In my last post I referred to the emergence of a number of themes through the day as we met last week in Nottingham. I want to return to one of these now, namely the issues around conceptualising child to parent violence as domestic violence.
This is something that has been covered by a number of people in the past (e.g. Holt or Hunter, Nixon and Parr), but it keeps re-emerging for a number of reasons. Firstly, much of the work being developed in Britain at the moment is taking place within agencies also dealing with adult intimate partner violence, forcing the issue as adjustments are made to approaches or expectations. Secondly, the change in definition of domestic violence within Britain to include perpetrators aged 16 upwards, has been hailed by some as a positive move, allowing the open discussion of the topic in a new way, and the recognition within policy of the reality of parent abuse.
But while there are many similarities, notably the types of abuse and the way that victims experience the abuse or violence, there are also significant differences, which make straightforward adoption of thinking and practice within this framework problematic.
Rachel Condry spoke of the dangers of including children within the domestic violence definition (and of course under 16s are still excluded) because of the effect this would have of drawing them further into the criminal justice system, preferring to explore pre-court disposal options. This of course is one of the benefits of models such as Step-Up in the US.
Lynette Robinson introduced many of the elements of Step-Up, including a whistle-stop guide to Restorative Justice. The use of techniques such as this, and indeed anger management – elements of which are found in a number of CPV programmes – would be alien to work with adult perpetrators, but within child to parent violence we should remember that there is a very different relationship in play. Parents and children often both speak of a desire to repair the relationship. Parents maintain their legal responsibility for care – and of course cannot simply leave, taking the rest of the family with them. Indeed, mothers in particular talk of the emotional impossibility of asking their own flesh and blood to leave the home.
Julia Worms, from Respect, led the last session of the day and posed the question, in what ways should interventions and approaches be different with adolescents. In answering, she drew attention to adolescence as a time of change and development, with opportunities to key into this and influence the direction of behaviour. While it is important to consider the differences between adults and adolescents though, Julia also reminded us that this is in itself an extraordinarily diverse group. Personality, background, experiences and context as well as age all come into play in a group that includes young people between the ages of 11 and 18, but also increasingly younger and younger children.
We need to beware of designing a one-size fits all programme when needs, and reasons for the behaviour, are so diverse; but the understanding of the physiological, emotional and maturational changes that are already taking place during adolescence should give us hope that timely intervention can be positive for the whole family.