The need for “safe houses” as part of the provision in #CPV

Government of Catalonia sets up state flat for Spanish teenagers who beat up their parents

I was really interested to see this piece in The Times this morning reporting on the provision in Spain of accommodation for young people using violence within the home.

Despite the framing of the story in the headline, and indeed in the main body of the article, those offered a place will have been convicted within the juvenile justice system, and the 9 – 15 month placement will be “offered” as an alternative to remaining at home under supervision. Such accommodation is intended to provide respite for both parents and teenagers, while they undergo counselling to address their mental health and behaviour. This response to the issue of adolescent to parent violence is typical of the Spanish approach which differs somewhat to that in other countries such as Britain.

Having said that, the question of whether safe accommodation should be made available to young people using violent and abusive behaviour towards their parents in this country is one which has come up in conversation a number of times recently. Removal from the home tends to be viewed as a last resort – frequently meaning that families must reach breaking point before such help can be accessed – and might be through local authority care, hospitalisation or a residential educational placement, or within the youth justice estate if diversion is not applicable. Yet families regularly ask for respite, as a way of meeting the needs of other children, of recharging their own batteries, or indeed as a safety measure because the situation is feeling too dangerous. Who might provide this, how it would be accessed and how it fits into other avenues of help are all interesting questions that must be considered.

The recent research from Condry and Miles into the impact of Covid-19 on the issue of adolescent to parent violence and abuse specifically recommends the establishment of such provision:

4. Provide safe spaces for families at crisis point and respite care for young people

Local authorities need to consider the provision of safe spaces for families in crisis. We were told of an example in Brighton where the police are working with the youth offending service to offer a safe space for young people to go during lockdown. Previously they were taking young into custody as there were no safe spaces for them to go for a ‘cooling off’ period so they have collaborated with the youth offending service and a family support service to offer a safe space for young people to stay while their parents are given support. This kind of innovation is important
at all times, a police cell is not the appropriate place for a child or young person in crisis, but during lockdown when other routes of escape are closed this becomes even more important. As one policy lead said: ‘There is a requirement for safe spaces for families in circumstances when the situation begins to escalate beyond parental control. The risk of criminalisation of children due to these circumstances is increased and should be avoided if possible’.

In an ideal situation there would be help provided before the situation feels unmanageable and dangerous, saving further harm to relationships, to health, to future prospects and wellbeing – and indeed to the public purse. As there is greater recognition of the issue of child / adolescent to parent violence and abuse, and as we see moves for a more strategic and joined up response, we must hope that such provision becomes part of the accepted norm in a suite of responses, designed to meet the very specific needs of individual families.

2 Comments

Filed under Discussion, news reports

2 responses to “The need for “safe houses” as part of the provision in #CPV

  1. Rose Chitseko

    This sounds like a good idea but I have reservations based on my personal experience. During her early – mid teens my elder daughter was often extremely angry and physically aggressive, mainly towards her sister who was five years younger. I really struggled to deal with this and my husband was often out or away from home so I had little support. When she was sixteen our elder daughter applied to move into supported accommodation run by the local Council. I supported her application, saying that we weren’t getting on well at home, and soon afterwards she was given a small flat and went on benefits.
    With hindsight we feel that this was a mistake as she began to drink heavily from that time and by the age of about 19 she was alcohol dependent. She clearly had mental health problems from her early teens and had taken an overdose of her Dad’s pills when she was only fourteen, as well as getting drunk to the point of being taken to hospital. She had received several months of counselling support from CAMHS after these incidents but none of this information was considered by anyone when she was applying for supported housing.
    Looking back both she and I feel that what was really needed was much better, longer term, mental health support for both of us during her early teens, including someone specifically asking us about anger and violence, because I don’t recall the topic ever coming up with CAMHS and I may not have volunteered the information as I didn’t know what was ‘normal’. While it was an enormous relief for the rest of the family when she left home, the relief was short-lived because a few years later she returned with much worse problems in the form of alcohol dependence on top of the mental health issues. If young people were offered independent accommodation it would need to be properly run to ensure similar problems did not arise.

    • Thank you Rose for your comment and your insights. I believe the point you have made is crucial in that this sort of accommodation must come with the appropriate support for all the members of the family, so that it is genuinely a therapeutic response, and not simply a way to move the problem on.
      I am sorry to learn that things did not go as hoped for your own family, and hope that you have all been able to find help since.

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