In July I posted details of a newly published book about adolescence violence in the home from Gregg Routt and Lily Anderson. Rather belatedly, I am really pleased now to offer a review for those who have not yet had time to read their own copy.
When considering the abuse that human beings heap on one another, it can sometimes seem that we are being required to believe “as many as six impossible things before breakfast”*; and, for many people, the notion of children abusing their parents falls neatly into this category. One of the things that make the excellent new book by Routt and Anderson so accessible is the frequent use of case studies to illustrate a point, whether to further understanding of an aspect of abuse, or to demonstrate the detail of the programme they have developed. By including this level of illustration they make an important contribution to believing the impossible: Yes, this happens, and this is what it looks like, but change is possible.
Towards the end of the 1970s, between 800 and 900 juvenile domestic violence cases were referred to the juvenile court system every year in King County, Seattle. There was no therapeutic response in existence to meet this need, and so over the next 15 years, Routt and Anderson developed the Step-Up programme as a means to restoring healthy, respectful family relationships, drawing on their wide experience and using elements from CBT, the Duluth Model and restorative practice. Adolescent Violence in the Home is not a manual for this (the curriculum is available on line) but, in two sections, it lays out firstly a clear current understanding of child to parent violence, and secondly an outline not simply of what the programme involves, but also why it works.
Just as there are many different aspects of parent abuse, there is no one profile of teen or family for whom this is an issue. The early chapters explore academic and practitioner knowledge of adolescent violence in the home, drawing particularly on family systems theory and adolescent attachment theory. The question of prevalence is always a difficult one to answer, since records are not consistently kept and researchers have asked different questions. How to interpret the data may be controversial, but without a doubt all figures given are likely to be underestimates as parents are so reluctant to come forward for help. I suspect a difference of opinion with other researchers on the issue of entitlement (and permissive parenting) may be more of a linguistic issue than a genuine disagreement.
The second half of the book unpacks the elements of the Step-Up programme in significant detail, allowing the reader to make comparisons with other approaches and appreciate the centrality of non-violence and the restorative framework. While this approach has not been recommended for use with intimate partner violence, there are crucial differences when the violence and abuse comes from a teen, making this a useful and positive tool. While some families may need to access additional or alternate help, so far Routt and Anderson have found that their programme has seen positive results in almost every family with whom they have worked.
The standard is 20 sessions. Change takes time and some families may need longer than others. This may be a difficult message for agencies hoping to bring in a programme to move teens through within 12-15 weeks. Perhaps this is telling in itself. Throughout the book there is a sense of sticking with families, journeying with them and supporting them to make the change, whatever is needed. Ultimately, for work to be effective, we need to be patient, and driven not by the needs of the agency but by the needs of the families we serve.
This book is an important and highly readable addition to the growing library of work on adolescent violence in the home. I would recommend it to anyone interested in developing their knowledge further, whether as an academic or a practitioner in the field.
* The White Queen to Alice, in Alice Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll