Despite urging that we take steps to name and count incidents of child to parent violence, I am generally sceptical about the release of statistics from the police. (I’ve explained why previously here.) Nevertheless, the publication in the last week of figures from the West Midlands Police received widespread coverage in both local and national press, and is to be welcomed.
We read that last year the force received 460 reports of under-18s committing domestic abuse offences, which included 194 child-on-parent offences. The range of incidents included 115 physical assaults, threats to kill, criminal damage, domestic thefts and fraud. The reports go on to give examples of types of incident and ages of the children involved but, most importantly, are based around an interview with Det. Insp. Sally Simpson of the Public Protection Unit, who is investigating the assaults.
Admitting that the figure of 194 is probably only the top of the iceberg, Det. Insp. Simpson apparently went on to say:
Survivors tell us they’d been reluctant to contact police out of embarrassment, a feeling it would be admitting failing as a parent, or a general unconditional love for their children … And sometimes there may be autism or other behavioural issues triggering outbursts that need to be taken into account.
Of the 194 under-18 child-on-parent crime reports received by West Midlands Police last year, 6 out of 10 were dropped because the victim decided not to support a formal prosecution, only 13 progressed to a formal charge, 10 teenagers were given youth cautions, and 12 complaints were dealt with through community resolutions.
They are challenging cases to investigate and with repeat offenders the focus has to be on repairing a fractured family … We have to ask whether taking a child to court or blighting them with a police caution is in their best interests and will address underlying issues. Probably not and if anything it can make matters worse.
This more nuanced understanding, away from a “teach them a lesson” response, is supported by a local doubling of the numbers of officers in the Public Protection Unit.
In order to avoid accusations of complete inconsistency (!) these are the things I am particularly encouraged about:
- The numbers are being counted.
- There is a recognition that this is only part of the picture.
- The issue is recognised as sensitive one by the police, and a different response has been developed.
- There is recognition of the reasons why parents might not contact the police, or pursue an allegation.
- There is a range of remedies outlined, including multi-agency work.
On a less optimistic note, police forces around the country are currently responding to massive budget cuts, with many considering slashing or scrapping Police Community Support Officers. (here, here and here for instance) While not universally acclaimed, some parents have found that developing good relationships with their PCSOs has been vital in their own safety planning and protection where children’s violence has been escalating, or other services are not available.