Changing the DV definition: the debate continues

My attention was drawn this week to the recently released Home Office Guidance, Information for Local Areas on the change to the definition of Domestic Violence and Abuse. Produced in partnership with AVA, the guidance contains a whole section on Child to Parent Violence and calls specifically for the support of local groups working with families experiencing parent abuse, and the training of domestic violence workers in their work with this form of family violence.

At the same time, I received some comments from Anne-Marie Harris, Senior Development Adviser for Effective Practice with the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, addressing the extension of the definition and drawing attention again to the need to exercise caution in the way these developments are carried forward. These are reproduced here and are particularly pertinent in the light of the guidance issued.

The extension of the domestic violence definition to 16 and 17 year old is a positive step forward, but carries a number of potential pitfalls……

On 31st March, the UK Government extended the definition of domestic violence to include 16 – 17 year olds, and coercive control. This is encouraging, as statistics repeatedly show that young people aged 16 – 19 are most likely to be victims of domestic abuse. However, there are a number of potential pitfalls that professionals must guard against…….

  1. Do not forget that young people aged 16 and 17 are still children, not adults. Therefore, when considering what services to offer a 16/17 year old victim or perpetrator, it must be from a safeguarding perspective. There is the risk that current adult services will be extended to the younger age group, and that their safeguarding needs will be forgotten.
  1. Following on from point 1, any intervention offered to address domestic abuse within this age group must consider the wider family context. There is much evidence to support that where an older child is perpetrating domestic abuse; they have frequently witnessed or been a direct victim of the abuse as a younger child.
  1. If points 1 and 2 are not given due consideration by all professionals, there is a danger that the extension of the definition could lead to an increased criminalisation of young people, when potentially they need help, support, and the appropriate intervention to ensure that they do not repeat the abusive behaviour. This is where I would strongly advocate replicating an approach adopted in the US. In Seattle, the Step Up programme has been offered as a diversionary programme for first time youth offenders who have been violent against their parents. The results are overwhelming, and steps are underway to develop a similar approach in the UK.

The extension of the definition in isolation is not enough to address the challenge of teenage domestic abuse. It is crucial that front line services are adequately equipped, and have access to appropriate resources and interventions to deal with this extremely complex area.

Many thanks to Anne-Marie for this contribution to the debate and development of services. The Youth Justice Service has an Effective Practice Library, with a comprehensive series of resources, materials and information for practitioners and commissioners, and a “Toolkit” paper on Child to Parent Violence here.

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