Continuing a mini series of interviews about different projects around the country, I have been speaking with Sian Taylor at Wish for a Brighter Future in Bristol.
Wish for a Brighter Future (WISH) has been in operation since 2003, when a small group of Hartcliffe residents identified a need to provide domestic abuse support in their community. WISH worked for many years supporting men, women and children affected by domestic violence and abuse (DVA) within the local community before developing their parent abuse project. They found their understanding and experience of DVA were vital in making the transition from domestic to parent abuse support. While the original expectation was that the work would be with young people, delivering domestic abuse prevention work through education and group work support – and the funding* supported this plan – once the doors opened the organisation was inundated with referrals for parent abuse, and for the last year this has been the sole focus of the work.
WISH now has three practitioners, with backgrounds in youth work, counseling and domestic violence work, and has developed a model of practice grounded in attachment theory; making use of Jane Evans, trauma and parenting specialist, to build this approach.
Sian, Project Coordinator, says:
Interestingly, we really have gone on a journey in developing this model. We became a specialist adolescent to parent abuse project less than a year ago and it wasn’t until then, with Jane’s experience and input, that we really cemented our approach. The truth is we were learning ourselves, learning from our service users, trying to get our hands on child to parent violence (CPV) literature, looking to the work of Bowlby. We were open to different approaches but we were continually being reminded of the levels of domestic abuse and trauma our young people and parents had been exposed to. There was no way the trauma could be separated from the fragmented child/parent relationship we were seeing. Increasingly, we knew we needed to place our support within the context of the family. I believe our approach is empowering because ultimately we are imparting to these young people and parents that they themselves hold the key to rebuilding their relationships. That gives them options and scope. It’s often difficult at the beginning for these families to envisage mutually respectful, tender relationships with each other but we have seen relationships transform when they commit to the process.
I asked Sian if they had found other issues as well as past trauma to be an important factor in the route to parent abuse.
I don’t think we can explore the issue of CPV without considering the fundamental relationship between parent and child, but equally, how can we ignore the influence of their external environment? I don’t envy the young person of today – they face a multitude of pressures and confusing messages about how to live their lives. There are expectations around gender roles and having violent behaviour modelled either from (usually) fathers who have perpetrated violence or from it being promoted as a problem solving exercise through film and social media. I believe there is a place for education within all of this but I am on the bandwagon for support to parents and young people post domestic violence. The longer the effects of domestic violence go unattended, both for the non-abusing parent and child, the deeper the damage. Lives can be turned around and parents and children can re-attach but early intervention is the key. I am also glad to see resurgence around attachment parenting.
With its origins in domestic abuse work, it is perhaps natural that much of the work is with families who have experienced this; but WISH does also receive requests and interest from families with very complex situations, such as for post-adoption support. The team is careful not to attempt work where additional knowledge, skill and expertise are needed. When very complex referrals are received, they will ‘regroup’ to consider how to best move forward. Sian says: It’s a gradual process but the whole team is thriving on being part of such an evolving project.
In common with many projects around the country, WISH is finding that families are experiencing abuse from younger and younger children, as well as seeing younger siblings deeply impacted by the abuse by older brothers and sisters. As they are funded to work with 11 – 17 year olds, this can present problems, particularly as they believe the key is to get in to families as early as possible. Where they are unable to support an under 11, they will always endeavour to signpost to other support if possible. Sibling work is a “gaping hole in provision”. There is hope that it might be possible to develop in this direction in future.
Short term work for families experiencing parent abuse can often be seen as controversial, and Sian is conscious that, while good progress can be made in that time for some young people and their parents, for some deeply troubled families, after twelve weeks they may be just beginning to scratch the surface. In these situations intervention really needs to be long term and WISH may not be the right service to provide this. If they are able to access trauma informed therapy first, it may be that they are able to benefit more from what WISH has to offer, but that is a very scarce resource. After the twelve-week programme has ended, it may be possible to offer another six weeks of support, or even phone contact – though here the onus is on the family to initiate the contact.
WISH takes most of their referrals from schools and Children’s Services, but any agency can refer and they also accept self-referrals. The organisation website is about to be re-launched in March / April this year, but all the information currently there is accurate.
Sian says the team are always keen to develop their service and keep the families at the heart of all they do, and so they invite any feedback and comments. Please do contact her via this blog, or through the WISH website.
* Wish for a Brighter Future receives funding from: The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Children in Need, Knightstone Housing, Lloyds TSB
Update, September 2017. Please note that this project has had to close when funding ceased.