I have just spent an exciting and inspiring morning with representatives of the Youth Offending Service across the East Midlands at their first Regional Practitioners Peer Learning Event in Nottingham. Around 50 – 60 had gathered to learn more about responses to adolescent violence to parents, and – importantly – to formulate action plans for their own areas before they left.
I was privileged to open the session, setting the scene with an overview of parent abuse, before Anne-Marie Harris from the Youth Justice Board spoke about upcoming developments at a national level. The feasibility study on the introduction of special domestic violence courts within the youth court system is not due to report until December, but Anne-Marie indicated that a number of practical and ethical difficulties have been identified around this direction of travel. Nevertheless, opportunities remain for creative thinking around service delivery, including programmes similar to the Step Up model.
More positively, cross-departmental meetings taking place at Governmental level have been looking at producing clearer guidance on managing adolescent to parent violence for local authorities, for example in template form, and the possibility of more money for training was definitely mentioned! Participants were also reminded of the opportunities to utilise diversionary options and pre-court disposals. The topic of parent abuse will not go away now and is to be included on the agenda at the Youth Justice Convention later this month.
Anne –Marie reminded us all of the need to find the right response to children’s violence to parents. Some responses can lead to escalation or simply victimize parents further, but there are now significant resources available, either on the Youth Justice Board website, or among the YOS community.
The next part of the training was taken up in table exercises as different county and unitary authorities presented work that they are undertaking in this field. It became clear that there is no one preferred method or programme, but different models have evolved according to experience and training of individuals. So, within Leicester City YOS, the Recovery Toolkit is used for parents alongside the Healthy Relationships work for young people developed by Respect. Very positive results have been seen in relation to raised self-esteem for parents, and improvements in communication within families, and some change in the abusive behaviour but on a lesser scale.
Within Derbyshire the Step Up model has been adapted for use in one to one work, a very labour intensive solution to the local situation. The programme focuses on strengths and was seen to produce many ‘light bulb’ moments, but there was concern about the wordiness of the handouts in the context of 6 out of 10 young people in custody having problems with literacy and language.
Lincolnshire YOS Parenting Coordinator presented their approach, which has in the past used elements of both Non-Violent Resistance and Restorative Justice. A basket task taken from the NVR response had been found to be particularly helpful in getting a sense of perspective, but concerns were expressed that the Sit-in strategy could potentially cause escalation. It was emphasized that all work needed to be focused on this individual and family. A working group is now meeting to adapt the PACT programme developed in Leeds for 1:1 work. Drama elements of the PACT programme have been seen to be particularly helpful and the emphasis on pictures and symbols rather than text was appreciated.
Within Northampton, Women’s Aid are delivering work based on Choose to Change and the Respect toolkit. Nottingham Equation have just piloted a two-tier programme for young people looking at healthy relationships. The first part is universally accessible and those using violence at home are then moved on to the targeted second tier.
Despite the different routes in terms of service delivery, a number of themes quickly became apparent. The most prominent of these was the difficulty in using group work in large counties or rural communities, where populations are scattered and public transport poor. Working 1:1 can be very time consuming but does allow for a more tailored approach, and members were looking at occasional groups for those who had already participated at an individual level.
A number of teams were looking at adapting already existing programmes and there was discussion about the issues around this. In each case permission had first been obtained, and this allowed for local needs to be better served. However, it was acknowledged that this was problematic in terms of evidence base and accreditation of the programme.
Overall, this was an enormously encouraging day, seeing the energy and creativity at work in delivering support to families where young people are violence and abusive. All participants will have taken something away which can hopefully be of use in their future work, and with the emphasis on action plans it will be exciting to see the ways in which the service develops. This is only one of a number of training sessions on child to parent violence booked over the next months in this region. I look forward to meeting up again soon!