Behavioural Science and Child to Parent Violence

I am pleased to publish this blog from Eleanor Haworth of Adoption UK, about her interest in Behavioural Science and what we can take from this to aid our understanding of child to parent violence and abuse. You will also find it published on the Adoption UK website. 

I am a great fan of behavioural science. I love the idea of using gentle linguistic and behavioural nudges to move us all forward, rather than the world being governed by big, bureaucratic, behemoth systems. You might question what connection this could possible have to the issue of child to parent violence. You would not be alone in suggesting that I am making an outlandish connection, this is sort of my stock in trade. However, I am begging your indulgence and asking you to bear with me on this one. I promise there is a connection, really. Behavioural science is clever and complicated and I am sure that it is beyond my humble powers to explain. However, the key elements that I think are essential to a discussion of child to parent violence are fascinating.

Firstly, behavioural science talks about two different brain and thinking systems. System 1 and System 2. This was summarized elegantly in the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. In this explanation System 1 describes the rapid, emotional, fluid activities of the brain. System 2 is the slower, more methodical and rational elements of the brain.

Secondly, behavioural science talks about how our psychologies evolved over many thousands of years to provide us with the rapid response skills needed to survive in the Neolithic period.

Our brains did not evolve in a technologically saturated world. Evolution has predominantly been preparing us for life and death threats in the wilderness, not to cope with secondary school, deal with cyber bullying or manage our TikTok followers. I think this straight away starts to talk to the Fight, Flight, Freeze responses which we are so familiar within Child to Parent Violence.

Thinking about it in terms of System 1/System 2 terminology, we can see that children and young people who are using violence and control to manage their environment are operating primarily from a System 1 starting point. That is to say, that this is a familiar, comfortable and reliable thinking pattern and system that is the “go to method” to deal with stress, threats and overwhelming situations. I believe that understanding that 95% of our thinking is done in System 1 means that we cannot stand in judgement of young people who are using their System 1. We all do. We all do without knowing. We all do because it feels nicer, it is quicker, it is more reliable and built in deep into our methods. It isn’t a failure on their part to be reliant on System 1. It is not because they don’t want to use the clever, sensible, better System 2. System 1 is everyone’s “go to” mode of thinking.

It also explains to me why people might resist System 2. Behavioural Science tells us that System 2 takes a lot of energy and effort. System 2 is something can only be sustained for a short period. Complicated processes can be learnt and moved into System 1, but this takes considerable practice and exposure. Imagine if you are in “fight, flight, freeze” and you are being asked to do lots of System 2 thinking. System 2 thinking would appear incredibly hard, off putting, and probably the preserve of other people. I should imagine that subconsciously System 2 seems to be the thinking and behaviour that parents and schools want, despite the fact that it is very hard. What a lot we are asking.

So, where does this leave us in terms of Child to Parent Violence? I think there are multiple lessons that can be learnt about how we could respond to children who are using violence. I think we can learn to recognise that their behaviour stems from a system that we all have and we all use. I think we can recognise that if we want to communicate with children who are experiencing “fight, flight, freeze” then we need to communicate to System 1 and not System 2. I think this is echoed in the training programmes content. Whenever we are told to “connect before we correct” we are seeking to access System 1. Whenever we are told to “understand the communication behind the behaviour” we are seeking to understand the child’s behaviour in terms of System 1 rather than judging them by the standards of System 2. I think the moral of this story is to understand that demanding a consistent use of System 2 is unachievable for anyone, let alone children with a history of trauma, or adverse experiences or fear.

However, the bigger challenge is for us to consider our own use of Systems 1 and 2 in our parental responses. How often do we think we are using System 1 when we are squarely in System 2? How can we ask ourselves to offer a parenting response from a System 2 place, when System 2 is unsustainable. How do we offer connected parenting and relationship support from our System 1 place? And then we can move to the nudge mindset which is where we provide gently encouragers towards behaviours that benefit all. This is surely the ideal we all aspire to.

Leave a comment

Filed under Discussion

#CPV Resources for Practitioners

The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare in Victoria has taken a strong interest in the issue of child / adolescent to parent violence and abuse, recognising gaps in knowledge and understanding through their work on Family Violence. “Funded by Family Safety Victoria (FSV) and in consultation with Domestic Violence Victoria (DV Vic), the Centre is leading this state-wide initiative aimed at identifying, translating and embedding the best available research and practice expertise to build the evidence base in relation to adolescents who use violence in the home.” The project aligns with recommendations in the Royal Commission into Family Violence and Roadmap for Reform: Strong Families, Safe Children, about bridging knowledge gaps and providing appropriate supportive interventions which recognise that young people can simultaneously cause harm and require care and support themselves.

Following a cross-sector consultation and a symposium co-hosted in March, the third phase of the project involves the production of tools and resources for practitioners working in this field. You can find out more about the project on the CFECFW website. The resources have been made freely available and you can access this information, as well as more detail of their work through the Outcomes webpages.

Resources available include:

  • MARAM (Multi agency risk assessment and management) Practice note update: Resource for working with adolescents using family violence and their families during coronavirus (COVID-19) period.
  • MARAM practice guide for professionals working with adolescents who use violence in the home (Under development).
  • Interview with the Assistant Commissioner of the Family Violence Command, Victoria Police.
  • Menu of evidence informed practice (Under development).
  • Scoping review on identification, assessment and risk management (Under development).
  • Symposium presentations
  • PIPA (positive interventions for perpetrators of adolescent violence in the home) Project report launch.

Many thanks to the Centre for undertaking this work and for making the resources freely available! This is a field of work where knowledge and understanding are developing at a fast pace, and so it is extremely helpful to be able to access such a valuable resource.

I am always delighted to publicise any similar work if individuals or organisations wish to share it.


1 Comment

Filed under publications

Lockdown reflections

It’s been a few weeks since I posted anything here (though I’ve been busy on other pages) but I thought I would treat you today to some ramblings and reflections. Like many people I am sure, over the last 3 months I have experienced both periods of intense, pressured work to tight deadlines, and days of feeling bereft of direction and purpose. Conferences, training events and report launches have been cancelled, and it is too easy to forget the hours of work and preparation that will have gone in to them by all involved. For some families, lockdown has brought a relief as stresses have been removed, and more harmonious relationships are formed and developed. For others the pressure cooker environment has increased fear and risk. Practitioners have been forced in to new ways of working – at short notice and without always having the kit or the skills – and yet some of those ways have paid dividends as they have learned to communicate with young people electronically – on their own “territory” – for a change. Being in Lockdown has intensified the sense of importance of what we do, but also the despair that things take so long to accomplish.

Overall though, I would say there have been some real gains in the field of child to parent violence and abuse.

Mainstream media attention.

As countries around the world locked down, we started to hear reports of increases in domestic abuse. In the UK, Refuge reported a 125% increase in calls to the national domestic abuse helpline, while calls to the Respect helpline for perpetrators increased by 25% over the previous week. While most of the focus was on abuse within intimate partner relationships, there was also considerable interest in harm from young people towards their parents and carers, with interviews carried in mainstream outlets, and across radio ( for instance here and here). Some of these were responding to the immediate situation, but there are other longer pieces in process, looking to explore the issue in greater depth. It has been great, as always, to hear the coverage on Woman’s Hour, following up the launch of the research into violence and abuse towards grandparents, from Dr Amanda Holt. I like to think that each time this takes place, more journalists are persuaded of the importance of the issue and so the chances of them – and others – reporting on it in future increases. The ‘R’ in this respect is definitely more than 1!

Events moving online

After an initial period of cancellation, both trainers and conference organisers have been exploring offering their events in a different way. Inevitably there are some losses, with fewer opportunities for networking for instance, but the gains from not having to travel and so opening up the accessibility of courses should not be under-estimated. In some instances, events are being offered at minimal cost, further improving their reach. As well as bringing different speakers and attendees together over zoom (for instance), there seems to have been a flurry of interest in the webinar format, with so many more conversations available to listen to whenever convenient, and many of those working around CPV using this method to share knowledge, or to further the discussion. There is the added bonus that these are then available as learning tools for months and even years to come (many of these available on my Sound and Vision or Events pages) .

The Domestic Abuse Bill

The British government had committed to seeing this through before lockdown, and so it carries on. While the definition includes only those aged 16 and over, the process has generated significant discussion at high level about CPV, including the issues of (i) age (ii) whether this is the correct framework for understanding and (iii) the lack of resources generally for families experiencing CPV. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner is very aware of the need for development in this area, and I have confidence that the issue will not be dropped. Related to this, the Home Office APVA Guidance document is in the process of being updated, but this is likely to be a long-term project.

Social media promotion

This bit’s all about me! I was very smug recently to pass the 2000 followers mark on twitter. I’m learning more about how to use social media all the time, and have been playing around, softening my approach – and attracting more followers at the same time. For me it’s all about increasing awareness, starting conversations, and encouraging others, so I am always pleased when this is reaping rewards. This is another arena where increases are exponential too!

Time and space

Finally (for now) I think the crisis has given thinking space. This may sound ridiculous if you’re shut in with children trying to juggle your own work and also school and childcare – and my apologies if this is the case; or if you’ve been on the frontline discovering day to day new ways of responding to families. For me though, I have had a chance to pick up pieces of work and ideas that had lain dormant for a long time, and see if they still have life; and I’ve also been thinking about what needs to happen next, to complement the work happening in different places around the country, to start up a more strategic conversation. I hope to bring more news about all of that at another date.

So, if you’ve made it this far, thank you! Thanks for your interest, your parenting in the face of challenging behaviour and difficult times, your work supporting families and developing awareness, and your tolerance of my ramblings.

As always, if you have any comments please do join in the conversation.

1 Comment

Filed under Discussion

Violence to grandparents in kinship care roles

The show must go on as they say, and so the launch of findings from a research project investigating violence towards grandparents took place this week with all the requisite fanfare – but online rather than as originally envisaged! Perhaps it is a metaphor for the situation experienced by the 27 grandparents interviewed for this study by Dr Amanda Holt and Dr Jenny Birchall, in that their life had taken a sudden and often dramatic change of course with the arrival of the grandchildren they were caring for.

This is the first qualitative research project in the UK to explore the experiences of grandparents who are subject to violence and/ or abusive behaviour from their grandchildren, with whom they are in a kinship care relationship; and took place between June 2018 and January 2020. The individuals had been recruited specifically because they had experienced abuse, and all described shocking and often daily experiences of violence and abuse directed towards them as well as to property, sometimes involving weapons and leading to extreme injuries. While there were a variety of “triggers” the respondents were unanimous in attributing the abuse to the trauma and loss the children had experienced (most often as a result of domestic abuse, mental health problems, substance use or child abuse / neglect). Grandparents play a vital role when they step-up, in keeping children out of the care system, and out of the youth justice system, but the difficulties implicit in such placements are poorly recognised, whether with regards to the relationship with the grandchildren – or indeed their own children. Unsurprisingly, given how little known and understood this aspect of family violence remains, all the grandparents reported problems accessing help and support from a range of services. Interestingly the police were often reported to have been the most responsive and compassionate. The report concludes with a series of recommendations for policy and practice, from a universal and early intervention stage, through very specific tailored support, including a change in mindset and proper funding.

This research project has shown how much broader we need to be thinking in terms of violence within the home. While we have become accustomed to thinking about domestic abuse / intimate partner violence and child abuse, with a developing understanding of elder abuse and even child / adolescent to parent violence, this aspect of abuse towards grandparents (and kinship carers) has been sorely neglected in study, policy and provision. The call for greater training, support, research – and importantly funding – outlines some very specific avenues for development. It is crucial that we offer support early on in these families’ journeys. To ignore them merely adds to the distress, trauma, injury and hardship further down the line, both for the children and for those who have made unexpected changes to their life plans to accommodate their needs.

For more information about the research study I can heartily recommend the project website, which has been created in lieu of a national launch. It’s easy to navigate and really accessible with clear sections explaining the research project itself, with information generally about children’s violence to grandparents, about Amanda, and signposting to help for those impacted. Finally, the website includes a podcast in which Amanda talks about the project and discusses the findings with Lucy Peake, CEO of Grandparents Plus, John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research and Development with CoramBAAF, and Dunston Patterson, Youth Justice Effective Practice Adviser.

This is an important piece of work, broadening our knowledge about violence within families, and shining a light on this hitherto neglected area. Congratulations to Amanda and Jenny!

Update June 9th 2020:  Amanda was interviewed, with Lucy Peake, on BBC Woman’s Hour this morning about her research project. You can hear the interview here (from one minute in).

Leave a comment

Filed under Research

You take into this pandemic the risk you carried with you.

There has been much discussion about the increase in domestic abuse that has been seen and documented around the world, as country after country has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by locking down the population. A less discussed aspect of violence within the family in the past, but one which is increasingly receiving attention, is that of child to parent violence, with people now asking how quarantining and isolation are impacting this group of families. I am pleased to bring this guest post, discussing this issue, from Eleanor Haworth of Adoption UK. Eleanor is Director for Service Delivery at the charity. With her social work background as well, I am hopeful that we can start to see a greater influence in this area of practice. 


Professor David Spiegelhalter has one of the best job titles in the world, he is a “Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk.”  I was listening to him talking on the radio, and he has a calm and reassuring manner. He does not patronise, but he convinces me that I can understand complex statistics. This is not something that my school mathematics teachers ever accomplished.

He was explaining that the medical risk for people with regards to the Covid-19 virus was an extension of the risk they carry in general life. So, if you are older, unhealthy and vulnerable in normal life, then you will be at greater risk during this pandemic. However, if you are young, healthy and robust in normal life that will be equally true in terms of this virus.

This made me wonder about the social risks of the pandemic and lockdown. Do we carry into the coronavirus all the same risks we had previously?

In my conversations about child to parent violence (CPV) throughout this lockdown a clear message has emerged. This lockdown makes the experience of CPV so much more acute. The normal coping mechanisms and techniques are not as readily available. Support services are restricted and in many cases the professionals are feeling desperate too.

At Adoption UK we have had many people contacting us explaining that CPV is an acute issue in their homes. There are families where violence had been reduced and other, less violent forms of managing had been employed and there has been regression. We’ve been told of families where children are living out of the home and this lockdown prevents them from safely seeing their family, which then acts as a trigger for trauma, distress and violence.

The news media quickly reacted to a perceived rise in domestic violence, and yet the CPV story was slower to emerge. Is this another of the risks that CPV carries into the pandemic? A previously hidden difficulty that does not receive public support in the national emergency.

Certainly, a risk that is carried forward, from my perspective, is that there is a double jeopardy present in CPV. Trapped within an abusive situation and responsible for the abusive party. It is hard to see many other groups taking this with them into the pandemic. That’s why we have been keen to help the Home Office and police authorities to understand that needing extra trips outside the home isn’t an indulgence, that choosing not to cause a violent showdown as to whether a teenager should respect the lockdown is not negligent parenting and that families do not get close to disruption and crisis easily.

I do not want this blog to feel pessimistic, because taken in the round the risk discussion is not pessimistic. For those people where societal pressures were contributing to risk, you don’t take those risks with you into lockdown. We have also heard about families who are managing better with the conformity of school, work and social activity being a daily source of distress. For these families, the lockdown has allowed a calm, a period of nesting and an opportunity to unite in our family relationships.

I think that understanding CPV and Covid-19 in these terms helps me to recognise that this is not about blame and that this should not be about shame. If we carry our risk register with us, then it is right that we can explain our risk factors and these should be respected as needs. This is not a story of failure or fault, and it is only by recruiting in supporters to listen to this need that the appropriate support and structures will be created. I hope that people can take their own power to tell their stories in this way and that the professionals can hear it in this same way. Maybe that way we can all become Professors in the Public Understanding of Risk.


Many thanks to Eleanor for this post. As always, if you would like to contribute anything to the discussion about child to parent violence and abuse, please do send me an email. 

1 Comment

Filed under Discussion

An important message from the adoption community. 

Sue Armstrong Brown, CEO of Adoption UK, wrote on their website this week about the potentially devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown for families. Reassuringly, she also writes about the growth of online support, including the provision of therapies, and peer to peer work. Getting help early is important at the best of times, but even more so now, while so many families find themselves facing additional day to day stresses.  

The Support Gap

The past six weeks have taught us more about adoption support than the previous year. It’s been a deeply uncomfortable experiment into what happens to adoptive families when social, medical and academic infrastructure is disrupted, family routines are upended, pressure on relationships goes up and respite goes down.

This is what we’ve learned.

Things escalate quickly

Families have been simultaneously exposed to additional pressures and cut off from their support. Access to therapists and school SEND resources is reduced, patchy or absent. No less important is the loss of informal support networks, such as contact with the wider family or access to regulating activities.

Family resilience is under strain. We are seeing a steep increase in reports of challenging behaviour, child-to-parent violence, anxiety, and self-harming.

You can read the rest of her blog here

Adoption UK published their report, Home Learning During the Covid-19 Lockdown, on May 4th. The report catalogues notable increases in anxiety and in challenging and often violent behaviour, and concludes with a series of recommendations to schools about communicating with parents; about parents’ need for additional understanding / support at this time; and for understanding about issues around return to school when lockdown ends . The report can be accessed here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Family life

Responding to CCVAB / CPV: developing a dataset

The absence of consistent, reliable, and comparable incidence data in the field of child / adolescent to parent violence and abuse is not simply frustrating; it presents a significant barrier to raising awareness and the development of a comprehensive response system. It is not only that we have no solid figures to offer, but that there is no widely adopted method of counting in the first place, compounded by the understandable reluctance of families to seek help and become one of those statistics. A new piece of research from CEL&T and Northumbria University in conjunction with Northumbria Police, released this week, sought to develop a dataset which could be adopted easily, and would provide vital information about those young people coming to the attention of the police in order to better inform the development of services. This particular piece of work is one of the strands coming out of the 2016 DHR into the death of ‘Sarah’. The research, and subsequent report, uses the term CCVAB: Childhood challenging violent or aggressive behaviour. The findings were presented to the police on Friday, 24th April by Al Coates, Dr Wendy Thorley, and Jeannine Hughes; and released to the public on Monday 27th.

It is shocking reading serious case reviews and domestic homicide reviews to see how often the same issues come up again and again. So while the background to the recent drive to improve services in Northumbria has been tragic, the determination to pick up on the recommendations of this DHR (also here), and to work together to develop protocols, resources and training is to be commended.  Sarah was a 45 year old woman, killed in 2015 by her 16 year old son Michael, despite years of asking for help, when her difficulties were interpreted as a deficit of parenting, and the escalating risk she faced at the hands of her increasingly unwell and violent son was neither fully recognised nor attended to.

CEL&T have previously published reports into CCVAB, considering in particular different drivers – whether the violence and aggression is related to trauma for instance, or to a diagnosed mental health condition – and acknowledging the impact on families in this situation. This latest report, Policing Childhood Challenging Violent or Aggressive Behaviour: Responding to vulnerable families (Executive Summary here), builds on this framework in starting to analyse the data collected. Over two years, the research team devised a set of questions, developed a strategy for collecting the relevant data, and then considered the information they had amassed in a nine month period. In all, a total of 224 children and young people were recorded within the dataset, involved in 515 separate incidents. The dataset included the number of incidents responded to (daily, weekly and monthly), the age and gender of the child displaying CCVAB, known previous incidents for the same child, and relationship of the child to the parent / carer. There was seen to be a high representation of young people with SEND, at 28%. Predominantly biological children, the male / female split reflects that commonly found in similar research (335 male / 180 female); with an age spread in this particular data of 9 – 19 years, peaking between 13 and 16. The possible contribution of substance use, mental health, domestic violence and poverty are all considered, and a number of hypotheses developed around ACES, school attendance and stress.

It is acknowledged that calling the police is hugely problematic for many families, fearing the longterm consequences for their child; but finding other services unresponsive when they seek help, this becomes the agency of last resort. As a result, not only are these figures likely to under-represent the true prevalence of CCVAB, and in particular the rate amongst younger children, but they may also be skewed to the families who have become exhausted by their family experience, or where the abuse is at the most dangerous end of the spectrum. It might then be surprising that nearly a third of incidents were not recorded as criminal behaviour, and, of those that were, fewer than half resulted in arrest. Rather, this can be interpreted as a recognition of the importance of diverting these young people away from the criminal justice system, and finding a response elsewhere. There is great concern expressed that the current Home Office Guidance in this field is not sufficiently robust or comprehensive, and it is expected that the findings of this study will feed in to the review presently being undertaken of this document. A series of other recommendations to the Home Office, the police, social work and education call for greater training and awareness, an agreed definition, named officers, and a roll out of properly evidenced work with families. Furthermore, the current lockdown situation is recognised as offering an opportunity for the collection of valuable comparative data in understanding the key features and drivers of CCVAB / CPV.

I would urge you to read the reports, and to be encouraged that this issue is finally attracting the attention it needs if families are to be properly supported to find a way to live safely and healthily together.


1 Comment

Filed under publications, Research

Child and Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse during Covid-19




Last week I was interested to follow a number of conversations about some of the consequences of Covid-19 on family life. While there have been many tragic examples (for instance, increases in domestic violence abuse and homicides, in the risk of child exploitation, and in child care proceedings), it was notable that some people were also talking about the lightening of the load for their children, the increase in wellbeing even, and the easing of strained family relationships.

It was suggested that families start keeping diaries of what was working, to use as evidence in future, and I retweeted a post from the University of Cumbria asking for stories of families’ journeys through lockdown to inform council and government support services for the future.

Quite serendipitously, today, Professor Rachel Condry and Dr. Caroline Miles have launched a piece of research into the ways that lockdown has affected  families’ experience of violence and abuse from their children (aged 10 – 19), and of the ability to obtain support. They are seeking direct input from families and plan to use the findings to inform the development of policy and practice in the future. If you are interested in taking part, you are invited to complete a short survey. All contributions are anonymous, and the work has been approved by the university ethics committee. You will find more information along with the survey here, and also contact details if you have questions about the content or process of the survey. After you have submitted your replies you will be taken to a “Help page”.

Rachel Condry and Caroline Miles plan to issue interim reports as the work progresses, and I will post more here as these become available. Thank you all for your help!





1 Comment

Filed under Announcements, Family life, Research

Children who engage in violence: Submissions invited.


IPSCAN invite submissions by May 1st for their Thinking Space Project on the legal and therapeutic responses to children who engage in violence.


To fill the gap in knowledge about evidence-based and child rights-informed programs and strategic interventions for children who engage in violence


  • To conduct an investigation into a specific child protection challenge, share theory, research and evidence-based practice
  • To develop a report that will provide the international community with a brief on high-level policy, strategy and programmatic advice
  • Catalog interventions and treatment programs for children who engage in violence
  • Understand evidence- and rights-based policies, strategies, programs and interventions of children who engage in violence
  • Ultimately reduce victimization and perpetration of violence in the short term and later in life​

Leave a comment

Filed under Announcements, Research

An innovative approach to working with adolescent family violence in DuPage County, Illinois

Continuing the series of guest blogs, I am pleased to bring you this from Amanda Holt, information about a service in Illinois for families experiencing adolescent family violence. I was particularly thrilled to hear from Amanda, as I have been contacted a number of times by people in the States asking for pointers and guidance in developing or accessing help. News of the screening tool is very welcome, and I was also very interested in the understanding that girls are coming from different circumstances, with separate needs. Finally, the first responder aspect is one which can hopefully feed in to similar discussions taking place in the UK at present. Please do check out all the links; there is a lot of information here and it will take a while to digest it all, but it brings a new interpretation to the table which many will find helpful I think. Thank you Amanda!


This month marks the tenth anniversary that North East DuPage Family and Youth Services (NEDFYS) (in Illinois, US) ran its first adolescent family violence programme, based on principles from the Step-up programme that was developed by Greg Routt and Lily Anderson in King County, Washington State in 1997. Since that time, 170 families have completed all 21-week sessions and graduated successfully: of these, only 11 (6%) were rearrested for a new offence related to family violence within 12 months after graduation. The programme itself is a collaborative effort between the Juvenile Court Judges, the States Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s office, Northeast DuPage Family and Youth Services and Probation and it emerged from a Models For Change four-year grant that DuPage County received from the MacArthur Foundation beginning in 2006. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Discussion, projects, publications