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!

 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

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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.

GOAL OF THIS PROJECT: 

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

PROCESS:

  • 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​
FOR MORE INFORMATION AND SUBMISSION DETAILS GO TO THE IPSCAN WEBSITE.

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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

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