When I sent out an invitation in November for people to write something for me, I never expected to receive such interesting contributions! I’m thrilled to be able to start a new year with the first of these contributions from Emily Nickson-Williams, who I have been following on twitter after seeing some very positive comments about the work her team were engaged in around child to parent violence. Emily is the lead for the ‘Relationships Revolution’ at Rochdale Council. She has worked in Children’s Services for the last 17 years and has pioneered a number of initiatives for vulnerable families. Her work has been described as ‘inspirational’ and her more recent efforts developing work around the relationships agenda, including responses to child to parent violence and abuse, led to her receiving the Innovation Award in 2017. Emily brings us a letter from a parent who has attended one of the Break4Change programmes running as part of this work.
I think that for me this open letter is a message of hope. Hope for other families who may be too afraid to come forward to speak to someone because of the fear of consequences from Children’s Services and the Police. The message we would like to give families living in Rochdale is this…
We are there to help you and your family get back to a time where you perhaps felt more in control, on top of things, confident to parent and dare I say happy? These things may seem like a ‘wish list’ for families living with child to parent violence and abuse and you may not remember the last time you felt this way. If this feels like you, let Mary’s letter be a beacon of hope and a step towards the possibility of something different for you and your family. Break4Change is a programme that can support you and your child to address child to parent violence and abuse. The programme is not easy, it’s a process, we encourage you and your family to examine how you function together and how you might find better ways to communicate so that respect becomes the norm.
We often hear from parents that they want us ‘fix’ their child; what I will say to that is that for lasting changes to occur everyone has to work together. The programme takes time and commitment from you both – but the rewards are clearly heard in Mary’s own words. Week by week you will see subtle differences as you start to work differently. If you choose to attend this programme you will be supported to prepare for it and whilst you are on the programme you will meet other families all going through a similar experience. After the programme you will be invited to come back at regular re-grouping events to share your progress with other families you have met.
Here is Mary’s letter …
My name is Mary and my son is John. He is now 13 years old. John was diagnosed with Autism in nursery. He loved primary school and he thrived and had lots of friends. Because of his good behaviour and progress there was no reason why John wouldn’t cope at high school. His teaching assistant from his primary school went with him to the open day and over the summer break he went to the settling in group which he enjoyed with 7 other children who attended.
Once John started high school things started to go wrong. There was an incident where John was pushed in the corridor and that, along with the lighting, the noise, swapping classes for each subject, and the generally chaotic environment of a high school he didn’t manage and simply couldn’t cope.
We struggled on for 3 months and I tried everything to get him there and the more I tried the more and more abusive and aggressive he became.
He was referred to mental health services and offered some home tuition, however the longer he was out of school the more and more socially isolated he became. His world became smaller and smaller and so did mine. I couldn’t possibly go to work. He lived in the front room and his life was his games console.
He became a very angry young person. The main trigger for the abusive outbursts was me trying to get him to school.
This kind of behaviour is often hidden and you lie to people about it because your friends and others say things like, “you want to sort him out or he will be taken off you”. My (now ex) partner would say if John kicks off again he would call the Police and social services. I genuinely thought he would be taken from me. I was petrified of that happening and also of him.
He would scream and shout. I was isolated in the kitchen or my bedroom and to get from one to the other I had to walk out of the front door and round the back as I was too frightened to go in the front room. I was scared to go to bed because I was scared to wake up and what that day might bring. I was sick of the same rubbish every day.
He was hitting me, kicking me and I was completely controlled by him. One day my family worker came to my house and she saw him have a major kick off and punch me in the face. I had lied to her as well about how bad it was. That happened the very same day I started the child to parent violence and abuse programme that my family worker had encouraged me to go on. I had never called the Police before but that day we did. It was the worst day of my life and also the best. It was the end and the start.
It’s hard to explain but I was controlled by my child. I was not confident in my own voice; I did not have a voice. The course gave me my voice. I realised I was not the only one living with this and that course gave me the confidence to realise that professionals don’t judge. I became assertive and acknowledged that I am allowed to tell him what to do – because I am the parent.
The beauty of the programme is that we went together and he is downstairs with a group of other young people and I am upstairs with other parents and we are working on the same things.
I do not really know what they did with my son. On week 3 he demanded my phone and said “give me your phone”. I said “no, you cannot have my phone because I do not respond to your demands”. He said “Sorry Mum, can I please use your phone”. He was calmer in his voice. Something as simple as that but I knew things were changing. My ex-partner said this will never work. But I had faith and I felt different. I got to speak up in the group. There wasn’t someone at the front talking saying “you need to this, you need to do that”. We all talked about what was happening for us and were given solutions by the programme leaders for each of our unique, individual problems at home.
Halfway through the programme the abusive behaviour stopped completely – I have never been hit or controlled or shouted out since that day.
I didn’t tell the group workers until the end that I had lied at the start of the programme about how bad things really were, because I was terrified of what they might think. But as I grew in confidence with them as a group and heard how awful life was for some of the rest of the group, I felt it was ok to start saying a bit more what it was really like. There were others just like me and I had thought I was the only person in Rochdale that was living like this.
I looked forward to Thursdays, it was so different to anything I had ever done before. I don’t believe it would have worked if John had not come too, as I would have been going home with some random magic solutions and he wouldn’t have understand why I was changing if he wasn’t having to change at the same time.
John got a place at a special school in October. He loves it; it’s small like a primary school and he is happy. The course gave him the confidence to be back with other children in a group setting.
Going on the course and knowing that he was being supported to cope again with other children gave me the confidence to take him to other things. I now knew what to do if he kicked off – I knew I had to speak to him differently. We started off really small, going to the little shop and now he comes with me to the big supermarket. I couldn’t do that before because he would kick off if someone looked at him. We do other activities too now. I trust his behaviour now with other people. He was completely unpredictable before.
I think I want to say to you that anyone who is having a bad time needs this help. Professionals can feel like scary people but they aren’t really. Also you need to understand that some people are not that confident as a parent. I thought this was just another course. It’s different to anything else I have ever done. It’s changed my life.
I went to college and got my food hygiene certificates and I applied for my driving licence. I am now looking for work because John is at school. I never thought I was say this but I am actually bored! I really want to work in a school kitchen because then I can work whilst John is at school and I can look after him in the school holidays. Life’s actually great and I’m really enjoying my front room again!
Thank you Emily, and thank you Mary for sharing your story! Your words are so much more powerful than any descriptions or explanations that I could write. It is indeed a message of hope for the many families in a similar situation and, as we start the new year, we hope that the help you and John have received will become more widely available.
Further details of the relationships work taking place in Rochdale can be found here, and you can also follow the team on twitter using #rochdalerelationshipsmatter.
You can be referred to the Rochdale Break4Change programme by any practitioner already supporting you such as a health visitor, social worker, family worker or children’s centre. Alternatively you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
I always welcome contributions from people for this page: whether about work, family experiences or anything else connected with CPV. Please do contact me if you are interested.