Voices: A mother was blamed for ‘not setting boundaries’ with her son – and then he killed her

I have somehow managed to miss the abbreviation JFC, which standards for Jesus… well you can guess the rest. It was the initial reaction of a colleague when I told them about the Domestic Homicide Review into the killing of a couple from Oldbury in the West Midlands that was published on February 2. It was my reaction, too. I just said all three words out loud. The story is really that bad.

These reviews are anonymised, but it has emerged in media reports that the one published on that date covers the killing by Anmol Chana, 25 at the time, of his mother Jasbir Kaur, 52, and his stepfather, Rupinder Bassan, 51.

They were stabbed to death by their knife-obsessed son who had a history of violence, had made threats to kill his mother and sister and had shown symptoms of psychosis. He was handed a minimum sentence of 36 years, having shown a “complete lack of remorse” for his actions.

Kaur had tried to get help. But sessions with Children’s and Young People’s Mental Health Services concentrated not on her son’s behaviour or its underlying causes, but on her “apparent inability to control her son” or to “set boundaries”.

The report found little or no evidence of one-to-one work with Chana himself. It did find evidence of “significant victim blaming by professionals in their response to CPA” (child to parent abuse).

Reading the report, I was left thinking: I’ve come across this sort of thing before. Not in cases as extreme or horrific as this, but more generally; as the default option of state agencies that are supposed to support parents but seem to prefer to kick them when they’re down.

Problem? It has to be down to the parents, especially the mother. It’s always the mother.

This particular attitude is endemic to the world of special educational needs & disabilities (SEND). Earlier this week, I wrote about how SEND parents are too often demeaned as “pushy” and “entitled” for supposedly gobbling up resources (resources, by the way, that the law says their children have a right to so they can – in theory – access an education of equal standard to their non-disabled peers).

In some areas, this isn’t just a knee-jerk response, like the one above, which appears clearly born of ignorance or more likely cynicism. It is enshrined in law, or by government guidelines.

Take the epidemic of school refusal that followed the pandemic. The latter caused enormous problems for children. Lockdown interrupted their education, disrupted friendship groups which were in some cases in the process of being tentatively established and caused an explosion of mental health problems.

The response of the Department for Education (DfE) was not to offer support, in conjunction with the NHS. No, that would have cost money. Instead, the DfE ordered schools to publish and enact punitive attendance policies. It demanded that they, and local authorities, bring the hammer down. A BBC investigation in the middle of last year found £3.7m had been collected via 71,000 fines within months of the end of lockdown.

I have been told that fines are only levied in extremis, in the event of severe non-cooperation on the part of parents. Those numbers tell a different story. In any case, quite how these fines are supposed to help anyone is beyond me.

“We’re caught in the middle of this,” one teacher said to me, shaking their head in despair. A couple of months later, they were off on long-term sick. Stress. This is all too common.

You’re about to say, “but what about child abuse? We have to handle that. We have to keep a watch out for it.” Indeed we do. The problem as it seems to me is that state agencies run the risk of missing those cases, because they are so busy prosecuting parents for non-attendance.

The state is a terrible parent. “Like hell”, is how one former resident described life in care homes in the London borough of Lambeth. Yet the first recourse of this terrible parent is to blame other parent for its own failings.

Parents need support, not blaming, when their children are struggling.

But securing help demands that parents engage in a battle with agencies whose failures are down to both a chronic lack of resources, and (sometimes) the result of lax procedures, poor management, back covering, stupidity and, yes, laziness. Disagreeing with their conclusions at any point inevitably leads to one being branded “uncooperative” and perhaps worse.

Combined with sanctions, parent-blaming only serves to exacerbate pre-existing problems, causing untold misery and precipitating family breakdown. Sometimes worse.