“Maternal abuse by children”, preferred terminology in Spain?

An interesting read from the University of Granada – and a potential discussion starter!
In the UK we seem to have settled on phraseology around variations of Child to Parent Violence/Abuse, though this in itself does not fully cover abuse in family groupings such as fostering, kinship care or even residential settings.
There is similarly room for discussion around the gendered nature of the abuse, and I am sure a number of people will have comments to make on this.
However, I cannot personally comment on the situation in Spain, and I am happy to accept that different cultural patterns of child rearing and family life around the world will impact on the way this aspect of family violence plays out.
Worth following the links though for some further reading as well.
Please note that the text of the research paper itself is Spanish.

A study proposes to elaborate the term ‘parental abuse by children’ after concluding that mothers are the main victims

15 November 2017 University of Granada

Sandra Jiménez Arroyo, researcher at the University of Granada (UGR), explains the necessity of analyzing this kind of violence, which is the fourth most common crime committed by children, taking a gender perspective

Mothers are the main victims of parental abuse by children, so this kind of abuse should be legally considered as violence against women. That is the conclusion of a research paper written by Sandra Jiménez Arroyo as a result of her doctoral thesis, co-directed by UGR professors María José Jiménez Díaz from the Department of Criminal Law and Francisco Javier Garrido Carrillo from the Department of Procedural Law. Moreover, the researcher proposes alternative terms for this phenomenon, such as for example ‘maternal abuse by children’ instead of the accepted ‘parental abuse by children’, which hides the main victim.

The goal of her research is to give an answer to the problem of this kind of abuse not having a common definition. Besides, there are very few scientific studies about it, especially in a legal framework. In fact, parental abuse by children is the least studied among the different kinds of abuse within the family. A lot of definitions are ambiguous as a result of those determining factors.

The current definition is even worse if one takes into account that parental abuse by children is nowadays the fourth most common crime committed by minors. Jiménez Arroyo notes how, from the public sphere, victims are not sufficiently encouraged to report aggressions committed by their underage children.

Parental abuse by children is not a new problem. Despite the shortage of a theoretical body and protocols of action against this type of violence, the ‘battered parent syndrome’ was already described in 1957. What has been done since, despite being essential for progressing in the reduction of the violence, seems insufficient. In order to adopt mitigating measures for this problem it is necessary to further research about it, especially from a legal perspective, according to Jiménez Arroyo.

The first step is identifying the victim. The researcher analyzes almost all of the studies carried out in Spain and other countries, and she concludes that the mother is the victim in most of the cases, although she’s not the only one. The father is also a victim sometimes, but he’s rarely the only victim: in most of the cases he’s a victim along with the mother.

While trying to establish the origin of the violence against the mother, the study has shown that even though minors think that men and women should be equal, in practice they are not coherent with that thinking and discriminate against their mothers.

Therefore, gender roles imply that this kind of violence is more pronounced against women. Abusive minors show that tendency by adopting a patriarchal stance. Thus, from the results of several Spanish and international researches, Jiménez Arroyo states that the abuser profile is that of the male son and the victim profile is that of the mother, and therefore she refers to parental abuse by children as a type of violence against women.

“It is essential” -Jiménez Arroyo says- “to carry out more researches analyzing this violence from a gender perspective including gender-segregated studies and going into detail about the influence that this violent phenomenology could have on other women present in the household”, not just the mother.

The UGR researcher keeps analyzing this type of violence. Her article “Violencia filio parental: tratamiento jurídico y respuestas desde la jurisdicción de menores” (Parental abuse by children: legal treatment and responses from the jurisdiction over minors), in which she addresses that phenomenon from the perspective of the legal responses that are most suitable for dealing with said violence, won the academic award Premio Académico José Luis Pérez Serrabona y Sanz. Moreover, the Banco Sabadell Foundation has granted her a scholarship for finishing her doctoral thesis about this same subject matter.


Full bibliographic information JIMÉNEZ ARROYO, S. “Madres victimizadas. Análisis jurídico de la violencia filio parental como un tipo de violencia hacia la mujer”. Anales de Derecho, vol. 35, núm. 1, 2017.
Available here


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CPV: Call for abstracts

Calling all academics and practitioners, working in the field of Violence Prevention …..

The Centre for Violence Prevention 2018 Annual Conference takes place at the University of Worcester on 4th – 5th June 2018, with the title: Violence Prevention at the Intersections of Identity and Experience. Abstracts are invited on a range of topics, including child to parent violence.

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Safeguarding in practice?

This post from Michaela Booth comes at just the right time, following nicely from last week’s post. With thanks to National IRO Managers Partnership for bringing it to my attention.


Michaela Movement

Today I had a three-hour lecture on safeguarding children. It was hard, emotional and thought provoking. A three-hour lecture hardly makes me an expert, I know. Nevertheless, it has enabled me to broaden my thinking, my questioning and my understanding of safeguarding, what it means in practice and times in my life that it has failed. We hear of child protection scandals, when cases like Baby P are publicised widely in the media, and rightly so. What we don’t hear about is how so many agencies miss so many issues and for what reasons and how as a society we have so many systems that should have child safeguarding at the forefront of their work, but don’t. From personal experience, this is my take on it….
We touched on interventions from local authorities for children in need. When I was born, I was a child in need. My parents were…

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Child to parent violence: the voice of the young person

I am very aware when writing and collating material for training purposes, that while we have significant contributions from parents affected by abuse and violence from their children, there is much less attention given to the voices of the young people concerned.

We are not without this completely. Interventions such as Break4Change specifically video young people as part of the programme, using their voices as part of a conversation with parents. Some of this material has been available in training and research reports. Television shows, such as My Violent Child, have at times included direct interviewing of the young person concerned. Books such as Anger is my Friend mediate the teenage voice though years of practice experience. Research reports may include testimony from young people, though often it will be as reported or interpreted by their parent. But Barbara Cottrell is unusual in devoting a whole chapter to the actual teenage voice in her book: When Teens Abuse Their Parents.

I was interested then to read today the recent findings of some research looking at the way professionals gate-keep young people taking part in research. Blogging on the NSPCC websiteDr. Catherine Hamilton-Giachritsis, Dr. Elly Hanson and Pat Branigan discuss the challenges presented by professional gatekeeping – and how to overcome them, to ensure even vulnerable young people are heard.

Certainly all the issues identified in this paper pertain to work with children using violence themselves, but is it true also to say that in the case of child to parent violence there are other issues that make it more difficult than normal? Naturally we need to be aware of the possibility of escalation or of creating further difficulties for the family when we have finished; and parents may be justifiably cautious about allowing researchers to meet with young people because of specific diagnoses that would make interaction with strangers problematic. I do believe though that in many cases there are ways of getting round these difficulties with creativity and sensitivity – as well as good ethics and professionalism. If we are to completely understand the issues affecting children; and to find the most appropriate ways of working to bring about change, we cannot neglect such an important part of the family system.


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“He doesn’t mean to hurt”: the impact on families of violent behaviour from autistic children.

Another great programme from the BBC this week, available until November 28th. Victoria Derbyshire looked at the violence experienced by families of severely autistic children, and the difficulties for parents in obtaining support. (You can also read some of the stories here)


As well as introductions, and emails and texts from parents throughout the programme, there are two main sections to the item: a film from Noel Phillips (from 16.40 – 33.40), and interviews and discussion with three families and an MP (from 1.20.10 to 1.31.30). The programme ends with further calls from three families affected at 1.50.24. Some commentary is offered from the National Autistic Society, and the Local Government Association. You can view the whole of Noel Phillips’ film here.

There are said to be about 700,000 young people on the autistic spectrum in the UK. While not all will show violent behaviour, for the families of those who do, finding understanding and compassion, let alone support seems to be an impossible struggle on many occasions. For those familiar with issues around child to parent violence, there was much resonance with the experiences of these families: children who move very quickly from being passive to escalating into direct violence to themselves or others – for minutes or even hours; physical injuries, being pushed downstairs, strangulation and self harm, damage to property, concern for the safety and welfare of siblings; and tragically too, the judgement from parents at the school gate, the presumption of blame on the parents, minimisation by professionals, and the increasing isolation of families as a result. “We don’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary because of the dangers from my son”, says one caller to the programme. Sadly too we hear of guilt, despair, and even thoughts of suicide by parents.

I have blogged in the past about the differences between the behaviour exhibited by these children who also have severe learning disabilities, and what we are otherwise learning to call child to parent violence, but there is indeed an overlap for many families where the violence and abuse comes from a mixture of trauma, autism spectrum disorders,  and neurological damage. With a clear lack of intent for these children – which is raised in the programme – Yvonne Newbold chooses to describe it as Violent Challenging Behaviour, rather than child to parent violence. These are children reacting from a place of extreme anxiety and stress.

Josephine Larcher, one of the parents who called the programme, talked about how this sort of experience is “outside of most people’s understanding”. This does seem to be crucial to unpicking why we see such a poor response. Without direct experience of living with a severely autistic child day by day, people fall back on their own experiences of children’s behaviour in making assessments. This can lead to families being told they don’t need additional support to that of any three year old, or an assumption that repeated requests for help mean that you are not coping and therefore your children need to be accommodated elsewhere. The lived reality shown is of failure by local authorities to understand needs, or to intervene early to prevent a situation worsening  – “the parents of autistic children are not being properly supported in dealing with their violent behaviour”, which leaves families experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety themselves, with ” a severe injury waiting to happen”, and in one case severely out of pocket, as a parent spoke of paying £30,000 a year to privately fund a recognised therapy (ABA) that would not otherwise be available.


Are these criticisms fair? Asked to comment, the LGA points to the budget cuts inflicted by central government which has led to families falling through the net. Labour MP, Paul Williams, who appeared in the studio, said that he went in to politics himself because he felt powerless at the lack of resources available to professionals and saw this as a way to make a difference. He spoke about the help he believed was necessary as an answer for families. But while its easy, and probably reasonable to pass the responsibility up the chain in this way, there are some things that are easy to fix when you hear about them: lack of compassion from front line professionals, the judgementalism and failure to comprehend what it is that parents are asking for or experiencing. Many, many professionals do act with great understanding and empathy. It is in the nature of programmes such as this that we do not hear the positive stories. But that so many families, as we heard today, are left to struggle, is a testament that we have not got this anywhere near right.

I have tried to summarise what parents were asking for – those on the sofa, those who gave witness in the film, and those who called in:

  • Support, not stigma
  • Prompt diagnosis, starting within 3 months of referral
  • Assessment that starts with the needs of the family, rather than as a gatekeeping exercise
  • Support for positive behaviour intervention within the home
  • Support for respite
  • Better information about where to go for help and how to manage behaviour
  • Offers of support that materialise in practice

This is indeed a hidden issue still within our society, but it is one which is finally getting the attention it needs, and to which we can only hope to see a more positive response in future – if not in terms of resources, then at the very least from the professionals whose awareness and understanding has been raised by programmes such as this.

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Child to parent violence and adoption disruption: Learn on the go

Learn on the go is a Community Care Inform series of podcasts, “where we discuss what the latest research findings mean to your practice”. The first episode of the series considers the issue of adoption disruption, summarising the research and discussing what can be learned from it. It includes interviews with Julie Selwyn, and Elaine Dibben, looking particularly at the groundbreaking report: Beyond the Adoption Order, as well as other linked papers. The website gives a fuller summary of the discussion, with timings and full references. Child to parent violence is unsurprisingly a big part of the discussion!


Finding this has inspired me to set up a new page which will offer links to audio and visual resources. I will continue to add to it as I find anything, so please send your own suggestions. Many thanks as always.

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“It’s been an absolute nightmare”: report from Australia into kinship care

I am grateful to Eddie Gallagher for bringing a new report to my attention. “It’s been an absolute nightmare”, Family violence in kinship care, was published by Baptcare in September 2017. The report, written by Rachel Breman and Ann MacRae, draws on the responses to a survey of kinship carers in the state of Victoria, into the types, frequency and impact of family violence directed towards the kinship care placement, from close family members or from the child themselves. This group of people offers care to children in both statutory and voluntary placements, the true number of which may be significantly higher than the number known about. They were found to be particularly under-supported, and experienced additional risks, threats and actual violence because of the family link. Violence and abuse from the children and  young people themselves was associated with the experience of trauma and attachment issues. There is an interesting section on the reasons these families find it difficult to report the abuse. Recommendations are made for better understanding, training and service provision for these families.

Many of the issues will resonate for those familiar with the experience of abuse by foster and adoptive parents, but there are specific additional risks and issues identified, including the often unplanned and sudden nature of the placement, the loss of employment and life plans, as well as ongoing relationships with the child’s parents. Where the arrangement was informal, there were real problems in accessing therapeutic help.

Baptcare has produced a number of videos about their work which are available on YouTube. In this one Ann MacRae and two kinship carers talk about their experiences and the findings of the research project.

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