An interview with both parents and the young person just after 7.30am, was followed by discussion from leading psychiatrist, Professor Stephen Scott, after 8.00 and then a final segment asking if children with severe behavioural problems are being failed by ‘the system’ just before the end of the programme. Justin Webb‘s sensitive interview highlighted the regular violence and abuse experienced by the family, which leads them now to seek residential school or accommodation under section 20 for their son ‘Max’, as there is no other prospect of change in sight. Max is adopted but his difficulties were explained not so much by early trauma as by a psychopathic trait: Callous Unemotional Trait, which leaves him unable to feel empathy for others, or understand the problems with his behaviour. The overall message was: With an estimation of 1 in 100 adults exhibiting psychopathic traits (and overwhelmingly represented amongst the prison population), should we not be paying more attention to these children who seem to be heading that way, to find ways of moderating their behaviour and teaching / modelling greater empathetic behaviour, if not feelings. Multi-systemic therapy was suggested as one possible route, but the need for significant improvement in the provision of mental health services for young people was emphasised, both from a humanitarian / medical point of view and in view of the costs incurred in ignoring the issue.
So why the mixed response?
It was great to have such prominence given to the difficulties experienced by families in accessing help when they are being abused by their children – and these parents left no doubt that they considered their experience the equivalent of intimate partner violence. The figure of 1 in 100 children being affected in some way by this condition was alarming (in the context of the many other additional causes that we know about), and there was no suggestion that this was the only explanation for abuse from child to parent, but it lent some weight to the general statistical discussion. There was some suggestion that children could be helped towards more appropriate social behaviour through rewards systems and positive reinforcement, notwithstanding the unlikely improvement in genuine demonstrations of empathy.
The overwhelming sense of hopelessness was very strong. Not only was this a condition that might not be treatable, but the very means of help and support is out of reach for many as mental health services, particularly for young people, remain so poorly resourced. I think some parents felt that this was yet another possible diagnosis amongst so many others; and with still no real sense of definition of the problem or official recognition.
Family Futures, an independent adoption support agency, have written a response which you can read here. They remind us of the need to consider the whole picture and not to be hasty in ruling out the effects of early trauma on the developing brain.
I will remain optimistic because that is in my nature. And because the more coverage the better from my point of view – though clearly if you are a parent experiencing abuse on a daily basis, this is small comfort. I would like to know more about the condition, and to see for myself how it fits into the existing understanding and models of child to parent violence and abuse that we already have.
The radio interviews will be available for the next four weeks.
I am publishing this twitter thread from September 10th, with permission from Ian, who tweets as @DiaryAutism.
I think it adds something to the recent musings about the intent issue, and about the different issues for families where there is an autism diagnosis (here and here for instance); and leaves absolutely no room for any doubt about how it feels, for this person, to be a parent in that situation.
The most powerful emotion I have ever felt is the love for and desire to protect my children
It’s not that I’d take a bullet for them. It’s that I’d run through a brick wall to take a bullet for them
Parental love is all consuming and utterly life changing. Nothing else comes close
So when that love is repaid with violence it causes a great deal of cognitive dissonance. Just what the F is happening?
Of course it’s love you want to respond with, your child is not lashing out, they’re in distress. They need a hug from Dad
Which is exactly the opposite of what they want. In that moment, for whatever reason, you are not Dad. You are a target
E normally leads with the head. Not normally a butt, but something to push you away
But you can’t get away because he’s advancing on you and is normally digging his finger tips into your forearms
I say fingertips rather than nails because we’ve learnt the hard way to keep those bad boys short
By this point your soothing voice and pleas to calm down are drowned out by his screams. Screams that bare his teeth. Now it gets scary
Both your hands are busy trying to control his scratches, and he tries to bite you. How do you stop it?
A lot of the time you don’t and you let him sink his teeth into a part of your arm that has long since calloused up
Why? Because it gives you a momentary chance to get hold of something that might distract him. A toy, some food – anything.
By this point adrenaline is flooding your body and Fight or Flight has well and truly kicked in.
What to do? Flight? No chance! That’s my boy; he’s upset! I’ve got to stay and help
Fight? It’d be a lie to say that fighting back isn’t an enormously strong desire, especially if my wife or other children are at risk
But that parental lock kicks in – I’m not going to hurt him, therefore the only choice is to let him hurt me
And then – it’s over. Whatever caused the outburst has disappeared as quickly and as mysteriously as it took over
E will return to normal within a few moments and more often than not will be smiling before you’ve stopped bleeding
The welts, cuts & bruises are the least of your worries now though as that adrenaline you didn’t use to Fight or Flight floods your emotions
The worst part isn’t when it’s happening, it’s the powerlessness you feel afterwards. In feeling that love thrown back so brutally
We’ve had a bad weekend. 2 violent incidents, the first of which resulted in a short trip to hospital for me
But it’s a bad weekend on the back of a pretty good summer. I honestly can’t recall the last time this happened & that is such a good thing
It just goes to show; we’ll never not love him, he’ll never be able to control it always & we’ll never be truly out of the woods /end
Reading other threads, and other commentary, I am very aware that other families may not share the strength of conviction that Ian articulates. It is important that we do not build unhelpful levels of expectation, nor that we rush to heap further shame and pain on those who may experience things differently.
I am often asked how I come across the news, articles and publications that I tweet and blog about, in relation to child to parent violence (CPV). My original rationale for this site was along the lines of “I do it so you don’t have to”, but of course things are never that straight forward, and the truth is much more like “we do this together”. But here goes: Continue reading →
I am thrilled to announce that I will be speaking about child to parent violence and abuse at the Community Care Live 2017 conference in London on September 26th, along with Al Coates. As one of the flagship social work events of the year, this is a real privilege, and it feels like an important milestone in the development of awareness and better support for families.
We will be presenting on why CPVA happens, and how to respond when a family seeks help.
What research tells us about risk factors associated with child to parent violence, and what the most common ages are for abuse to start.
How the abuse affects parents, and what they want from social workers and services.
The different issues raised when child to parent abuse emerges as an issue for a child who has been adopted, or is in a foster care, kinship care or special guardianship placement.
How social workers and services can support families experiencing violence or abuse.
Do come along and say hello (and hear us speak!) We have the early slot on the Tuesday, so no excuses!
Once upon a time, when I didn’t know so much about “parent abuse” it seemed a little exciting to be at the forefront of a new phenomenon. It felt important to speak clearly and categorically, for clarity, and the avoidance of misunderstanding – which was commonplace. “Parent abuse? You mean abuse BY parents? No? You must mean older people then?” Now it seems that the more I learn, the less certain I am about anything – other than the fact that many, many more parents than we would like to think about are struggling daily with much, much more than anyone should ever have to face within their family. Continue reading →
It’s great to see a new book in the field of child to parent violence and abuse coming out later this year from Declan Coogan, who has driven the development of understanding and use of Non Violent Resistance in Ireland.
The book can be pre-ordered on Amazon now, or you can sign up to receive more information from the publisher, JKP, once it is available.
Addressing the under-reported issue of child to parent violence and abuse, this book presents the effective intervention method of Non-Violent Resistance. Tips for adapting the method, alongside case studies and downloadable forms make this an invaluable tool for practitioners working with affected families.
Providing an authoritative overview of the growing phenomena of child to parent violence – a feature in the daily life of increasing numbers of families – this book outlines what we know about it, what is effective in addressing it, and outlines a proven model for intervention.
Based on Non Violent Resistance (NVR), the model is founded on a number of key elements: parental commitment to non-violence, de-escalation skills, increased parental presence, engaging the support network and acts of reconciliation. The book outlines the theory and principles, and provides pragmatic guidance for implementing these elements, accompanied by case studies to bring the theory to life.
Declan was part of the team who worked on the pan-European RCPV project which reported in 2015; and continues to teach, train and develop the work within Ireland.
Family violence and youth justice have been subjected to an intense focus in Australia in the past year. Reviews have revealed the failure to provide effective responses to these issues. Government responses to family violence have emphasised the importance of perpetrator accountability, while in the youth justice field recent reforms have seen a toughening of legal responses.
Adolescent family violence is violence used by young people against family members. Most often, it refers to violence occurring within the home.
It is distinct because the adolescent requires ongoing care even when violent, which mean responses used in other cases of family violence can’t readily be applied. It has detrimental effects on the health and wellbeing of families, and is surrounded by stigma and shame.
Extent and impact
Data from the Melbourne Children’s Court show that between July 2011 and June 2016, there were 6,228 applications made for a family violence intervention order where the respondent was 17 years or younger. There were 4,379 cases involving a male adolescent, and 1,849 cases involving a female adolescent.
In 45 cases, the respondent was aged ten-to-11-years-old. In more than half the cases, the affected family member was the female parent of the adolescent.
Existing international and Australian research suggests that adolescent family violence is largely unreported. Consequently, rates of recorded adolescent family violence are likely to underestimate its extent. There are complex reasons for reluctance to report. They include parental shame and self-blame, fear of consequences for the adolescent, and an inability to locate an appropriate service.
Our research into adolescent family violence, which includes an anonymous open survey of those affected, reveals a wide range of abusive behaviours. These extend well beyond physical violence and include coercive and controlling behaviours, property damage, and economic abuse.
One participant described:
Having doors broken in my home either through continuous banging, punching or throwing bricks through the glass. Having a teenager scream and yell at me, swear and belittle me. Being spat on. Having a teenager stand over me and using threatening behaviour to get what he wanted such as money or other items of value.
The effects are severe. People described “walking on eggshells” in their own homes, experiences of depression and stress, and social isolation:
I don’t invite people into my home because of the damage and because my home environment is very unpredictable. I have lost a lot of confidence in my abilities and feel like a failure as a parent. I don’t get much sleep as I am constantly worried for my son’s wellbeing.
Recognising vulnerability and complex needs
Adolescents who use violence in the home often have complex needs and may have experienced family violence themselves. Parents described their adolescents as suffering from substance abuse problems, depression and anxiety, and mental health and intellectual disability disorders.
As one parent described:
My 13-year-old son had major depression and anxiety combined with poly substance abuse. Whenever we tried to challenge him even slightly about his drug use or general behaviour, he would get extremely angry – acting in a threatening manner by standing over us and yelling, hurling abuse and saying horrible derogatory things about us, punching holes in walls, slamming doors until they broke.
All of this was very traumatic and sometimes quite terrifying.
Another recognised her son’s needs, but struggled with the impacts:
My son is 13. He has Asperger’s Syndrome and experiences overwhelming sensory overload with his body flooded with adrenalin. He deals with this by fight or flight, the default being fight. Mostly this involves lashing out with his fists, but he has attempted to use weapons, such as a knife. This only happens when he is overloaded but is frightening nonetheless.
The criminal justice system is not the answer
Recognition of the complex needs of adolescents who use violence in the home suggests that, while family violence committed in any context must not be excused, there is a need to respond to this particular form of it – where possible – outside of the criminal justice system.
Our research is revealing that families who have experienced adolescent family violence and those working with them feel the criminal justice system is not appropriate.
In contrast to cases of intimate partner violence, where separation of the parties involved and obtaining an intervention order or court outcome may be a priority to ensure safety, parents often want to maintain the family unit in adolescent family violence cases, and are acutely aware of the stigma and consequences of criminalising their child’s behaviour.
Survey respondents describe the reasons why they had chosen not to contact police. One mother commented:
We were worried that if we called the police things would escalate more … We also thought that if we called the police we would completely lose any remaining trust or relationship with our son.
The small number of survey respondents who did contact police felt such interactions were unhelpful. One mother said:
On each occasion, I have felt that the situation was futile. Through calling the police [our son] felt like I have betrayed him … it did not result in an outcome where our family got any support or help.
The need to move away from criminal justice responses is important to emphasise in the current political climate, where youths are increasingly facing more punitive consequences for using violence.
Recognition of the complex needs of all those impacted – including adolescents who use violence, and their parents, carers and siblings who are victimised – reinforces the need to look beyond punitive justice responses in tackling this form of family violence.
New knowledge and new specialist responses
Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence found that there is a limited understanding of adolescent family violence among family violence specialists, youth and family services, and in the justice system.
Our research aims to contribute to urgently needed knowledge about adolescent family violence’s nature, extent and impacts. Across Australia there is a need to better understand this complex form of family violence, and to develop specialist knowledge and multi-agency responses.
Effective responses will require government commitment in terms of specialist funding and the resourcing of new forms of integrated service responses.
If you have experienced adolescent family violence, please consider sharing your experience with us via our anonymous online survey.
The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.