A lot has been written about the difficulties in adopting a safeguarding response to the issue of parent abuse. First of all, it falls outside the normative model of child as victim, to which the responses are generally geared; and the safeguarding of vulnerable adults guidance is not usually applied to the parents in these situations, as they are not considered vulnerable within the specific terms.
If child protection procedures come into play they are more likely to be with regard to siblings who are seen to be suffering from either direct or indirect attacks than to the perpetrator themselves, despite the possibility of their own vulnerability through substance misuse, mental health issues or their own victimhood at the hands of another adult. Often the situation is seen to be too low to meet the threshold for the active involvement of a social worker. Parents state that they are reluctant to approach children’s services departments for help because they fear being knocked back, or the social worker taking a punitive approach, perhaps even siding with the young person. They fear the removal of their other children perceived as at risk through the parent’s failure to offer sufficient protection. And, in the aftermath of reports of the grooming and exploitation of young people in care, they are reluctant to commit any child, however abusive, to such a regime.
While Children’s Services take the lead in safeguarding, the responsibility lies of course with all organisations and agencies to identify, refer and support families and young people within the guidance; and it seems that parents are approaching other agencies first for help, whether GPs, education support workers, or telephone helplines. Sadly, the response that parents receive will be very dependent on the training, awareness and resources of those approached, varying from excellent locally developed programmes to a dismissive, blaming brush-off.
As Holt points out in a chapter in a recent Policy Press publication, the Munro Review potentially offers a ‘watershed moment’ in integrating an understanding of parent abuse into future safeguarding responses. Moving away from the current polarity in our understanding, and with a focus particularly on community-based multi-agency working and early intervention and help, there is a real opportunity to develop knowledge and expertise, providing certain current difficulties can be overcome.
Holt suggests that there needs to be a common framework to enable different agencies to identify, monitor and respond to parent abuse consistently. The problem of categorisation was one which I found in my own research and which is identified here as well. If something does not fit the recognised ‘types’ of problem then it can be difficult, if not impossible, to provide a response – and it is difficult to count. Once clearer identification processes have been established it will be possible to build up a body of expertise and adopt locally designed responses.
The emphasis on early intervention is particularly pertinent to voluntary and community organisations working with families falling below the ‘at risk’ threshold. Domestic violence, victim support and parenting support organisations may already be offering individual or group support to victims of parent abuse. They are of course though particularly vulnerable themselves in the climate of cuts to services.
Munro also talks of developing a ‘learning culture’. Holt indicates the need to share good practice and build up a map of regional services to enable referrals to be made appropriately; and, most importantly, to raise awareness of our own potential professional ‘blindspots’ when working with parents. Organisations such as Respect are making important strides in this area, through National Practitioner Seminars as well as training around the Toolkit. The intention is also that this blogsite might fulfill something similar in this way.
Certainly huge strides have been taken over the last five years in the developments of awareness and service provision. We need to be proud of what has been achieved, but continue to work for a fully integrated service and a time when parents can know that their requests for help will be met in a timely and supportive manner.