Learning from a Serious Case Review

Over the weekend, I came across the Serious Case Review (SCR) into the death of a young person referred to as ‘Chris’, published recently by Newham LSCB.  I was drawn to it particularly as a social worker, and someone based in the area to which it refers. It is a profoundly moving document, highlighting real moments of good practice in work to support Chris and his family, while also indicating areas of work where people and agencies fell short in their roles and responsibilities. It is first and foremost an opportunity to learn about the lives of Chris and his family, to identify opportunities for learning from his tragic death, and to make recommendations to reduce the likelihood of similar events happening again.

Let me say straight away that I do not want to somehow ‘claim’ such a document for a particular cause. That would be grossly insensitive and unprofessional. The SCR does not comment specifically on any issues of CPV other than the report that his mother experienced an assault sufficient to warrant calling the police. We read of breakdowns in family communication, necessitating moves to live with other relatives, but these moves are also linked to the escalating risks generally in Chris’ life. I do want to recognise though, the learning points highlighted, because I believe that they are very relevant to the work going on with families experiencing child to parent violence.

There is no one way in which families experience CPV. For some, where the issues are less complex and there is early intervention, the matters can thankfully be resolved quickly and harmony restored. But we know that there are other families where children – and adults – experience multiple vulnerabilities: each piling trauma on trauma, risk onto risk, building a complex story of harm in a long person’s life and making a resolution significantly less straightforward. Each issue will need to be addressed in order to fully understand the family’s experience. In the meantime, a family lives day to day with the fear of what might happen to their young person, what news they might hear, each knock on the door a  moment of dread.

In Chris’ life there were professionals who were able to build supportive, caring, therapeutic relationships with him at various points in time. Within these relationships there could have been opportunities for protective work to take place. Nevertheless, inadequate sharing of information between agencies meant that some workers were unaware of the risks to him. Once he was understood primarily through an ‘offender lens’, people lost sight of Chris’ multiple vulnerabilities, and with this came a less rounded set of responses, and the loss of focus on the way young people can be both victim, and purveyor, of harm. With multiple agencies involved in such a complex case, coordination, lead roles, and transfer of information all become vital. This was seen to be lacking here, not helped by frequent changes of staff. Despite some excellent intervention at certain points, attention is also drawn to a failure to engage fully with this young man, or to ascertain his views and wishes. And finally, one phrase that stuck out over and above the others: “Poor quality assessments and reviews were regularly confused with intervention and activity confused with impact.” I hear this as a complaint from families time and time again. It is an area in which we might all be more vigilant.

These are learning points specific to this review, but they are each important to all the work we undertake with families whatever the circumstances. I believe we can all learn much as we reflect on our own practice, and seek to develop further in the safeguarding and protection we offer.

The full report is available to download here.

The Executive Summary is also available here.

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Your call, on speaking to the media about CPV

Back in 2013, I blogged about whether it was helpful to speak to the media, and how we could work within professional ethical guidelines with this. I find myself revisiting this theme now, partly because I am increasingly being contacted by investigative journalists interested in learning more about child to parent violence, and partly because I do believe the general tone and atmosphere around this is changing. With coverage in the mainstream media, and on flagship programmes it is in everyone’s interest to present as full a picture as possible, and to ensure accuracy of coverage whenever we are able to influence direction.

In recent weeks I have been asked by a number of journalists working for BBC Radio for background information and, of course, for families willing to speak out about their own experiences. On radio, at least, there is great willingness for people to remain anonymous if they wish, in order to protect confidentiality. Generally the desire is to make the story more ‘personal’ and to make it more real. Recent examples of positive coverage include a number of episodes of the Victoria Derbyshire Show, File on 4, and Woman’s Hour. Often stories are then taken up by local radio or TV news programmes and broadcast further.

My own response to this is always to offer what ever information I can give about CPV itself, but to make it clear that I am not able to pass on names unless approached by families themselves to do so. This is a decision I have made in order to best respect autonomy and privacy. What I have done though is to put out a ‘shout’ on twitter asking for individuals to make themselves known if they are interested.

If parents would like to speak to journalists, I suggest they reflect on a number of things first:

  • This must be your own decision. Do not let others pressure you in to it if you are not certain.
  • Keep expectations low! The journalists want to hear your story but it may not ‘fit’ with the story they already have planned; or it may be that nothing progresses very far after all.
  • Think about support both during and after discussions and around the time the show goes out. If you are already in some sort of therapy, make sure your therapist is on board. You might feel great enthusiasm now, but this might change to a sense of guilt later.
  • Think about how you will field questions and comments from friends, family, school etc. after the show.
  • If journalists would like to speak with children there are additional things to consider around their own agency and understanding, confidentiality now and in perpetuity, impact on relationships etc etc.

It is then up to families to make contact themselves, and I can pass on details of the journalist concerned.

Having said all of that, I think there are amazing opportunities at the moment, as the interest in examining this issue is so high. With individuals across many different genres of programme asking questions, we have the ability to present as full a picture as we ever have had. If you would like to be involved in sharing your story, and helping to raise awareness, or if you know someone else who would, you are welcome to contact me and I will pass you the relevant details. You can email me via the contact page of this website, or you can direct message me on twitter. You may be reading this in late 2018, or at a future date, but don’t feel the moment has been lost. Whenever you are reading this, I am sure I will still be happy to take names and to pass them on as the opportunity arises.


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What do we mean by ‘Intent’, in the context of Child to Parent Violence?

The issue of intent, and what exactly is meant by this in understanding child or adolescent to parent violence and abuse, is a complicated one that has generated significant discussion over the last year particularly. It has been suggested (Thorley and Coates) that we are better served by an overarching understanding of young people’s family violence, with a division between those who act aggressively with intent, and those we would struggle to understand doing so. Others disagree, and this has sparked thoughts that perhaps we are misusing the word, and that we should go back to basics in our understanding of how we use this terminology in the wider field of domestic abuse.

I was musing along this line with Kate Iwi, and persuaded her to write something for us! 


In the adult domestic violence (DV) field it’s often noted that even in the heat of the moment when a perpetrator says he ‘lost it’ and ‘saw red’ he is still accountable for his behaviour.  In part this is because they clearly still retained some control, in the sense that they are setting limits to the level of abuse they are prepared to use.  After all, if you are stronger than the other person and/or there are potential weapons around, and you’ve not killed them yet, then you must be setting limits.  It’s also noted that victims of DV learn to tread on eggshells – they avoid doing the things that seem to trigger the violence. The aggressor gets their way. Its often concluded that for adult perpetrators, ‘violence is intentional’. Continue reading

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CPV Conference Season!

I do love a good coincidence! It seems we are in CPV conference season at the moment, just as the political parties get going on theirs, but more impressively, the themes that are emerging for me resonate from one event to the next.

I attended the Break4Change Annual Network Event in Brighton in September, and one of the key themes of the day was the need for collaboration across services in the delivery of support for families experiencing child to parent violence. Ideally, this was seen as taking place in a multi-disciplinary project, such as B4C Brighton where Children’s Services, the Youth Offending Service, Rise (domestic abuse) and AudioActive (an arts and media charity) not only work together on a day-to-day basis but are all represented on the Steering Group. More particularly to this project, it was considered that it should be embedded in the local authority in order to be delivered effectively. Continue reading

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Violence against Grandparents: Finding out more 

I am very pleased to post this information and request from Dr Amanda Holt, who has been instrumental in bringing about wider knowledge and understanding of child (and adolescent) to parent violence. She is now about to begin some research into violence and abuse towards grandparents, from their grandchildren, and is interested to hear from practitioners, and ultimately grandparents, with awareness and experience of this.  

As Helen impressively documents, there is a useful research literature developing on adolescent-to-parent violence/abuse, and this is giving us some insights into who, where, how and perhaps why we are seeing this problem across a range of families. However, there is very little research into violence against grandparents, yet I am hearing from practitioners that many grandparents attend CPV support programmes because they are experiencing violence from their grandchild. Many of these grandparents are involved in kinship care arrangements with their grandchild(ren), whether arranged formally (e.g. through a Special Guardianship Order, for example) or informally. A recent survey of 101 kinship carers in Australia found that nearly half (46%) of carers (the majority of whom were grandparents) reported violent behaviour from the child they were caring for and which, in 89% of cases, was directed towards them. As with CPV, verbal abuse, psychological abuse and physical aggression were all reported and the impacts mirrored those commonly experienced by parents who experience violence from their children: stress, mental health problems, physical health problems, additional family conflicts and social isolation. Continue reading

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Collaboration across agencies is key in work with families experiencing child to parent violence

Great to see a blog from Dr Simon Retford, Detective Superintendent at Greater Manchester Police, on the  N8 Policing Research Partnership website (September 13th). Simon spoke at the recent N8 Knowledge Exchange Conference in Darlington, and he reflects here on the content of his presentation.

Police Collaboration Opportunities and Child to Parent Violence 

In June 2018 the N8PRP held its annual Knowledge Exchange conference. The theme for this year was child-to-parent violence (CPV), its complexities, recognition as an issue and prevention. 

In this blog-post Dr Simon Retford, Detective Superintendent at Greater Manchester Police, gives us an insight into CPV through research undertaken to complete his Professional Doctorate and extensive policing experience. 

Within the confines of family violence, domestic abuse has become a widely recognised problem across all sections of society. As a greater understanding of the complexities of such abuse has evolved, so has the responding and support opportunities grown, to better support those involved (Hester, Pearson & Harwin, 2009, pp.110-111). However, one particular area which has avoided extensive academic research, is abuse perpetrated by children against their parents (Jackson, 2003, p.321,). Gaps between parent abuse and domestic abuse research have been reported, particularly where responses to it are concerned, with a suggested ‘policy silence’ for parent abuse (Holt and Retford, 2013, p.2).

You can read the whole blog here.

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International FASD Awareness

September 9th was International FASD Awareness Day. Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, the most common non-genetic cause of learning disability in the UK, is thought to affect 2% of the UK and US populations, though some people claim that is a huge under-estimate, with up to 5% affected. Within certain communities – care experienced children – it is significantly higher, with perhaps a third of adoptive children receiving a diagnosis. That is a challenge in itself, with only relatively recent wider recognition of this disorder, above and beyond the facial characteristics which only show on a small proportion of children affected. Continue reading

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