Safety Work

My son is now 15 and is going to live with his dad. I should have done it a long time ago. (Marley Carroll, November 2018)

At this point I am simply counting the days until she is 18. (Witsend, March 2019)

There are plenty of other similar comments on the Silent Suffering blogsite, and many other places where parents meet up to vent their pain and frustration, and to seek advice and help. An understandable response from a parent,  if the problem is one of regular and increasing violence and abuse over a protracted period of time; rather shocking that it has come to this point where parents feel they can no longer carry on; but ultimately not the preferred outcome if what we are aiming for from the start is greater safety all round.

If a child has to move out to keep everyone safe, the best-case scenario might be a therapeutic setting, experienced foster carers, perhaps a residential school, a hospital, or even secure accommodation, where issues contributing to the abuse and relationship breakdown can be addressed. Sofa surfing between friends, or being shunted between relatives may be a more common resolution. Parents of older children may find they are placed in “supported lodgings” where support may be a misnomer from individuals without the qualifications and understanding to offer specialist help and guidance to vulnerable young people. Organisations such as POTATO and Special Guardians and Adopters Together have much to say about this practice. Other parents report that their younger children have become exposed to drink and drugs, and vulnerable to exploitation, when placed in residential care because a family can no longer cope with them at home.

When a family asks for help, what do we imagine they ask for? What do we imagine they need? Is it the removal of other children for their own safety, leaving the parent to continue to struggle with an angry, needy and potentially dangerous child; and those removed to contemplate why separation from parents who love them and are trying to protect them is the best solution? It might be some advice early on. It might be the provision of therapy to calm things down and work them through. It might be longer term support through an organised programme to restore safety and good family relationships. It might be separation – or respite as a first offer.

Separation offers a drastic response to the need to offer safety to family members, but who exactly are we keeping safe, and why do we imagine that this is the best way to do it? Is there another way?

I started thinking about this a while ago after reading a series of tweets from parents and individuals either seeking support themselves or concerned about what they had heard about others. In March, @FionafromYorks tweeted: Disappointed to hear last night that a mum of a 17yo young man, struggling for years to cope with his daily meltdowns and was told by her she was giving up far too easily, asking for respite. What a . deserve respect & support

Other comments and tweets that I have collected over time include a parent stating that their partner and other children had moved to a hotel temporarily for safety’s sake; and more recently the plea: Officially out of steam for it all. Where are the CPV parents’ refuges? I need one.

The reality is that, if anyone moves out, it might be a partner who feels unable to remain part of this particular family; it might be siblings moved to a family member for a while; but the likelihood is that it will be the young person causing harm who does so. Families are doing ‘safety work’ all the time. How can we support them in this, working with them in what they are hoping for: to keep safe, to stay together, to restore healthy relationships, before it all gets too much and they crash and burn under the weight of impossible emotional and practical demands?

I am struck by how many people report that respite was once an offer but is no longer available to them. Under The Breaks for Carers of Disabled Children Regulations 2011, local authorities in England must have regard for the needs of those caring for a disabled child if they would be unable to continue without breaks being given, or if they could carry out that care more effectively if breaks were given. Families who would have benefited from this in the past are increasingly finding that the funding has been withdrawn in the face of central government budget cuts. Yet report after report points to the benefits (emotional and economic) of respite care to all concerned. Indeed, the NSPCC and Action for Children 2015 report: Supporting Adolescents on the Edge of Care, The role of short term stays in residential care, outlines the value of breaks for the long term outcomes of young people and their families; and at the launch of the Monash Report on Adolescent Family Violence, in August 2018, Liana Buchanan, Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People in Victoria, described the provision of respite for parents, and accommodation options for young people as a ‘no-brainer”. Somewhat bizarrely (or perhaps creatively) we now find authorities “trialing” respite care as part of the Innovation Programme; and there is a focus on appropriate accommodation for young people as an alternative to youth custody.

Sadly, it is likely that there will always be some families where the complex needs of the young person make it difficult to remain at home. Severe mental health needs may mean that long terms secure care is needed (see for instance Raising Devon or Herding Chickens). For many families the level of need will be less, or the support available early on will enable the family to stay together, and to move on. Nevertheless, for some families experiencing CPV a short break gives a chance to breathe, to sleep, to have some normal time with other children and friends, to regroup and to draw the strength to carry on.

When families ask for a break, what do we imagine they are experiencing? What do we imagine they have tried already? What do we imagine will enable them to remain together safely and to work towards a happier resolution? Is it respite care? How can we find a way to make this possible?

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Job opportunity at Respect

An opportunity exists to lead one of Respect’s flagship projects as a Young People’s Service Development Manager, and I am excited to share the advertisement here.

 

This is an exciting opportunity to join Respect in a key role. Respect’s Young People’s Services have a well-established profile and reputation. Respect has developed:

  • an intervention addressing adolescent to parent violence and abuse which is delivered by around 20 local Authorities and
  • training and materials on working with young people who use abusive behaviour in intimate relationships.

Respect is committed to developing this area of our work and improving the response to young people who use violence and abuse in close relationships.

We are looking for an outstanding individual to lead, develop and manage Respect’s Young People’s Services Project.  Someone with a mix of skills including:

  • An understanding of practice in addressing young people’s use of abuse in close relationships.
  • A track record in developing service delivery innovations with young people or a related area
  • Understanding of the challenges in work with young people and their families and who can support practice development
  • Ability to develop new approaches and grow existing ones

Location   Flexible – Respect offices are in Bethnal Green, London, but this post will have a UK-wide remit and travel to service providers both to undertaking assessments and provide support will be part of the role.

Salary £41,722 pro rata (point 42 on Respect’s scale, related to the NJC scale) including Inner London Weighting where relevant; plus 6% pension contribution

Contract           Negotiable between full time and 3 days a week

Closing date     5pm, 6th June 2019

Interviews       17th June 2019

To apply: download the Young-Peoples-Services-Development-Manager-JDPS ; complete an employment application form and an equality monitoring form and send to info@respect.uk.net

Please do not send us a CV.  No agencies.

Respect are committed to quality, equality and valuing diversity and applications are particularly welcome from black and minority ethnic candidates.

The post will be subject to an enhanced DBS check.

Respect registered charity no: 1141636

More information also available here.

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CPV around the world: discussion and support.

I keep my eyes on a number of websites, discussion forums and journals, looking for content about child to parent violence. If you haven’t come across the website, Raising Devon, from Keri Williams, it’s well worth a look for information, comment and colour about living with children with conduct and attachment disorders in particular.

Annie watched in horror as Charlie, red-faced with rage, snatched a picture frame off a wall and slammed it against the bedpost. The glass shattered. He picked up a long shard and brandished it like a dagger. Stalking towards Annie, he growled, “I’m gonna kill you.”

This type of abusive behavior in relationships is far too common. 29% of women and 10% of men in the US will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. Child protective services investigates more than three million reports of abuse and neglect annually. However, Charlie and Annie’s altercation isn’t included in either of these statistics.

That’s because Charlie is a 13-year-old boy. And Annie is his mother……

In this recent post, Keri talks about the hidden nature of violence and abuse from children, and the assumptions that other people make about what is going on “next door”. She writes from America, but many of the stories will feel familiar wherever you are, speaking as she does to the relief of finding you are not alone, and the importance of support from people who really understand your situation. She links in this particular post to an article in the Atlantic by a colleague of hers, Lillyth Quillan, and an online support network developed in the States, but now attracting parents from around the world. Lillyth Quillan is the executive director of the organisation, Society for Treatment Options for Potential Psychopaths. 

Depending on where you live, you might feel more or less comfortable with some of the language and terminology, but stick with it!

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#CPV on Drivetime

A huge thank you to Eddie Nestor, of BBC Radio London Drivetime, who devoted more than half his programme yesterday to the topic of “children who hit their Mum.” You can catch the programme by following this link. The show is available till the end of May. Eddie starts off by interviewing Yvonne Newbold from about 1:21.00 and then takes calls from around 1:48:00.

 

With Yvonne’s particular area of expertise, the focus was on children with “special educational needs and disabilities”, but Eddie was keen to find out more about the wider reasons which might lead to children being violent. There was considerable treatment of the issues around traditional parenting, and the tendency to assume that parents just aren’t trying hard enough, but as Yvonne and several of the callers explained, in situations like this, traditional parenting techniques may have the effect of adding fuel to the fire; and if you’ve tried everything and it isn’t working, you have to try something else. Several of the callers had attended Yvonne’s seminars and were highly appreciative of the impact this had made on their family life. You can find out more about these courses via Yvonne’s website, or on Eventbrite. There was also acclaim for NVR as an approach to enable de-escalation and restoration of parental authority. Finally, Eddie spoke to Sarah Whalley of the Key Clinic exploring other issues behind the challenging behaviour of young people on the autistic spectrum.

Overall, there was a sense of how confusing people find this issue – the difficulty in believing it could be happening and that it can’t simply be solved by ‘parenting harder’, but also a real desire to find out more and to be able to offer hope to parents through the provision of answers and support. This is very much an interest of Eddie’s and he is keen to explore this taboo further in future programmes. Do look out for him, and add your voice if you can in raising awareness of the issues!

 

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Living with a child with mental illness who is violent

It would be so much easier if we could point to one clear cause of violence and abuse from children towards their parents. Once that was made obvious we could then wheel in bespoke solutions and solve the crisis in an instant. Sadly the reality is much different, with almost no end to the factors that might increase vulnerability, and often layer upon layer of complexity for families affected. Some situations get a (relatively) large amount of coverage: exposure to domestic violence and early childhood trauma for instance. Others are highlighted less often. While each family’s experience will be unique to them, there is much to learn from the experience of others, and the despair that is common to parents across the board.

Recently, Keri Williams posted on her blog a review of an HBO documentary, A Dangerous Son, a film about families with sons who have disorders giving rise to explosive and violent behaviour. (The trailer is available here if you are not in the US.) Psychology today also has a review of the film, and in interview with the featured parents. Both draw attention to the blog written by Liza Long shortly after the Sandy Hook tragedy, Thinking the Unthinkable, which inspired the Director of the documentary, Liz Garbus.

The 90-minute film features three mothers who struggle immensely to find proper help for their emotionally disturbed sons. Audience members who had never dealt with children facing severe mental illness described the piece as heartbreaking and difficult to watch. However, parents of mentally ill children displayed a very different reaction; they felt a sense of validation and hope. They believe that this film could serve as the first major step in changing the public’s judgmental perception of children with mental illness and their families. Parents should be supported, rather than shamed, by their communities. (Psychology Today)

The hope is that the film draws attention to the needs of families for help, the misunderstandings around childhood mental health, the paucity of provision for young people, and the difficulties in accessing help.

Keri invites comments on her blog in response to her post. As always, you are welcome to join in the conversation here as well.

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CPV: Some good news!

It is always a pleasure to be able to share good news – in a field of work that is too often full of pain and frustration. So I was thrilled to hear about the recent award to Sue Pearson, Education Officer for the Leeds Youth Offending Team, by the Butler Trust, in recognition of ‘the empathy and skill she brings to her “life-changing” work with troubled families, and for the dedication and compassion she demonstrates in addressing the issue of child-to-parent violence’.

Sue received her award from HRH The Princess Royal. (Photo from Butler Trust)

 

Sue helped to develop the PACT (Parent and Children Together) programme in 2012; a 12-week programme working with mothers, and their sons and daughters, in a way that is recognised as healing and transformative by colleagues and parents alike. You can read more about the award, and the background to Sue’s work and nomination here.

I have met Sue at numerous conferences and networking events. It is a privilege to hear her speak about her work, and I am thrilled to be able to add my congratulations to those of the Butler Trust.

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VAWG Strategy: Lack of Progress update for CPV

The Home Office published its latest VAWG Strategy papers this week, with the Ending Violence Against Women and Girls 2016 – 2020 Strategy Refresh, and the Ending Violence against Women and Girls Action Plan 2016 – 2020 Progress Update. Once again, I was disappointed to see that there was no mention of children’s and adolescent’s violence and abuse towards their parents, though not entirely surprised since it is has not featured as a specific issue since 2014, and only one line mention in 2016. The irony is that, at a local level, many areas are now developing their own strategic response; but by omitting this aspect of violence and abuse from central government documents – and thinking – it remains invisible, unconsidered, and unimaginable for too many people.

You may have heard me argue that we should not necessarily be conceptualising CPVA or APVA as domestic violence anyway, so why am I so peeved? Well of course, the VAWG strategy is not exclusively concerned with what we typically think of as domestic abuse, including also issues such as FGM and honour based violence, sexual violence, and stalking, as well as teenage relationship abuse. There seem to be a lot of similarities in the way parents experience violence and abuse from partners – and from their children; and there are strong links to the experience of previous abuse in the home, and the later expression of violence by the young person. But we now hear from families where their experience is very different, and they seriously struggle with the notion – and labelling – of their children as DA perpetrators: where there are learning difficulties for instance, or where there has been past experience of severe trauma in the child’s life. The more we learn from families, the more we see that there is no one clear profile, no one distinct causal link, and we see that the response that each family requires must be tailored to their specific needs. Nevertheless, by omitting CPVA and APVA from the VAWG strategy, an opportunity is lost to remind commissioners, and practitioners, that this is ‘a thing’, that in some ways it can be understood as an aspect of DA, that the gendered nature of it adds to the abuse that women and girls experience in other ways, and that this remains an under-recognised and under-tackled problem for significant numbers of families.

Many of the Action Points could impact positively on the recognition and response to CPVA. Relationships education in schools, work with gangs, the supporting of whole family approaches to DA work, work within health and housing encouraging practitioners to ask and respond appropriately, partnership working across agencies,  developing better data sets – these are all elements of work that are needed to underpin the recognition, response and resolution of violence and abuse from children to parents. But while Government continues to fail to name the problem, it is too easy for the issue to remain hidden, unrecognised, brushed over. You may feel that you want to take this up and lobby for it to be recognised at higher levels. I plan to publish some suggestions and guidance for this in the next month.

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