On August 7th, The BBC published a story on their website – and also covered it on national and local radio – titled Domestic Violence: Child-parent abuse doubles in three years. The BBC piece is clear and succinct, with a straightforward laying out of the statistics, comments from Young Minds and the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), a brief case study concerning a parent of an 11 year old girl and the help received from the Getting On Scheme in Doncaster, and a short video highlighting the work of Break4Change in Brighton. The figures were obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the police for the period 2015 – 2018, for records of adolescent to parent violence and abuse (APVA). Of 44 forces contacted, only 19 collect the data in a way that is able to separate out APVA specifically.
First of all, one of the most exciting things about this story for me was the number of people who got in touch to tell me they had seen it – word is getting out there about the issue! More important though was the analysis and commentary which followed across social media, showing a good understanding of the issues. So has it doubled?
Although the headline makes claims that APVA has doubled, the article itself includes commentary from the NPCC that makes it clear that this is a somewhat dubious claim. What has actually happened in these three years has been a change in recording practices as more and more police forces have recognised this as a separate issue demanding attention, and sought to capture incidents under a separate code. When Condry and Miles researched the phenomenon of adolescent to parent violence, as recorded by the Metropolitan Police 2009-2010, they had to count by hand, trawling through records to find the data they wanted. Some forces have been separating this out for a while now. As long ago as 2015 I blogged about the West Midlands response to CPV, and it’s good to see their figures among the 17 who were able to respond. Let us hope that the remaining forces take this on board soon.
A second change which will show in the figures is the growing levels of public awareness. With more attention in the news and other media, including soaps, parents are increasingly hearing and talking about the issue, whether experiencing it themselves or not, and consequently may feel more able to report it and seek help. In the second video featured, Jane Griffiths of Break4Change talks about a 10% rise in referrals to the service year on year. Even so, the stigma attached to the issue means that many families still don’t come forward for help, or only when the situation reaches an extreme level, and contacting the police in particular may indeed be a last resort, making us believe that the true figures will be significantly greater than those recorded by the police. I would not want to celebrate in any way figures that suggest an increase in pain and distress; and yet at some level this apparent increase is good news, representing increased awareness of, and attention paid to, an issue many of us have been banging on about for a long time.
The article reports correctly that there is no legal definition of APVA. Although it comments that APVA falls within the wider category of domestic abuse (DA), within Britain the DA legislation will only capture young people aged 16 and 17. The piece itself discusses adolescents, but draws on the experiences of the family of an eleven year old and it is not clear whether this situation would have been recorded within the FOI requests. Furthermore we are learning that children as young as 4 may demonstrate behaviour that is violent, frightening and persistent to the extent that it would fall within our concerns. Once again, we see that the figures reported here are likely to be a significant under-representation.
Finally, while the article quotes Tom Madders from Young Minds who says, “People are reaching out for support and not getting it and often having to resort to calling the police as the only line of support” it is also clear that there are a growing number of resources around the country which families are able to access. I know there aren’t nearly enough, but services often get a bad press and so I feel duty bound to remind us all that there are increasing numbers of people working hard to support families through their experience of violence and abuse, finding ways to restore healthy family relationships.*
We have often bemoaned the fact that, “if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count” – here we have proof that it is starting to count!**
* If you need help yourself, or for someone else, it is not easy to know where to go. There may be specific issues which will help direct you to a specialist agency. Otherwise you are welcome to look at my Directory page.
** I heard recently that the organisation Childline has now also introduced a separate code for recording child to parent violence, a very positive move.