Addressing parent abuse through Juvenile Family Courts in USA

This piece from the Orlando Sentinel on 4th October, reporting on responses to parent abuse following the death of Rosemary Pate at the hands of her son, has popped up a number of times in the last week, cross-posted in different places. It was good to see the topic of parent abuse getting a good airing after an earlier item appeared in the same paper in a couple of months ago (see my post of  24th August); and encouraging to see a call for early intervention to prevent abuse before it reaches this stage.

The Juvenile Domestic and Family Violence Court, to which the article refers, was established in Santa Clara County, California in 1999, followed by a similar model in San Francisco in 2001. The courts sought to address both juvenile domestic violence (for instance dating violence) and family violence (including parent abuse), and were considered unique at the time in adopting a multi-agency approach to holding perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions and in preventing further harm. A major premise was that early intervention combining strict accountability with educational programs and victim services would be more effective that any other approach in preventing continued escalation of violent behaviour into adulthood. Previously juveniles might have been incarcerated for their offences, but no other support was available.

Reports and evaluation of the system are available here and here. There seems to have been some early indication of a reduction in recidivism, but from the 2002 report another of the major benefits was seen to be the way professionals accessed training and agencies came together and communicated better with each other.

The late twentieth century saw growing concern about the hitherto largely hidden issue of children’s violence to parents. A further model of juvenile court intervention – Step-Up – was developed in Seattle in 2000. Sarah Buel has written about the need for juvenile courts to address family violence and considered both these models as well as a third in Travis County, Texas. You can find a synopsis of her paper here.

I think it is important to recognise that information available about “causes” of parent abuse has developed significantly in the last ten years. The 2002 report from the Journal of the Center for Families, Children and the Courts quotes Brezina (1999) as the only source on parent abuse, linking juvenile family violence to lack of parental attachment and as having been learned from a model of parental punitiveness. It is more encouraging to see that this week’s article in the Orlando Sentinel gives prominence to Amanda Holt’s recent publication, in its definition and explanation of child to parent violence.

My last few posts have touched on the issue of early intervention. It’s easy of course to see themes emerging when you are focussed on something yourself. Nevertheless, I would like to hope that, as more is known about recognising the issue, about correlations and helpful interventions, we will start to see help available for families before the problem of parent abuse becomes entrenched and parents experience real danger, whether in the States, in Britain, or elsewhere in the world.


Filed under news reports, publications

2 responses to “Addressing parent abuse through Juvenile Family Courts in USA

  1. In the Spanish judicial system, up to 18 years the boy or girl, when are judged, are sentenced to fulfill certain obligations related to the crime.

    For example, when convicted of assault (physical, psychological or economic) against his father or his mother, the judge may compel him to participate in a family psychotherapeutic process to resolve this situation. It is understood that the resolution of the violence of the children to their parents, can only be achieved by a family intervention.

    In our center, we have a percentage of families who are sent from the courts each year (the obligation is for the child, not for the parents……..).

    But undoubtedly the best action socially, would be emphasize the preventive work: schools for parents (parenting styles and parenting skills), etc. ..

    José Alberto Llamazares.
    Centro Hobetzen. AEB/ DFB

    • Thank you Jose Alberto for your comment. It is very interesting to hear how different countries are addressing this issue in different ways. It seems to me that there is a lot of discussion at the moment about early intervention and prevention. I hope this is the case and look forward to seeing how this develops.

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