Brighton last week saw the final conference for the Responding to Child to Parent Violence Project, the second largest funded project from the Daphne111 programme, and one I have grown to feel very close to. It was something I blogged about in my very first post here, and the team have been very gracious in allowing me to ‘hang out’ with them over the last three years. The closing of a project might seem a sad occasion, but it felt more like a celebration, as each of the partner countries (England, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and Bulgaria) and programmes presented their achievements and aspirations – and indeed the growth and development of understanding and resources will continue as well as the friendships forged through work together.
The two-day event, Responding to Child to Parent Violence: European Perspectives, had the themes Restorative Approaches, Safeguarding and Risk in CPV work, Developing Mutually Respectful Relationships, Awareness Raising and Preventative Approaches. These were delivered via a mix of keynote presentations, workshops and panel discussions; and the Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Cllr Brian Fitch, closed the first day by launching the RCPV USB sticks, which include toolkits for the two programmes, and RCPV policy and training films. The conference programme allowed for a wide range of practitioners and academics to present their work in this field, and it was very exciting to have so many people gathered together from across Europe, demonstrating how far we have come in a short period of time in raising awareness and developing the work.
Many, many congratulations to Dr. Paula Wilcox (P.I. for the RCPV project), Michelle Pooley (England Co-ordintaor for the RCPV project) and Claire Thompson (Project Manager), for such a successful and inspiring event.
Many of the slides and audio presentations will shortly be available on the RCPV website. In the meantime, here are some summaries, observations and thoughts from my own two days:
Where does CPV belong?
Much of the academic work has come out of Criminology departments. Much of the resource provision is happening within Youth Offending Teams and Domestic Violence agencies. In the latter particularly there may be expertise developed around perpetrator work. Responses to CPV need to be positioned though where they are accessible to all, and where parents feel comfortable to visit. No one set of professionals “owns” this aspect of family violence: all have a role to play in supporting parents, all have important insights and experience to bring, all can respond at a basic level with respect and compassion, even if they are unsure what to do next.
Adapting to local circumstances vs. Standardisation
Having representatives from different countries threw into stark relief the impact of culture, custom and political context in the way issues affecting the family play out, are understood and responded to. It is important to remember that this is the case even within Britain, amongst different ethnic groups and heritages, different geographical regions, different stories and expectations about “Family’. There was talk of “Irelandising” the Break4Change programme, and in Sweden too some changes were made in recognition that in small communities every one knows everyone else. In Bulgaria there are whole villages where the parents have left for Western Europe in search of work, leaving children in the care of grandparents – bringing its own problems. But in making changes it is important to remain true to the spirit of the intervention, if quality is to be assured. Standardisation is about maintaining quality – not a one-size-fits-all approach.
All about attachment?
The issue of attachment and trauma as a route to child to parent violence has grown in prominence recently. Certainly there is trauma in the lives of many families, with a high incidence or experience of domestic violence, and with adoptive families too. It is important to remember the many families though where there is diagnosis of learning disabilities, or substance use, or where there is over indulgent parenting. Peer pressure also becomes a major influence as children reach adolescence. We should not close down other ideas and avenues as we are beginning to see this as a much bigger problem than was first imagined. As Declan Coogan said: “The only thing these families have in common is that it happened”.
The name of the game
As always, there was discussion about the continuing lack of agreement about what to call it. This project has used the term “Child to Parent Violence” and recognises that increasingly younger children are being referred for support as well as adolescents. Definitions of “child” vary from country to country and agency to agency, especially once you get legal. Perhaps more important is the strong feeling that the term “perpetrator” should be avoided. Labeling only harms the situation more, and is particularly problematic the further down the age range you go.
A gendered issue?
The panel discussion for this topic was particularly interesting, sparking a lot of debate. It also highlighted a more general observation, that people felt comfortable disagreeing as the whole community learns together. Certainly boys and mothers are more often involved, but girls are also sometimes extremely violent and fathers can also be victims. A gendered approach brings particular important understanding in some cases and places. The “responsibilisation” of mothers in society is also an important factor. The pragmatic approach is that this is where the money is at the moment!
The conference was closed by Norah Gibbons, Chairperson of Tusla Child and Family Agency, Ireland. Child to parent violence was placed in the historical context of the many other issues which have emerged in the last 30 years – all hidden, and which have turned families upside down. In that sense, we have been here before and we have a lot of background knowledge, but it is now critical that behaviour is identified and named, that training should be included for all professionals, and that good mentoring and supervision should accompany work to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all.
As always, I had great fun catching up with people and networking like mad. It was great to meet some people I have only ever spoken to by email or on twitter, and also someone from Hillingdon, which was one of the first places I visited to talk about the issue. If you’d like to know more, do check out the RCPV website. And do join in the conversation here!
UPDATE FEBRUARY 2021:
Please note that the RCPV website is no longer accessible. However, much of the material has been moved across to the NVR Ireland website and can be accessed there.