When we think about work with child to parent violence, the agencies which typically come to mind, and indeed the ones that have attracted the most debate in terms of service provision, would be the police, domestic violence bodies, children’s services, youth offending, health or perhaps schools. While the work of academics such as Judy Nixon, examining the impact of intensive family support, drew attention to parent abuse as part of the bigger picture of disruptive and dysfunctional family life, there has not been the focus on housing support that might have been warranted. So it was very interesting to make contact with the Family Support Project workers from Wolverhampton Homes Housing Inclusion Team, as a result of the recent conference in Nottingham, and to explore with them the work that they do in this field.
Wolverhampton Homes is an arm’s length management organisation, managing 23,500 homes on behalf of Wolverhampton City Council. The main aims of the project are to work with families who are at risk of eviction due to anti social behaviour, where one or more members of the household are currently subject to enforcement actions for anti-social behaviour, or any child or young person within the household is at risk of being taken into care because of anti-social behaviour. The project has been going since 2011, as it was recognised that evicting families for anti-social behaviour directly impacts on that family and the wider community, whilst also proving costly to the public purse. In that respect they are very similar to a FIP, but they also provide tenancy support to vulnerable tenants and their families. The team has supported over 40 families in helping them sustain their tenancies, many of whom had a degree of dysfunction in terms of managing the behaviour of young people within their family.
What follows is an email exchange between Charlotte Gibbons, who manages the team, and me, regarding the services and support that the team offers.
H. How has the team generally first become aware that parent abuse is an issue for the families you work with?
C. Referrals to the Family Support Project are received as a result of anti-social behaviour being caused within the household or in the local community. Of the cases where child to parent violence was an issue, parent’s disclosed this to us whilst we were undertaking an assessment, although in all of the cases there was also noticeable damage within the property, for example, damaged doors, walls etc. There is a great deal of shame and stigma attached to disclosure, as well as a worry from the parent that this may lead to intervention from a statutory agency as more often than not there are siblings in the household who may be deemed to be “at risk” from a safeguarding perspective.
H. Are you able now to offer support from within the team, or is there specialised work going on elsewhere that you can refer families to?
C. We are able to offer intensive practical support as a team utilising whole family assessments and developing action plans with the family. Most work is carried out within the family home, whilst meetings with the family and partner agencies are held every six to eight weeks. We might support a family for anything between 6 months and 2 years to resolve the issues. Partner agencies consist of Multi Agency Support Teams (MAST) Anti Social Behaviour Unit (City Council) Schools and Police. We are also able to refer to agencies that provide specialist Parenting Courses.
H. It has been suggested that practitioners should be taking a much more proactive role in asking about, or looking for, signs of abuse in a home when we meet with families. What do you think about this?
C. I believe it would be helpful for agencies that work with families who believe there may be child to parent violence within homes to be able to recognise the signs of abuse and be able to ask the necessary questions. It is a question that is included in our whole family assessment.
H. It can sometimes seem that what practitioners think is needed, and what parents think they need – or want – are quite different. What would your observations be about this?
C. I believe there could be conflicting views between practitioners and families. This may be as a result of the need for agencies involved with those families to negate risk, not only to the adult but other siblings within that household. The way to avoid any conflict between practitioners and families is to ensure that the family is at the heart of the assessment and that the action plan also reflects the family’s needs and wishes. Resolving child to parent violence requires an assertive, intensive and persistent approach.
H. Is there a greater role for housing teams in this arena in future? How would you see it developing?
C. Many social landlords already recognise the needs of their tenants and families in terms of sustaining their tenancies. I believe they are uniquely placed to deliver support to families who may be experiencing this kind of issue.
Many thanks to the team for their help with this post, and indeed for the support they have given to so many families over the last 2 years. It is indeed encouraging to meet the growing band of people getting to grips with the issue of child to parent violence, and developing services for families wherever they are.