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.
What we call this has been a constant running theme throughout the last 11 years that I’ve been involved. I quickly ditched “parent abuse” for the reasons above, though some still favour it as describing a subset of family / domestic abuse. I do still refer to it on my website home page (documenting parent abuse), but generally these days I have been using “child to parent violence”. Right from the start I was aware of questions around whether the term “abuse” was more appropriate than “violence”. It seemed important to me to capture the very active sense of terror that parents experienced; and I went with the whole phrase because it included relationship, direction and action. It’s probably worth saying at this point that I have counted over the years more than 30 different phrases in use, either in the literature or by practitioners.
Last week I barged into another conversation on twitter. People were talking about how they found the phrase “child to parent violence” unhelpful. Tell me, what was I supposed to do!
First of all, why does all this matter?
It would be really helpful if we could come up with a phrase that worked for everyone. It would potentially make it easier for parents to identify their experience and ask for help, for practitioners to understand what parents were saying, avoid confusion among policy makers, enable more realistic counting, and help us all to be sure we were talking about the same thing. At the moment the media seem to be au fait with “child to parent violence” so should we bite the bullet and stay with that?
Does it matter who chooses the name?
Hmmm. Well I would like to think we let ‘someone’ other than the media define what we’re talking about! In the beginning it was mostly academics talking, and each person adopted the phraseology that most suited what they were addressing in their paper. Many articles, dissertations etc begin with an explanation of the choice of name, quite apart from a definition. The few practitioners who were also writing similarly used terms which captured the issues they saw, and the family configurations they worked with, while continuing to wrestle with the abuse / violence question. (Hence “adolescent violence and abuse”) But are we comfortable, in the 21st century, with professionals naming a situation experienced by others, and imposing that name, if the individuals concerned would prefer something else?
Some snippets from the conversation …
My personal feeling is that children aren’t ‘abusing’ parents.
I am reluctant to give people terms which make them think badly of my child.
I wouldn’t class my child’s behaviour as violent – but other people would.
Some people, who lived through the seventies and eighties, would call this “false consciousness”, but that’s probably not terribly helpful. More useful is to think about the shame that stops families coming forward for help, the love that keeps them going day after day after day, and the loadedness of some terminology in the way it is used in different contexts. Saying that child to parent abuse can sometimes feel like intimate partner violence is one thing. Acknowledging what that means in terms of how you understand your child is quite another.
Hiding inside this conversation is, of course, the definition debate. Does intent matter? Is this one thing or many?
Do we need different names for different situations?
To some extent, we have already started down this road. Yvonne Newbold has blogged and spoken about preferring the term Violent Challenging Behaviour (VCB) for children with severe learning difficulties and mental disabilities. (But there are some who dislike the use of the word “challenging”, finding it a simplistic generalisation which excuses our own lack of understanding or curiosity as to the reason for the behaviour.)
I find this to be an unanswerable conundrum. Clearly there is a huge gulf between children and young people with severe disabilities who lash out, and those who deliberately and provocatively inflict harm to people and property. But there are so many young people in between, so many different scenarios, and overlaps of diagnoses.
If anyone would like to enter this debate they are more than welcome! If you can come up with a better turn of phrase then please let us know. In the meantime, I will leave you with some thoughts from ‘Mumdrah’ from the other evening:
For now ‘violence’ is all we have; we need better words for sure.
Whatever the label, this stuff is beyond hard to understand.
Update, August 8th 2017
As usual, the comments and replies came via twitter ….. The consensus seems to be to use the phrase “child to parent violence and abuse” as more accurately reflecting the lived experiences of families. I can’t argue with that!
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.
I spent last Friday at the NVR UK 2017 conference in London, where it was great to catch up with colleagues and people I had previously only known through twitter, to make new friends, and to learn how the practice of Non Violent Resistance (NVR) can be applied to all areas of life.
There were two keynote speeches, followed by a series of workshops; and one I was particularly interested in was about the establishment of parent groups connected with de Wiekslag, an organisation in Belgium working with high risk young people and their families. These groups are for parents of young people exhibiting very serious challenging behaviour (including violence to parents), or engaging in school refusal, self harm or running away, and they are described as “slow open groups”, with no course beginning or end, and parents can attend for as long as they like, or need – typically 9 to 12 months. When they leave, a place becomes available for another family. Continue reading →
I was a bit surprised when this book first dropped through my letter box. I hadn’t offered to review it and so for a while it lay on a very tall pile of “books to read when I have some spare time”. But of course the title should have given it away…
If anyone was thinking that love is all that’s needed, or was tempted ever to say that “all kids do that”, then this is a book for them! Not that it’s all doom and gloom by any means. Adoption stories are statistically more often positive and affirming, but it is a sad fact that as many as a third of families will experience real struggles (see Beyond the Adoption Order) and Ann Morris quietly and without drama shows us both sides of the coin. Continue reading →
One of the issues that makes it difficult for us all to talk about child to parent violence and abuse is the fact that there is no one agreed definition. The one I tend to use when speaking to people is that proposed by Amanda Holt:
“A pattern of behaviour, instigated by a child or young person, which involves using verbal, financial, physical and /or emotional means to practice power and exert control over a parent”, and “the power that is practised is, to some extent, intentional, and the control that is exerted over a parent is achieved through fear, such that a parent unhealthily adapts his / her own behaviour to accommodate the child.” Continue reading →