Learning about feelings, building resilience with Cyril Squirrel

Cyril Squirrel Finds Out About Love, by Jane Evans (2016) Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

I was very pleased to be asked to review this book, having first met Jane around the time she was starting to write the first of her books for young children. Jane is a trauma parenting specialist with many years experience in the field of domestic violence, fostering and, most recently, work on the brain responses to trauma. We met at the Oxford APV conference, and of course the experience of early trauma does seem to be a factor for many families where there is child to parent violence. If we can get things right early on with resources such as these books, then we can hopefully help parents create a healthier and more resilient environment for their children.

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Cyril Squirrel Finds Out About Love is Jane’s fourth book exploring feelings and emotions; with bright, engaging illustrations by Izzy Bean. Aimed primarily at 2 to 6 year olds (but anecdotally appreciated by older children as well) – and all those caring or working for them, this book helps in understanding love, friendship and kindness, and works on many levels.

The basic story follows Cyril’s quest to discover the nature of love and where it might be found, but along the way there are things to spot on the page and questions to ask, and – as we have learned to expect from Jane – lots of naming of other emotions and feelings, and reminders about personal safety. With additional activities at the end for both adults and children, this is packed full of useful material and very successfully bridges quite a wide age range. It is a wonderful book to read to any child, but will be particularly useful for those engaging with young children whose early lives have been disrupted, and who may struggle to see love around them.

Jane’s earlier books follow a similar structure, helping children to identify and talk about feelings, and to understand the complexities of an unpredictable life. The third book, exploring anxiety, offers an endearing and accessible manual for children and adults on the working of the brain.

How Are You Feeling Today Baby Bear (illustrated by Laurence Jackson) 2014

Kit Kitten And The Topsy-Turvy Feelings (illustrated by Izzy Bean) 2015

Little Meerkat’s Big Panic (illustrated by Izzy Bean) 2016

Cyril Squirrel Finds Out About Love (illustrated by Izzy Bean) 2016

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CPV: working across other communities

In one of those serendipitous ways this topic has cropped up in a lot of separate conversations recently so I thought I’d gather a few thoughts together.

I am indebted to Carole Williams, Parenting Officer in Ipswich and with many years experience as a Who’s in Charge? trainer, for her help in putting this piece together; and also to Cathy Press, Who’s in Charge? trainer, therapist and DA consultant with Awareness Matters, for her input. Although these comments come particularly from experience of working in group situations, many are relevant to one-to-one work also.

Within the UK there is a long history of settlement in major cities, where incoming communities may be well established, though not necessarily fluent in English. More recently there has been larger scale migration to rural market towns, and not only a seasonal basis, so that many more professionals are having to address what it means to work with mixed populations, with all that brings in terms of different languages, different patterns and expectations of parenting, and even different relationships with figures of authority.

Indeed, language difficulties may well be the first issue that comes to mind when working with people from other countries and cultures – and I’ll come back to this in a moment, but there are other significant considerations to address. At a very practical level, finding the most convenient time to meet may cause problems, when parents may be working long hours or unsocial shifts in the jobs that have drawn them to this country.

Differences in experiences of parenting and being parented are serious issues that must be considered. For instance, indigenous communities particularly around the world will have different expressions of family, of community, and of responsibility for care for children and dispute resolution; but the issue is not confined to such groups.

When the RCPV research team began speaking with their Bulgarian partner in the project they quickly learnt how different the situation behind the experience of child to parent violence was in that country. Having lived under communist rule for so long, many individuals had developed a deep distrust and antagonism towards state officials, and so were reluctant to approach the expected agencies for help. Within what remained a patriarchal society, family space was considered very private and families were expected to resolve problems without outside help. In addition, the RCPV research found that those experiencing abuse within their families were often grandparents – the parents having been forced to leave the village and seek work elsewhere because of the economic crisis.

A recent conversation with Who’s in Charge? trainers highlighted a similar example within Britain. A parent from Eastern Europe who had freely participated in a group for several weeks suddenly became resistant and reluctant to engage after a family member perceived the charitable organisation working with them to be closely linked to the authorities. They began answering questions as if undertaking a police interview. It transpired that a family member had suggested she did not disclose anything about the situation at home to “an authority figure”. Of course, resistance to difficult questions is not confined to any particular group or community.

Further examples were given of very high (relative to British norms) expectations of young people’s behaviour and participation within the home from some communities and cultures. Far from the usual suggestions to involve teens more in taking responsibility for themselves within the home, here there was an instinctive urge to pull back. What would the effect of this level of responsibility have been within the home country? Is it problematic in itself, or simply because of the more relaxed local environment? Transitioning from one country to another immediately exposes young people to very different experiences of being parented, with perhaps stricter or, more likely, more relaxed rules. How can families be helped to make the adjustments while maintaining a sense of integrity and continuity?As a British social worker these questions bring to mind the findings of the Laming Report following the tragic death of Victoria Climbie in 2000, specifically the need to be aware of our assumptions and beliefs about other cultures and the way this impacts our beliefs about acceptable or normal behaviour; as well as being clear about the way in which we feel competent to challenge parenting practice within a context of a fear of being accused of racism.

How do we work with families where there are high expectations of men being in charge, or the acceptance and normalisation of levels of violence towards women and children? Issues around “normal” parenting practice and styles of parenting are very much thrown into the foreground in work with child to parent violence, where the very relationships within the family have been upended, and “normal” no longer applies. Nevertheless, the risks of presenting as patronising or culturally superior should not be overlooked.

Reiterating clearly the purpose, and authority, of the group or intervention on an ongoing basis is obviously a necessity. Adaptation of materials and style of presentation – including exercises – also needs to be considered. Programmes and manuals created with one community or solution in mind do not necessarily travel easily.

It is worth noting that much of the early understanding and many of the materials in use around the world for work within the area of child to parent violence have been imported from the USA or Australia. The Step-Up programme, originating in Seattle is one such programme, much in use in adapted form in both Britain and Australia; and its influence is seen wider still in home grown programmes. Step-Up was designed with a very specific group of young people in mind, mandated from within the juvenile court system onto this diversionary programme. The Who’s in Charge? programme of parents’ groups has its genesis in Australia, and is more strictly controlled in its dissemination, but is now widely in use within England. Britain and the US are sometimes described as two nations divided by a common language. We cannot simply expect to lift programmes from one prosperous western nation to another. Legislative framework, cultural context, or underlying assumptions and understanding about meaning, all impact on content as well as the way instructions and exercises are designed and given. Is it reasonable to continue to adapt and readapt programmes to fit a different national context, often at great expense, or should more time be given to local homegrown responses? The issues around child to parent violence have many similarities around the world, but the way they play out and the local or national responses do not always accord.

Not just the content of the programme and style of presentation, but the measurements in use before and after also need addressing in work with groups of people for whom a programme was not originally created. An article which caught my attention recently concerned the use of equine therapy with teens in Guatemala as a way of addressing violent and aggressive behaviour. One of the issues that had to be addressed right at the start was with regard to self-report measures that were completed before and after participation in the programme.

The measures, all originally developed in English, were translated to Spanish by the third author bilingual in Spanish and English. Another native Spanish speaker, also fluent in English, verified the translations and minor discrepancies were reconciled via discussion. Because youth participants may not have had much exposure to Likert-style scales, slight modifications were made by including illustrations with scale points to indicate the magnitude of agreement/disagreement.

Returning then to the issues of language and translation. We are used to ensuring we are not using children as interpreters within health and social care settings. Particularly when a conversation may be with regard to their behaviour, or that of their siblings, there is no guarantee that the message you need to get across will be the one that is translated, and information may be filtered or missed. The same may apply where a husband speaks English and his wife does not.

But what is also clear is that straightforward translation by a professional interpreter is not sufficient either. Even with interpreters present, some parents may be working in a second or third language if there are participants from a range of nations. Some words and terms simply do not exist in other languages or cultures. Who’s in Charge? facilitators in groups in East Anglia found that fundamental concepts such as “abuse” had to be broken down to make them understandable. Constant checking that parents understood the discussion was hindered, and it was impossible to access other significant factors in a family’s situation through tuning in to what a parent said: for example did the child have additional needs, did the parent have additional needs or what was their level of literacy within their own language? A full understanding of the issues of child to parent violence and the programme materials was clearly needed and so bi-lingual facilitators have now been trained and lead groups within this area in order to assess how to make child to parent violence and abuse programmes better available to other communities.

Finally, some thoughts that have been suggested as a good entry point for work with parents from other communities are worth thinking about for all of us. The need for professionals to communicate effectively with parents shouldn’t need repeating but sadly does. Meeting broader needs of families – through ESOL classes, craft or homework groups, and not only the immediate issue may help to draw families in and help them feel comfortable, but also strengthens family interaction and integration. At the end of the day, if we cannot help families to feel comfortable engaging with us, they will get up and leave – or simply never attend.

 

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A parent campaigns for child to parent violence to be recognised in law.

A parent campaigning for recognition of child to parent violence and abuse within the legal system in the state of Florida, recently posted this video on youtube.

 

I am told that the animation was made with the full knowledge of the young person concerned, and that her mother, Heather, is keen that as many people view it and hear her story as possible. She would also like to hear from people who recognise her position and would like to join with her in lobbying the state legislature.

No matter how often I hear stories such as this one, I continue to be taken aback by the detail of the abuse, the overwhelming difficulties in obtaining help, and yet the continuing ongoing deep love that a parent expresses towards their child in this situation.

Wherever you live in the world, I imagine you will be able to identify with some of the issues that are raised: the “invisibility” of the issue of child to parent violence, the difficulties around budget cuts and thresholds, and the focus on the protection of the child FROM abuse. Some of the problems faced by this family are also particular to an insurance-based health care system, and so more confusing to those of us in Britain for instance. Likewise the insistence that a parent accepts a child return home to live with those they are abusing – or face neglect and abandonment charges.

But wherever a family lives, what is needed is an understanding of children’s violence to parents as a distinct issue, that needs addressing as well as and alongside mental health or juvenile justice issues. Perhaps incarceration is not the answer, but then there is a need for alternative provision that recognises the risks to health and welfare – and even life – for families; that responds to the up-ending of authority within families, and offers a way back to healthy, respectful relationships.

If you would like to respond directly to Heather, you can contact her via her twitter account.

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France responds to “tyrannical children”

I was approached recently by a journalist covering the issue of child to parent violence and abuse in France – where the term “tyrannical child” is being used to describe the issue, for the International Business Times. You can read the article here.

It is always encouraging to hear about new work starting around the world. In France the specialist help that is being developed is located within health services. At the moment the only service is in Montpellier but after an initial trial, using a combination of CBT and NVR techniques and a support group for parents,  this to be rolled out across the rest of the country soon.

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I fear my son will kill me one day

This headline and the accompanying piece in the Family section of the Guardian last Saturday could not fail to shock those who came across it: a mother describing the terrible physical abuse she experiences at the hands of her teenage son.

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“Sarah” has found it almost impossible to admit that she is scared of her son, and yet when she first asked for help was told that it was unlikely she would get any – because he was loved and not in any danger. This reflects the prevailing story: that in a culture that separates children’s and adults’ needs and services, and focuses on the rescuing of children from danger, we fail to recognise the centrality of relationships in family lives, whether in their fragility of care or their strength to bring healing. Feeling undermined by professionals as much as by strangers and increasingly isolated at a time when their need for support on every level increases, the family is now offered 2 nights respite care every six weeks.

The story was picked up on social media by a range of people, including those interested in it as academics, as professionals, or as fellow travellers; with discussions about the availability of appropriate help in different countries, or the importance of schools “getting it right” in the way they respond to challenging behaviour and liaise with parents. The availability of long term care for the future is itself another story, fraught with risk and anxiety.

Following the death of an individual following intimate partner domestic violence, the police will often say that it was “an isolated incident”, a phrase that has been picked up and challenged repeatedly by campaigners in the field. Let us assert here that serious abuse from child to parent happens across the land, across the world. A diagnosis of autism is one factor that may sometimes be associated with this; and an increase in violence and abuse as a child hits adolescence or other times of transition is also a common feature. Parents frequently report that young people may just about cope with school and then explode with the effort of it all when they get back to the safety of home. This is not an isolated incident.

It can be too easy to make our own judgements from afar without understanding the different needs and circumstances of each individual family, and indeed without any specific help to offer. What parents need above all else is to be understood and to be believed, to be able to work in partnership and not in conflict with those agencies they come in contact with. To feel themselves they are held in mind and not brushed aside as we move on to the next story.

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Children who have experienced loss and trauma

I was very proud recently to be asked to contribute to an educational programme developed by the University of Sunderland.

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Children who have Experienced Loss and Trauma is an online training programme consisting of a series of short modules, each of which can be completed over a period of ten weeks, focussing on this area of work. My module, An Introduction to Child to Parent Violence, is available from mid July, and more information can be found on the CELT website.

The programme addresses the need for easily accessible CPD and introductory training for a variety of professionals and carers, and anyone interested in learning more.

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Learning Links funding secured for NVR

Some good news at a time when we are becoming used to hearing of funding being cut. Congratulations are due to Learning Links, a charity based in the south east of England, who announced last week that they have secured funding from Children in Need which will enable them to continue to run their Circles of Support programme for a further two years. Circles of Support consists of Non Violent Resistance (NVR) sessions with additional parent and child relationship building activities. The target is to reach and support parents and carers of 90 children aged between 5 and 17 years.

The Business Development Manager, Clare Mussell  said: “Our NVR courses have been absolutely crucial in supporting families who are living with child to parent violence. It is crucial that families get support to alleviate stress and to ensure that children achieve the best outcomes in life. The BBC Children in Need funding will enable us to deliver NVR and build bridges between parent and child and bring the family back together”.

Learning Links has offices in both Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, and details of how to contact them can be found here.

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