Child to parent violence: Parents talking

On Sunday 28th August, Hannah Meadows posted on her website “But they look so innocent”: Our CPV experience – an account of living with traumatised primary aged children, and the family’s attempts to access help. The post was picked up by many people over the next couple of days, with significant twitter comments, and then also featured as a Mumsnet Blog of the Day. Hannah’s is by no means the only blog to raise the issue of child to parent violence in recent weeks. As schools returned, other parents spoke out about the stresses faced by their young people and the impact this has on mood, regulation and behaviour; and a quick tweet asking for contributions brought many other families and issues to my attention. Discussion ranged from the difficulties in being believed that there is a problem, professional understanding of the issues, lack of resources and the impact of budget cuts, the problem with “quick fixes” and being encouraged towards courses that are too brief, to what happens when misguided help makes things worse. Some of these issues are all too familiar, but others are important considerations which, perhaps, have not been sufficiently addressed in the past.

One of the people who replied to my comments was Scott Casson-Rennie, adoptive parent to three sons and Regional Manager in the Development Team (England) for Adoption UK. Scott, who tweets as  @GayAdoption Dad, kindly agreed to contribute his thoughts and experience for this post.

* * * * *

Having been an adoptive parent for 10 years, I feel we got away lightly in a number of ways with behaviours at home for the first 8 of those years. Our two older sons appeared to the outside world to have manners, and certainly in our home they respected us, they may not have respected some of their belongings, toys broken easily in the early days, and we have probably gone through a large number of mobile phone screens, but there was never anything physical towards us – I deem that as lucky.

Things changed in the summer of 2014. We had been approached by the same Local Authority that placed our older sons, wondering if we would consider another child. By chance, we had discussed it already, and so it did not take much for us to reach the decision, and of course, as always, the photograph that accompanied the profile would melt even the iciest of hearts. A reasonably similar child in a number of ways, but I am not sure that we could have prepared ourselves for the differences, even if we had tried.

There were reports of him being difficult, bloody minded, physical etc with his previous foster carers. Eight years into being a family already, we knew from experience that some things are noted, some things aren’t and to be perfectly honest, we willingly took the risk. Five months was all it took for him to feel safe enough to begin the physical attacks on himself, his environment, and of course us.

To begin with it was tame, but it came as a huge shock when it happened. What was also a shock was how we felt about it…. I had heard of CPV, but did not relate it to what was happening and certainly would not have told anyone that it was happening. Imagine, not being able to control a nearly 8 year old, what would people think?

Forward two years later, and the outburst are still there, not on such a regular basis, but they are still there. We are beginning the long process of assessments and therapies, and we have been proactive in trying to access our own support.

What helps? Twitter actually… I don’t think I have ever made the statement – “Yes, we have CPV here too” but just being with others in the same boat helps.

We were sent an invite by the placing Local Authority to a “CPV training session” – a 6 hours workshop one Friday with an engaging facilitator. It was good, really good, and made us think about some of the things we do, and how to do some damage limitation when the outburst occurs. BUT it was not training! It was an introduction to CPV. Child to parent violence training is not 6 hours long … It is positive for adoptive families that Local Authorities are recognising the need to support families experiencing CPV, but this workshop can do more damage than good. The solutions need to be bespoke, and fit around the parenting style and needs of all involved.

A social worker I know, who will remain anonymous, is in the middle of attending the full CPV training. The feedback has not been good – whilst some of the training has been useful, the adoptive parents on the course are not getting what they need out of it, and my social worker friend states quite clearly the materials are aimed more at social workers than families.

This has the potential to go wrong if not dealt with properly!

So, what do we need as adoptive families when we are experiencing CPV:

  • Support from others experiencing CPV
  • Ability to “come out” without feeling judged
  • Acknowledgement and validation from professionals
  • Easier access to professional support
  • Bespoke and relevant training aimed at parents who are good parents
  • Follow up support
  • Peer support

What we don’t need:

  • Patronising – we are not bad parents – we are constantly living on a knife edge when experiencing CPV
  • Workshops – these will do more damage than good
  • To be ignored – CPV is extremely tough and we certainly did not sign up to it; it is close to the most anxious and desperate a parent can ever feel – being ignored with no support risks parents’ mental health being affected and huge problems with secondary trauma – add that to everything else that happens day to day

This isn’t just my opinion, this is also the opinion of the adoptive community, and it certainly does not cover all of the thoughts or feelings that we have as parents around CPV. As parents we would like to be safe, validated and supported, without fear of being continually damaged by our traumatised child/ren – and of course, the worst case scenario – well, in cases of CPV it would be best not to even think about what that could be.

* * * * *

Scott’s concerns, and the input of others, are posted not just to fill space, nor to be “inclusive”, but because there are important messages here for those of us on the other side of the fence. I do believe that most practitioners are well meaning and desperately anxious to help – once they become aware of the issue of CPV. But that must not simply translate into a desperate signposting towards anything or everything we’ve heard about the problem. In my last post I talked about the need to be more nuanced perhaps in the designing of programmes. Here we are thinking about other important factors too, including the importance of starting from a baseline of believing these to be “good parents”; as well as advertising and promotion, with questions to consider like:

  • Is this a standard parenting course or is it specifically relevant to parents experiencing CPV?
  • Is this an introduction or a training course?
  • Is it designed to offer information or to give strategies?
  • Who is this course / programme designed (and advertised) for – practitioners or parents?
  • Is it more relevant for parents in a particular situation?
  • Is there follow up support offered?

When there is still so little available, it can be very tempting to push people towards anything we find. But as has been pointed out, if it’s not the right fit, and it doesn’t address the particular need, then it’s a waste of everyone’s time and money. I will try to be more careful about what is posted on the Events and Training pages here in future after these discussions. And I will certainly be encouraging anyone who contacts me to be clear in their promotional flyers as to who their training is for!

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