About Parent Abuse
Initially more widely used, the term parent abuse has now generally been superseded by other phrases: child to parent violence (CPV), adolescent violence in the home (AVITH), and child (or adolescent) to parent violence and abuse (CPVA / APVA) being perhaps the most widely used. It is generally defined as a pattern of behaviour, instigated by a child, using verbal, physical, psychological or financial means to gain power and control over a parent or carer. The inclusion of an element of intent is contentious, and so I have not included it here.
While the peak age has been assumed to be between 13 and 15 years old (Family Lives Report 2011), parents with significantly younger children, including 4 year olds upwards, are now seeking help. Parents often delay coming forward because it is initially confused with “normal” child or adolescent behaviour, so it is more helpful to think of it as an ongoing situation, not a one-off incident, which may escalate to extreme and life threatening abuse. Figures differ for the level of incidence, and the numbers regularly quoted are that between 5 and 15% of families with adolescents experience levels of behaviour considered abusive. Because statistics have been gathered in a variety of ways, sometimes from other studies altogether, and often from self reported samples, it has been suggested that the true figure is more likely to be around 2 – 4% (Eddie Gallagher) for serious ongoing difficulties, though others believe the numbers we have represent only the tip of the iceberg. The figure for adoptive families is accepted to be significantly higher, because of the early trauma experiences of the children concerned.
It seems that violence is most commonly directed towards the mother, and those causing harm are most often sons; but fathers and daughters are also very much involved. There is no one cause, but many correlations have been identified, including past domestic violence, substance use by the adolescent, disorganised family life, and also a sense of over-entitlement in the young person. Once the full picture is seen, there may well be a link with trauma of some kind in the young person’s life. Often, a youngster’s involvement in the criminal justice system may be the first indication that things are going wrong at home, as it has been very difficult for parents to even name the problem, let alone seek or find help.
Child to parent violence and abuse has been identified as a problem across the globe. The last ten – fifteen years have similarly seen wide interest in research, in the raising of awareness and in the development of specific support programmes for parents or families to overcome their difficulties and learn to live in peace once more.
I have worked as a Social Worker since 1980, qualifying in 1983 with a diploma from Goldsmiths College, and then working in a “patch team”, with anyone and everyone who walked through the door.
In the early ’90s I moved across to work in schools with parents, first establishing my own project to develop parental involvement as a means to raising achievement; and then for a third sector organisation, School Home Support (SHS), working with children and families to overcome barriers to learning. I have also worked on a range of small, locally-based, short term projects with young people, developing citizenship and personal safety skills.
From 1999 to 2010 I combined my work for SHS supervising colleagues – school-based family workers and learning mentors – with a role as a Practice Educator, working with social work students on placement for a number of universities.
What I carry across all of these is a heart for early intervention, networking, relationship-based work to enable people to realise their own skills and build resilience.
In 2004 I decided to go back into education myself and took an MA in Child Studies at Kings College, London, researching Parent Abuse as my specialty. Though I completed the course in 2006, I was so affected that I vowed to continue my own study and to work to raise awareness of this little recognised issue. From 2010, I continued to work with social work students, while also throwing myself into developing this site and, increasingly, speaking on Parent Abuse at training events and conferences. For the last five or so years I was working on a guide for practitioners supporting families affected by this type of abuse. I am delighted to say that the guide was published in 2019.
I have also written a column for Community Care magazine, and occasional articles for other journals.
I have two grown up sons who have taught me much, above all that I still have much to learn.
About this site
The first time I came across a mother terrified of her teenage son was in the mid 1980s when I was working as a social worker in East London. We really didn’t know what to suggest – and it’s played on my mind ever since.
In 2005 I had an opportunity to research the kinds of help available for parents experiencing abuse from their teenage children. While we know more than we did in the mid ’80s, and there is certainly more help available now than there was then, it became clear that we were in many ways still in the early stages of understanding this issue. And that we still need to pull together to take it further. While academics and researchers know how to calmly test out information, it can be harder for parents to sift good advice when things get desperate.
What I aim to do here is to draw together everything I have found so far, and continue to find from week to week, with some comments and interpretations, as well as links to helpful material. I am also pleased to host guest posts from others from time to time. All material made available by third parties is published in good faith. If the site is useful to you as a parent, professional or academic, that’s what I hope for. If you find material or comments you disagree with then please let me know. By discussing these things we can all develop our knowledge and understanding further.