You wait around for years and then two come along together!

Five years ago, when I first began seriously investigating parent abuse, the studies and research papers were largely coming out of Canada, Australia and the USA. The statistics available came from relatively few older studies and were considered unreliable because of the ways they were obtained – the types of questions asked, who they were asked of, numbers involved etc. Nevertheless, they had served to highlight that this was a real issue and one which would not go away. Questions were being asked: how big a problem was this really? Was it confined to certain ethnic or socioeconomic groups, what were the causes, and what sorts of help were effective? Importantly, another question was emerging, as to how we should understand the phenomenon, from a sociological / feminist point of view – was it linked with domestic violence, or with youth crime and delinquency?

Over the last few years, a number of papers have been published, based on work within Britain, where parent abuse has emerged as an unexpected, but significant, issue. Amanda Holt’s 2009 paper (Parent Abuse: some reflections on the adequacy of a youth justice response, Internet Journal of Criminology) suggests that a new conceptualisation of the problem is necessary, since parent abuse cannot be properly understood, or addressed, within a framework of anti-social behaviour, domestic violence or family violence. Hunter, Nixon and Parr (June 2010) similarly discuss the fact that parents referred to their experience of violence in an off-hand “in passing” way. Their findings suggest that this form of family violence needs to be addressed outside of the youth justice system, which serves only to blame parents for their own misfortune. This is further examined by Tew and Nixon in a later paper (2010). All of these call for continued research to further our understanding and to improve the help available to parents. Nixon and Hunter went on to set up a parent abuse research network for academics (

Now, finally, within Britain we have two large pieces of research aiming specifically to further our understanding of parent abuse and to develop appropriate responses. Rachel Condry and Caroline Miles, at Oxford University, have been engaged in a 2½ year, ESRC funded, project since August 2010, focusing on deliberate physical violence towards mothers and / or fathers by young people aged 13 to 19. Their intention is to map the problem, obtaining more information from both victims and perpetrators, to examine how it is currently dealt with within the criminal justice system, and to develop practical policy recommendations. Already they have discovered that it is indeed a significant problem, a significantly hidden one, and one which lacks a coherent support response.

Just as we’re all getting excited about this, I came across a proposal, in April this year, for a further research project by the University of Brighton in conjunction with Brighton and Hove City Council. Theirs is a project seeking to implement and research a model of change within up to four EU / EAA member states, based on a series of questions not already examined within Europe. Specifically:

  1. What are the relevant age limits, how young and how old are potential abusers within the definition?
  2. Does parent abuse become transformed over time into elder abuse? What is the relationship with gender?
  3. Is the violence predominantly male to female?
  4. Is there a link between parent abuse and first generation migrant women?
  5. Does it cut across social class divides?
  6. What is the nature of the behaviour involved in parent abuse?
  7. Where should the line be drawn between normal levels of adolescent behaviour and at what point does this become abusive?

I await the findings of both with great interest. In the meantime we should remember that there is already a great deal of practical expertise generated across the country by various organisations, some better known than others. I intend to return to this in a future post.


Filed under Research

4 responses to “You wait around for years and then two come along together!

  1. Hi, Helen. My name is Lynette Robinson After working around this emerging issue as a youth justice practictioner for around 5 years (2005-10) I think it is wonderful to see sites like this coming to the fore. There seem to be so many questions and perspectives to consider around the issue of adolescent to parent abuse. My own background is one of a restorative justice parenting practitioner. This encouraged me to look from a restorative practice lens at how to work more effectively and meaningfuly within this unique victim-offender dynamic. In 2009-10 I co-developed, and piloted ( a multi-agency model based within a youth offending team) a UK programme based on a model from the U.S, called Step Up. In 2010 I gained a Churchill Fellowship to research and visit the programme over a number of weeks. My report entitled ‘Inteventions and Restorative Responses to Address Teen Violence Against Parents’ can be found at either or Terry O’Connell the Director of Real Justice has written his own response to the report which can also be found on my webpage.
    We all have our own contributions, unique backgrounds and experiences to bring to the development of this emerging area of practice and policy deficit – and can work together to find new and more meaningful ways of supporting these hurting families; than ones that blame, shame, and punishment. Thank you Helen.

  2. Thanks for your encouragement Lynette.
    Currently many of the responses to this form of abuse are to be found within the youth justice system; but with a growing recognition that parenting support groups may address the problem but also reinforce the notion that it is the parent who is responsible for their teenagers actions. I look forward to hearing more about your work.

  3. Great to see a sudden flourishing of awareness in England and this is great addition. It’s been a bit sad that I’ve been putting people in England in touch with one another from Down Under.
    There must be more on the web that we aren’t aware of! When I started my web-site (about 6 years ago) I only had a few links and most of them have since died! There are dozen’s of sites on important topics like ferret keeping and origami and almost nothing on violence to parents!
    Keep up the good work, Helen.

  4. Hello Helen,
    I am very excited to see this blog! I am Lily Anderson from Seattle, Washington, and I am co-author of the Step-Up curriculum Lynette Robinson spoke of above, and used as a model for her pilot in the UK. She did a wonderfully creative piece with it, using drama as a way to engage youth. It is very inspiring.

    I have been facilitating Step-Up intervention groups with youth and parents for 14 years, and it has been an evolving process of learning what really works… and continues to be as we learn more and more. There are many challenges in this work, and it is an ongoing conversation among those of us in the field about how to most effectually help the varied families facing this problem. This Blog is so needed!

    As you point out, parent support groups alone feed the notion that “if only the parent would change….” From our experience in the Step-Up program, we have found it is most successful when both parents and youth work together (at least for some of the time) in a group with other parents and teens.

    When we began Step-Up in 1997, we struggled with how to best approach helping both the youth and parent. At that time there were no treatment models to follow (other than adult perpetrator treatment- which we used as a loose framework at first) and very little literature on the topic. After trying different approaches, we found the most effectual way is parents and teens together in a group with other parents and teens, along with separate sessions (parent group and teen group). Parents and teens who complete Step-Up say the most valuable part of the program was being able to work on change with other families who are going through what they are going through – giving each other feed back and support. It is amazing and rewarding to watch this in action.The teens become very invested in helping each other stay non-violent. The curriculum is skills based with a restorative approach, and emphasizes accountability with weekly reports to group about progress with behavior change. But, what makes it really work is families helping each other.

    The challenge of this model is getting youth to attend – many victimized parents cannot get their teen to do anything, much less go to a group of strangers and talk about their behavior! We are fortunate to have a juvenile court system with a diversion program that refers most cases of assault toward a family member to our program. These youth are initially motivated to come because they want their charge dropped- but, believe it not, they usually decide they like it, and want to come!

    We are also having more and more non-court involved families who are referred by word of mouth, other agencies, family counselors, etc.. If we can engage the youth to just come and try out a couple of groups, they usually keep coming. It is not a lost cause- as we used to think. When we sit down and really talk to these teens, we find many of them do want help to change; they don’t like being abusive/violent. Some say that no one has ever asked them if they want help.
    I have learned that I used to make a lot of assumptions that are not necessarily true. It is the biggest lesson I have learned in this work.

    If you’re interested in seeing the curriculum here is our website:
    or just google King County Step-Up
    (the quickest look is to just open the Teen Workbook or Parent Workbook. The Facilitator Curriculum has a huge introduction at the beginning that is like a mini training on facilitating groups- we plan to make some changes so it is more reader friendly for people just popping in to take a look).
    We invite others to use the curriculum free of charge. We just ask that people contact us for permission so we can keep a record of who is using it, and stay in contact with you. We see it as an opportunity to spread the work and have more colleagues to learn from each other. (We do provide training and consultation as needed for start-up, if desired).
    Step-Up is also being used by other juvenile courts and community agencies in the US. It is currently being evaluated at 3 sites in Illinois by the University of Illinois. You can read a summary of our most recent evaluation (2005) on our website. We are currently applying for funding for another evaluation by the University of Washington.

    Thank you for setting up this blog. We are eager to hear what others are doing to help youth and parents, to share ideas, thoughts, challenges, successes and work together with others around the world who are addressing this complex problem. There are so many facets to this issue and so much to consider and ‘chew-on’ – the more of us doing it, the better!

    Thank you, Helen! I look forward to more conversation.

    Lily Anderson, MSW
    Step-Up Program
    Seattle, WA

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