Rights and responsibilities lie at the heart of New Labour's social policies. Children and young people present a challenge to the social contractual model of responsibility evident in policy spheres. Government is torn between the notion that children are dependent on parents for well-being, and the idea that individuals should take responsibility for their own actions. The article examines the problem of childhood in social policy through an examination of the conflicting messages emerging out of family policy and anti-social behaviour policies. Policy discourses are then critically evaluated with reference to a qualitative study of children's ideas about responsibility. The authors suggest that policies relating to children can learn from children's private experience of responsibility in the home, and from the complex and rich ways in which children understand the moral and relational components of responsibility.
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