sick.

  8. Ponderosa says:

    I think this will save a lot of kids from neglect and abuse –and force dysfunctional parents to behave better. Kudos to Balls for doing the right thing, though it irritates both Left and Right.

  9. CA Teacher says:

    Seriously, Margo/Mom and Ponderosa? How could putting government camera monitors in homes EVER be the right thing? That is positively frightening on so many levels I don’t know where to begin.

  10. Ponderosa said:

    “I think this will save a lot of kids from neglect and abuse –and force dysfunctional parents to behave better.”

    ‘Fraid I don’t think so. The track record of social workers is quite horrifying, even making allowances for their mediocre intelligence. Their ability to do harm is matched only by that of the associated courts and the therapists who infest them.

    There’s no stigma attached to these dysfunctional people, and that’s a big part of the problem.

    As Hacker wrote, “Round objects”.

  11. Margo/Mom says:


    There is no way around the fact that removing kids from their families is an intrusive act. Few would argue, however, that it is never necessary. It takes pretty extreme circumstances as a rule–and some would argue too extreme. I have just often thought it ironic that the cure is frequently far more harmful to the children than it might be–if we didn’t regard children as far more easy to move around than adults. While I have known, and have a fair level of respect for many families who serve as foster parents, as an adoptive parent, my view is that foster care is at best a system of benign neglect.

    My vision–if I ruled the world–is something akin to what I have stated, for many of the kids who are removed (say for circumstances that fall short of murderous intent, pedophilia, that sort of thing). I would look for a means to either keep the kids in their home–while the adults are moved out and worked on, or for whole family unit to move lock, stock and barrel into some more protective set of circumstances while undergoing shock therapy (detox, drug rehab, job search, parenting instruction, marriage counseling–whatever it takes to get back on track) under closely supervised circumstances. Now, I will grant that there would have to be a level of agreement to this stuff–but, when the court already has custody of the kids, well, many things are possible.

    I recall a keynote speaker at some adoption conference that I was at suggest that no child should ever have more than three families: a family of origin, one foster family (if needed) and one adoptive family (if return to the family of origin is just not possible). Three families is still a lot of family. A lot of trauma. A lot of adjustment. It doesn’t work that way for a whole lot of kids.

    Like I said. I am dubious of anything that is referred to as a “sin bin,” not to mention the plethora of finger-wagging head-shakers who are already chiming in with oversimple solutions. But, I think that there is a germ of right in this approach, which is to maintain kids in their families, and work with families as a unit while maintaining safety for the kids.

  12. Ragnarok says:

    “…the plethora of finger-wagging head-shakers who are already chiming in with oversimple solutions.”

    And they are…?

  13. Anyone who thinks this could be a good idea should read about the Stanford Prison Experiment. Here’s the URL:

    You cannot force families to be virtuous. The only thing you can do, under this plan, is to send families to prison, with all the psychological damage that produces. If these parents are terrible parents, then terminate their parental rights. Unlike the current British practice, have the courage, and respect, to do it in public. Allow a free press to check the terrible powers British bureaucrats already wield in secrecy.

    The students at our local public high school already know where to find the security cameras. Only the most dim misbehave before the cameras. If these parents are so bad that they need to be monitored 24/7, they should never care for children, even their own.

    “Parents who resist may lose their government-owned housing and benefits or risk losing custody of their children.”

    That’s a serious threat to any British family. If the definition of a “chaotic” family is left to bureaucrats–which it will be, as I see no mention of any legal process–no family in Britain will be safe. This is not a civilized system. This is barbarous.

  14. “I think this will save a lot of kids from neglect and abuse –and force dysfunctional parents to behave better.”

    Ridiculous. So, what about when the cameras are turned off – or do they plan on paying people to watch them until the kids are grown? Just silliness.

  15. Ponderosa says:

    Mia (and others), what about the time the cameras are turned ON? You agree that cretin parents will be less likely to do odious things to their kids then, don’t you? So why mock the idea if it would manage to help kids? Should our love for adults’ civil liberties prevent us from stopping the mutilation of children’s souls? Put pragmatism ahead of ideology.

  16. CA Teacher says:

    If the parents are so bad that camera surveillance is truly necessary, the children should not be with them at all. What happens in the bathroom, or are there cameras there? Outdoors? In the grocery store parking lot? And what of these children who are being raised “on camera,” their every move at home watched by Big Brother? What about a whole family being uprooted and moved into a “sin bin,” where the children get to live next door to other severely dysfunctional people rather than having a chance of seeing a normal neighbor. And would you let your kid go to “surveillance house” to play with “surveillance kid”? This is punishment for the entire family, and yes, I think being uprooted and then held prisoner in one’s own home, watched by government cameras, is far worse in stigma and actual emotional upheaval than being moved to a foster home.

    BTW, the “sin bin” housing solution isn’t working, according to studies. So adding cameras should help?

  17. “You agree that cretin parents will be less likely to do odious things to their kids then, don’t you?”

    No, I don’t. You can’t force anyone to behave by your rules, for longer than an hour or two. Look at the terrible behavior of reality show contestants, who agree to be filmed, and who know that the results will be broadcast on network t.v. People adjust to filming.

    People who are cretins, or who are not capable of nurturing their children, will not be changed by closed-circuit tv. Cameras will not make parents who are too stupid to look after themselves one whit smarter. Cameras won’t improve the brutal or insane. If parents are a danger to their children, they shouldn’t have custody.

    There are some treatments which can help some parents, especially when a treatable mental illness is involved. Visiting nurses, and respite care, _when requested by families_, can make an enormous difference. Imprisoning a family, and placing them under the care of “private security guards,” won’t.

    Civil liberties are what stand between us and dictatorship. The grounds for this program are so negligible as to be laughable. Regular bedtimes? Arriving at school on time? Eat proper meals? Anyone want to bet that the problem families will be headed by doctors and judges? No? How about the family whose barking dog keeps a solicitor up at night? How about the family whose property would enrich a developer who contributes to politicians’ election campaigns? Or the family of a girl who’s been mean to a bureaucrat’s daughter?

  18. (a) ‘Straordinarily invasive, and (b) wouldn’t work for a myriad reasons.

    “I have often wondered about the practical cost of instead moving a social worker onto the premises”

    Ah, if I were lord of Tartary…

  19. deirdremundy says:

    Why should the state be allowed to decide my children’s bedtimes? Different families have different schedules….. Why should the state get to decide on mealtimes or meal content?

    The surveillance cameras are crazy. Their stated goal is NOT to prevent abuse… it’s to control very basic decisions in a family’s life. It’s not their business what the kids have for dinner and when they go to sleep!

    So, if the six-year-old is hyper and stays up late one night, or the mom decides that “tuna mac” is a healthy enough dinner for once in a while, will the state intervene?

    Crazy. And your right–since people in public housing won’t have the option to refuse the cameras, it’s all about keeping tabs on the lower classes.

    Luckily, we have a constitution, so I’m pretty sure something similar would NOT be able to fly in the US.

  20. Margo/Mom says:

    There are two things that are unfortunately conflated in this article. One is the use of closed circuit tv (CCTV) in Britain. The other is something properly known as the Family Intervention Project (FIP). I cannot tell from the news article whether Mr. Balls is likely to be watering down what seems to be a helpful program in order to scale it up (and doing so through the use of CCTV and private security companies in place of social workers)–but I suspect that may be the case. A few of the comments indicate that perhaps he has not been as helpful as he might have been in the past.

    The FIP (which includes no mention of either private security or CCTV) appears to be a program with a proven track record. It works with families on the brink of eviction (or possibly loss of children–not so clear on that one) for “anti-social behavior” (ASB), which appears to include multiple kinds of things, from theft to domestic violence, to public drunkenness to school suspension, expulsion and truancy. It is an intensive program, with a beginning and an end, structured around an agreement between the family and the program regarding goals, etc. Among the benefits cited (and supported through data) are family stability in the form of employment/income, increased school attendance, decreased incidence of ASB, decreased risk of homelessness.

    For an interesting article on the growing use of CCTV for security purposes in Great Britain, see: I didn’t see much there that doesn’t also happen on this side of the ocean, BTW.

  21. Think they’ll monitor Muslim families who have repressed their daughters or who have suspicious associations?

  22. John Drake says:

    “Do it to Margo! Do it to Margo!”

  23. Real God fearing, freedom loving Americans would never use the word “conflated.” Is there anywhere the government shouldn’t be allowed to go, Margo/Mom? How about cameras in the bathrooms? Talk about a way to blackmail the adults being videotaped… Scary, very scary.

    The UK is no longer a free country. How much longer until the US follows suit?

  24. Margo/Mom says:


    Let me be clear. I am not endorsing making a reality show (even if only for the benefit of government employees) of the lives of families in trouble. But, then, on the other hand, I don’t see that the Family Intervention Program does that either–in its current form.

    I would point out to you that in the analogous situations in the US, we do (to considerable cheering in some quarters) simply evict families from public housing (what’s left of it) for the same offenses where Britain is providing intervention as a possibility first. We also remove kids from their families and expect their parents to demonstrate, with very little support, that they have “healed themselves” in some way. Then we return their kids to them. If it doesn’t work, we may run through the cycle again multiple times. The same quarters that cheer for kicking undesireables out of public housing also cheer for policies to take parents to court, fine them, or send them to jail (or remove their kids–if they are still young enough to be considered manageable by the system) when their kids don’t attend school.

    With freedom comes responsibility. Some see responsibility in social ways, others take an every man/women for themselves attitude. Of course, then we are left with having to solve the problems caused by the irresponsible uses of freedom.