If, like me, you prefer your maths concrete and you use things like a classroom of students as a unit of measurement, then you might find this image interesting. Courtesy of Ipswich Borough Council White Ribbon Day, it represents the number of students in a class likely to be perpetrating violence at home – those wearing ties. We can argue over the exact number, depending on the level of violence we are counting – and we might never know the true figure – but images like this can help to make something a bit more real and less of something happening out there to other people.
Photograph © Lorraine Arthur
I am particularly interested in the classroom as a way of counting because of my own experience of working with families from a base in schools; and indeed in many cases it is through working on non-attendance or truancy that practitioners first become aware that parents may be facing abuse from their teens. I recently met a youth support worker in an integrated service team for whom attendance and CAFs (common assessment framework) were the main sources of referral, and who estimated that 40% of her caseload involved child to parent violence. Even so, it might take 6 months or more before a parent felt comfortable and confident enough to open up about their experiences.
I was reminded of the PEACE group (Parents Enjoying A Changing Environment), established in the Wirral (Lancashire, UK) in 2000, and perhaps the first of its kind in Britain. Workers in the Education Welfare Service called parents in for a meeting when all previous attempts at engagement and improvement had failed. A chance disclosure led to parents being routinely asked in future meetings about parent abuse as a feature of the non-attendance, and those affected were invited to join a specially formed 12-week support group. Original plans were to present parents with strategies and methods of working with their teens, but these were soon abandoned in favour of listening and working on specific needs as identified by parents themselves. The project saw a marked improvement both in attendance and in family life. Thirteen years ago the team found understanding and support from fellow professionals but a marked resistance and prejudice in many areas towards parents. Thankfully this is improving, but without education and public awareness campaigns there remain many who believe these parents should try harder, put down more boundaries, be more consistent.
In recent years, the increased use of family support (or similarly named) workers in schools has been part of a move to develop early intervention services, to identify children at risk of poor attendance and to support vulnerable families above a level possible by teaching staff alone. Such work has achieved positive results and received praise from teaching staff, governors and even OFSTED. Placed as they are, specifically to develop relationships with families, it is vital that these practitioners are aware of the issues around parent abuse and feel adequately prepared to respond to disclosures as they arise.