There has been much discussion about the increase in domestic abuse that has been seen and documented around the world, as country after country has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by locking down the population. A less discussed aspect of violence within the family in the past, but one which is increasingly receiving attention, is that of child to parent violence, with people now asking how quarantining and isolation are impacting this group of families. I am pleased to bring this guest post, discussing this issue, from Eleanor Haworth of Adoption UK. Eleanor is Director for Service Delivery at the charity. With her social work background as well, I am hopeful that we can start to see a greater influence in this area of practice.
Professor David Spiegelhalter has one of the best job titles in the world, he is a “Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk.” I was listening to him talking on the radio, and he has a calm and reassuring manner. He does not patronise, but he convinces me that I can understand complex statistics. This is not something that my school mathematics teachers ever accomplished.
He was explaining that the medical risk for people with regards to the Covid-19 virus was an extension of the risk they carry in general life. So, if you are older, unhealthy and vulnerable in normal life, then you will be at greater risk during this pandemic. However, if you are young, healthy and robust in normal life that will be equally true in terms of this virus.
This made me wonder about the social risks of the pandemic and lockdown. Do we carry into the coronavirus all the same risks we had previously?
In my conversations about child to parent violence (CPV) throughout this lockdown a clear message has emerged. This lockdown makes the experience of CPV so much more acute. The normal coping mechanisms and techniques are not as readily available. Support services are restricted and in many cases the professionals are feeling desperate too.
At Adoption UK we have had many people contacting us explaining that CPV is an acute issue in their homes. There are families where violence had been reduced and other, less violent forms of managing had been employed and there has been regression. We’ve been told of families where children are living out of the home and this lockdown prevents them from safely seeing their family, which then acts as a trigger for trauma, distress and violence.
The news media quickly reacted to a perceived rise in domestic violence, and yet the CPV story was slower to emerge. Is this another of the risks that CPV carries into the pandemic? A previously hidden difficulty that does not receive public support in the national emergency.
Certainly, a risk that is carried forward, from my perspective, is that there is a double jeopardy present in CPV. Trapped within an abusive situation and responsible for the abusive party. It is hard to see many other groups taking this with them into the pandemic. That’s why we have been keen to help the Home Office and police authorities to understand that needing extra trips outside the home isn’t an indulgence, that choosing not to cause a violent showdown as to whether a teenager should respect the lockdown is not negligent parenting and that families do not get close to disruption and crisis easily.
I do not want this blog to feel pessimistic, because taken in the round the risk discussion is not pessimistic. For those people where societal pressures were contributing to risk, you don’t take those risks with you into lockdown. We have also heard about families who are managing better with the conformity of school, work and social activity being a daily source of distress. For these families, the lockdown has allowed a calm, a period of nesting and an opportunity to unite in our family relationships.
I think that understanding CPV and Covid-19 in these terms helps me to recognise that this is not about blame and that this should not be about shame. If we carry our risk register with us, then it is right that we can explain our risk factors and these should be respected as needs. This is not a story of failure or fault, and it is only by recruiting in supporters to listen to this need that the appropriate support and structures will be created. I hope that people can take their own power to tell their stories in this way and that the professionals can hear it in this same way. Maybe that way we can all become Professors in the Public Understanding of Risk.
Many thanks to Eleanor for this post. As always, if you would like to contribute anything to the discussion about child to parent violence and abuse, please do send me an email.