An excellent training day in Bournemouth on Tuesday, attended by around 70 practitioners from around the Bournemouth and Poole area. Eddie Gallagher presented findings from his extensive research into child to parent violence (CPV). Lots of thought about the issue of parent blaming and specific reference to his Who’s in Charge Groups, a programme that he has developed in Melbourne, Australia. The group for parents runs for 8 weeks, with a ninth follow-up session, and aims to bring about a decrease in CPV, and improvement in family relationships, as parents start to become more assertive. Eddie also counsels both parents and teens as individuals – and occasionally together if they agree!
Bournemouth already has one accredited group leader, and runs the Who’s in Charge programme through the Family Solutions team. This day raised awareness of the issue across children’s services and allied agencies with the hope that others would be able to take part in the second day of training required to lead a group.
There was some interested discussion among the participants, and I was particularly struck by a wider consideration of the issue of whether parents should be encouraged to call the police when their children assault them. Gallagher is very clear that this has to be the decision of the parent as it is such a hard one to take. First of all, it is probably important to remember that the police response and range of options will be different across the world, and will also be affected by how well established are any support programmes locally. It seems, though, to be particularly pertinent a question in Britain at the moment as we reflect on the aftermath of the recent riots, with the government’s insistence on fast and strict justice and the consequent criminalisation of young people.
For some parents, calling the police may be absolutely the right thing to do, whether because they genuinely fear for their lives at that moment or feel that nothing else has worked. There is a strong argument that extreme violence needs to be named as criminal behaviour, as it would be outside the home. In her book, Cottrell relates the stories of parents who did just this. For some it changed everything as the young people got a ‘wakeup call’. For others it was a means to safety for the parents, or simply respite. Nevertheless, parents reported it as one of the hardest things they ever had to do; it goes against all instinct to have your own child charged and taken away. For some families it may also contravene deeply held prejudices against involving ‘the authorities’ in any aspect of their lives. More importantly, to be effective, this route demands the understanding and cooperation of the local police. Some parents have reported being reprimanded themselves by police, who side with the young person, being used to a more protective role, or the action being totally undermined by the lack of sanctions available.
Against this we have the discussion about both the immediate and long-term effects on a young person’s life of involvement with the police or youth justice services. As already mentioned, if there is a poor response, the action can serve to further strengthen the hand of the young abuser against their parent. The current debate in Britain looks at the long-term impact of even a caution for a young person, closing down their chances of employment, for instance, within teaching, nursing or the caring professions. Since we are working to bring about change in relationships and behaviour, we have to assume that some of these young people might indeed choose such a route in future. What do we think about denying them that opportunity? Or is this way of thinking simply ceding further power to young people in our twenty first century, first world cultures – which is what got us into this position in the first place?
I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on this.