The absence of consistent, reliable, and comparable incidence data in the field of child / adolescent to parent violence and abuse is not simply frustrating; it presents a significant barrier to raising awareness and the development of a comprehensive response system. It is not only that we have no solid figures to offer, but that there is no widely adopted method of counting in the first place, compounded by the understandable reluctance of families to seek help and become one of those statistics. A new piece of research from CEL&T and Northumbria University in conjunction with Northumbria Police, released this week, sought to develop a dataset which could be adopted easily, and would provide vital information about those young people coming to the attention of the police in order to better inform the development of services. This particular piece of work is one of the strands coming out of the 2016 DHR into the death of ‘Sarah’. The research, and subsequent report, uses the term CCVAB: Childhood challenging violent or aggressive behaviour. The findings were presented to the police on Friday, 24th April by Al Coates, Dr Wendy Thorley, and Jeannine Hughes; and released to the public on Monday 27th.
It is shocking reading serious case reviews and domestic homicide reviews to see how often the same issues come up again and again. So while the background to the recent drive to improve services in Northumbria has been tragic, the determination to pick up on the recommendations of this DHR (also here), and to work together to develop protocols, resources and training is to be commended. Sarah was a 45 year old woman, killed in 2015 by her 16 year old son Michael, despite years of asking for help, when her difficulties were interpreted as a deficit of parenting, and the escalating risk she faced at the hands of her increasingly unwell and violent son was neither fully recognised nor attended to.
CEL&T have previously published reports into CCVAB, considering in particular different drivers – whether the violence and aggression is related to trauma for instance, or to a diagnosed mental health condition – and acknowledging the impact on families in this situation. This latest report, Policing Childhood Challenging Violent or Aggressive Behaviour: Responding to vulnerable families (Executive Summary here), builds on this framework in starting to analyse the data collected. Over two years, the research team devised a set of questions, developed a strategy for collecting the relevant data, and then considered the information they had amassed in a nine month period. In all, a total of 224 children and young people were recorded within the dataset, involved in 515 separate incidents. The dataset included the number of incidents responded to (daily, weekly and monthly), the age and gender of the child displaying CCVAB, known previous incidents for the same child, and relationship of the child to the parent / carer. There was seen to be a high representation of young people with SEND, at 28%. Predominantly biological children, the male / female split reflects that commonly found in similar research (335 male / 180 female); with an age spread in this particular data of 9 – 19 years, peaking between 13 and 16. The possible contribution of substance use, mental health, domestic violence and poverty are all considered, and a number of hypotheses developed around ACES, school attendance and stress.
It is acknowledged that calling the police is hugely problematic for many families, fearing the longterm consequences for their child; but finding other services unresponsive when they seek help, this becomes the agency of last resort. As a result, not only are these figures likely to under-represent the true prevalence of CCVAB, and in particular the rate amongst younger children, but they may also be skewed to the families who have become exhausted by their family experience, or where the abuse is at the most dangerous end of the spectrum. It might then be surprising that nearly a third of incidents were not recorded as criminal behaviour, and, of those that were, fewer than half resulted in arrest. Rather, this can be interpreted as a recognition of the importance of diverting these young people away from the criminal justice system, and finding a response elsewhere. There is great concern expressed that the current Home Office Guidance in this field is not sufficiently robust or comprehensive, and it is expected that the findings of this study will feed in to the review presently being undertaken of this document. A series of other recommendations to the Home Office, the police, social work and education call for greater training and awareness, an agreed definition, named officers, and a roll out of properly evidenced work with families. Furthermore, the current lockdown situation is recognised as offering an opportunity for the collection of valuable comparative data in understanding the key features and drivers of CCVAB / CPV.
I would urge you to read the reports, and to be encouraged that this issue is finally attracting the attention it needs if families are to be properly supported to find a way to live safely and healthily together.