No one could accuse the PAARS team of a lack of commitment!

I met with the practitioners from PAARS this week to find out more about what they are doing, and to make their project more widely known.

PAARS, which stands for Parent Abuse and Reconciliation Service, is a small, locally based parent abuse project which got off the ground at the beginning of the year with a Lottery grant and three members working evenings and weekends after finishing their day jobs. Joe Lettieri, Ayse Adil and Karen Hunter work as learning mentors and parent support advisors in a secondary school in the London Borough of Enfield. With many years of service between them, they were very familiar with the story of parents struggling with the twin demons of domestic violence and abusive teenagers, young people acting out their anger and pain in risk taking and violent behaviour, but with no available support services on which to call. Even within school, the team was unable to offer a joined up response, and so they formed PAARS to fill the gap.

Now with a growing team of volunteers (17 to date) who help out with administrative tasks as well as home visits, and more funding applications in the pipeline, they are waiting and hoping for a time when they can commit to PAARS as a full time job in itself.

Being well known in the area has certainly paid off in terms of referrals and training opportunities. Referrals come in from the whole range of services: schools, domestic violence teams, women’s aid, police and youth offending, CAMHS as well as parents themselves; and, following assessment, regular home visits are offered to the whole family, for as long as it takes, at a time of the family’s convenience. Building a relationship is crucial if any work is to be effective, and that takes time.

The whole team meet fortnightly to discuss referrals, ongoing work and benefit from a wide range of speakers. While the emphasis is on working with the whole family, the parent remains the client. The young people may also be offered group sessions looking at self-esteem or finding purpose in their life. Parents have a mix of counseling, parenting advice and psychological support, recognising that there are many factors underlying a failure to offer consistent or appropriate boundaries, and they need tackling as well if change is to be lasting. When a family is ready they may be referred back to CAMHS or on to other specialist services.

We discussed the issue of involving the police, as the team do recommend to parents that the police should be called if teens are hitting them. If officers have nothing to offer then this can be counter productive, but it seems that the local force may be reviewing policy and protocols regarding arrest and the issuing of a “pre-reprimand” that does not stand on the record but gives a taste of the seriousness of the event.

To date the team have worked with 16 families in depth and have others who need professional help in overcoming past traumatic events before they are able to deal with the day to day niceties of abusive teenagers. All except one have been single mothers, and surprisingly girls have featured more than boys in their referral group. Their backgrounds reflect the varied cultural and ethnic heritage of the area. Perhaps 95% of the families have experienced domestic violence. The young people may exhibit self-harming and risky behaviours as well as many forms of abuse within their families. Some are also disruptive at school or on the streets. Others present a very different face outside of the home.

The PAARS team will say that every family is unique and needs its own specific, holistic programme of support, but through their years of expertise they have crafted a framework which seems to be effective. I came away from the meeting sharing their excitement for what is possible – though rather daunted at the enormity of the task and the phenomenal referral rate.

In no particular order, the features which stood out in our discussion . . . .

  • Enthusiasm and commitment, and the ability to pass this on to others
  • A recognition of personal skills and experience, while acknowledging the limits to expertise and the need for professional intervention
  • The value of supervision and support for the team
  • The importance of looking after self, and maintaining boundaries around the work
  • The benefits of being established in an area in terms of networking, credibility and referrals as well as support from other practitioners
  • An understanding of the importance of relationships
  • A focus on reconciliation
  • The ability to work to the families’ timetables

The PAARS team are only able to offer direct support to families living within the London Borough of Enfield, but can signpost other families to services within their home area. Their website is still under construction. Contact them here.

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