Bournemouth training day, and a discussion about involving the police

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.


Filed under Discussion, Training opportunities

4 responses to “Bournemouth training day, and a discussion about involving the police

  1. Hello Helen,
    Great questions and thoughts about the complicated issue of whether or not to call the police. Parents in Step-Up most often tell us that “it was the best decision (and hardest) I have ever made, because it got him to get help” or “it helped him see that it is serious…”. We see youth in the program who have been arrested and spent a night or two in detention are more willing to take the program seriously and work harder on stopping the violence, than those who have not had court involvement. Sometimes we know we just have to wait until there is court involvment for the youth to ‘get
    with it’ and start working on behavior change. When youth complete the
    program we ask what helped them most to become non-violent/abusive
    and many will say “going to detention”, “I didn’t want to go back to detention again…” or “I didn’t want to have a record and if I get arrested again”(many of our youth are on diversion, in which they will not be charged if they complete Step-Up- for first or second time offenses), and several youth have told us that their time in detention “made me think- I had to be away from friends, my computer, facebook, phone, TV – I had to just sit and
    think- or read a book”, several have told us “it’s the first time I have ever finished a book- there is nothing else to do!” We see detention time as part of the therapuetic process – they start to miss their parents, their room and belongings- it’s a time-out for a bit. Both parents and teens say it was helpful. Most of them only spend 1 to 4 days in detention.
    However, we are fortunate to have a juvenile justice system that made a system plan about how to respond to domestic violence against family members which included following the adult domestic violence laws of arresting and detaining all youth 16 and over (younger is at officer discretion, and allowing diversion on first and second charges so youth are not charged, but mandated to attend counseling to avoid a charge. We also developed a police training video and have trained law enforcement about effective response with these youth and parents (although some officers continue to respond in ways such as you mentioned with undermining parents by blaming them in front of the youth, but overall it has been very successful). Budget cuts are impacting the number of youth arrested lately, and we are expereinceing an increase in calls from frustrated parents who are calling over and over and their youth has not been arrested, as the violence is escalating – we counsel them to not give up, because eventually the officer will respond after enough calls are made. For most parents calling the police is the only way they can get their child to go to counseling.
    In communities that do not have a juvenile justice system on board with a supportive response to youth and parents, it may not be the best decision to involve the police. It seems that the most effective response to this problem is a system wide approach where changes are made on many levels- a ‘coordinated community response’, as it is referred to in adult domestic violence, where the goal of all systems is to work together to help youth and their families get the help they need.This is an enormous task – changing policies and laws and police practice is huge. But when youth refuse to go to counseling, and only the parent is getting help- it is so much more challenging for everyone.
    From our experience with families over the last 13 years, parents overwhelmingly feel that the court system has been a necessary part of their family making changes and their youth stopping the violence and abuse.
    This is the biggest topic of conversation among all of us in this work…
    let’s keep talking…
    Lily Anderson
    Step-Up Program
    Seattle, Washington

    • Thanks for your comments Lily. Having the cooperation of the local police with established protocols and training clearly makes a huge difference to the situation. Within Britain it all feels very ‘bitty’ still!

  2. Here in Melbourne a young person who assaults a parent hardly ever get put in detention even overnight. They are also seldom charged with assault if they are under 16. Thus calling the police can be a great anti-climax. I’ve just returned from a conference in Spain and many of the people there who talked about services were talking about residential services (either medical or legal). We have almost no such residential services here. In my recent visits to England and Spain I’ve been struck by how similar is the phenomenon of child-parent-violence within the home, but how it is responded to varies greatly.

    • I’m wondering whether the reluctance of the police to deal with this is essentially procedural or philosophical. I hope we can rule out ignorance but perhaps I’m being over-optimistic! It seems to me that we could campaign to have the police respond in a more positive way, but if we’re not sure ourselves that this is the right response – and we would rather go down the medical / social route – then we need to focus our attention in a different way. Or do we in any case want a wide range of possible responses, reflecting a wide spectrum of scenarios?

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