Category Archives: Discussion

A response to the proposed changes to Domestic Abuse legislation in Britain

These comments are my own and do not necessarily represent those of other parties working and interested in the field of child to parent violence.

I have used the terms adolescent to parent abuse (APA), adolescent to parent violence (APV), child to parent violence (CPV), and parent abuse (PA) interchangeably, except where this has been made clear, to reflect the different usage at different times and by different people.

 

This week the Government published their landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, alongside the response to the Consultation, Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse. The Consultation looked at four specific areas:

  • promoting awareness
  • protecting and supporting victims
  • transforming the justice process and perpetrator response
  • and improving performance.

The Consultation Response and the Bill have been welcomed by many, particularly for the inclusion of economic abuse within the definition, recognition of the harm afforded to children and young people affected by domestic abuse (DA) within the family, for the protection afforded to victims and witnesses in court, and for the commitments to secure tenancies for those being rehoused. Nevertheless, there has been significant concern expressed about the need to translate words into actions, with adequate funding of services. Particular interest groups have rightly pointed out areas where they feel commitments could have been stronger, or where a change of direction is needed.

Along with colleagues working with families experiencing child or adolescent to parent violence, I was pleased to be invited to contribute to the round table meetings, as well as the open consultation process. CPV and APV have remained hidden for far too long. Despite mention in the VAWG strategy, there has been little further recognition since the publication of the Home Office Guidance in 2015. So it was pleasing to see specific mention and recognition of adolescent to parent abuse within the commitments of government, and within the proposed legislation.

In enshrining the definition in law, it is acknowledged that domestic abuse need not be confined to couples, but might also take place between those who are related to each other, “including parental abuse by an adolescent or grown child.” This is confirmed in the Bill itself, which defines individuals who are ‘personally connected’ as including ‘they are relatives.” Following the consultation, the age limit remains at 16 years old plus, so young people over this age using violence against parents will fall within the legislation, though younger children are excluded, and by implication their behaviour is considered as something else.

The remaining parts of the proposed legislation consider the creation of the post of Domestic Abuse Commissioner, powers for dealing with DA, protection for victims and witnesses in court and then miscellaneous provisions; and with such a strong focus on a criminal justice response it might be felt that there is little else of direct interest to those working in this field. I will be interested though to see how the DA Commissioner takes this forward, with an explicit role of improving performance, including the collection of data – and how much attention we can attract for the future.

There is slightly more to work with in the consultation response. We have a clear statement early on that this is a specific issue that has been under-recognised:

“… it is clear that the impact of domestic abuse on young people needs to be properly recognised and we need to ensure that agencies are aware of it and how to appropriately identify and respond. This includes: children living in abusive households; teenage relationship abuse; and abuse directed towards siblings and parents.” (1.1)

but after an initial flurry of excitement, I will confess that I was left somewhat confused.

A call for good healthy relationships education in schools, and specific guidance across all sectors in responding to DA, with a recognition that more needs to be done to raise public awareness is to be applauded; similarly a recognition of the harm done to all children in witnessing DA, since we understand many children to be using abuse themselves after witnessing it in other relationships. Then we come on to money. Section 2.2 of the consultation response considers the allocation of funding, which is to include £8million (out of a total £100 million 2016-2020) for particular groups such as the LGBT+ community, elderly victims, male victims, disabled victims, those affected by APA, and victims of economic abuse. There is also recognition of the value and importance of collaborative multi-agency approaches, with services commissioned locally and driven by local need, and a need for more training in effective working. So far, so good.

Then we have Section 2.5.3 Adolescent to parent violence. I’ll give you the whole section here as I think it’s important.

2.5.3 Adolescent to parent violence

Adolescent to parent violence is a relatively hidden but increasingly recognised form of domestic abuse. Victims of this type of abuse may feel unsure of how to access support and may not feel they will be believed if they do come forward.

It is important to recognise that services need to take an approach that provides wrap-around support to the entire family, and that responding agencies need training to be able to do so effectively, both to reduce harm and to prevent children ending up in the criminal justice system.

You said:

“It is important that adolescent to parent violence is recognised as distinct from intimate partner violence if patterns of violent and abusive behaviour by all children are to be taken seriously.”

You said that young people who perpetrate domestic abuse is still a relatively hidden area of abuse and that there is a lack of focus on it in current government activity. It is clear that this is a complex and hidden type of abuse, which requires a specialist response.

Some of you who have experienced abuse from your children cited feelings of alienation by social services and other agencies, and felt that there was a lack of services available.

You emphasised that services need to interact to support the entire family, and that agencies need training for dealing with this kind of abuse. By concentrating efforts on services available to children and parents, it potentially reduces the harm caused, as well as keeping children outside of the criminal justice system.

We will:

We will draw together best practice and develop training and resources to improve the response to victims of adolescent to parent violence.

We will also promote and embed existing Home Office guidance and general principles in addition to working with experts to develop service-specific guidance.

Well, there’s an explicit recognition of the preference to keep young people out of the CJ system, and of the need for different responses to other, adult, perpetrators; and a commitment to training and resources …. BUT, by the time we get to the grid of commitments in annex C to the consultation, we have managed to maintain the commitment to develop best practice and to promote and develop service specific guidance – but somehow lost the money! I’ve read it over and over again, but in Section 2.4.1 APA has disappeared from the list of specialist needs.

At the risk of being accused of sour grapes, opinion is split as to whether we should be considering adolescent to parent violence within the domestic abuse field at all. Wilcox (2012) states that it is only by moving away from a youth justice framework and conceptualizing it in this way that we can break the silence around the issue, securing the pre-existing expert multi-agency approach that is so necessary, and countering the prevailing narrative of mother-blaming. In contrast, Westmarland (2015) believes that ignoring the significant differences with IPV, and subsuming parent abuse under the heading of domestic abuse has served rather to make it more invisible, contributing to the lack of research attention and theoretical development. There is also proper concern at the focus within the DA field on the criminal justice pathway as the main response, for children and young people who may be using violence and abuse for reasons related to the experience of trauma, neuro-developmental differences, or mental ill-health. Reassuringly, here, the government is recognising that there are many differences which call for a distinct response.  Clearly many parents do resort to the law as a response to the abuse they experience, but whether they do this because they believe it to be the appropriate avenue of help, or whether it is the only one available is a question that needs to be explored further, and not simply accepted as the way forward.

Whichever point of view we take, it is important to be clear that this particular legislation only encompasses abusive acts committed by individuals aged 16 and over. We understand that much violence and abuse is directed towards parents by younger teens and indeed by children of primary school age, and for a vast range of reasons. And what happens at age 16? Have the issues changed, or are young people to be held differently accountable? It is not only academics and commentators who struggle to find a framework to understand this phenomenon. Many parents affected are clear that they feel uncomfortable about naming the abuse they suffer as domestic violence. I do believe that government departments across the board, and all services, need to be aware of APV as an issue, and for all to develop a framework for responding which recognises the multitude of factors, and the kaleidoscope of family types and needs.

Does the proposed legislation move things forward positively? I am always pleased for the recognition of this as an issue, and here, one that is acknowledged to have been hidden and poorly understood. I remain ambivalent myself about whether this is the correct framework for understanding and action. There are many significant differences to be found, and it is clearly possible to develop multi-agency responses without this umbrella definition.  I remain fundamentally confused as to whether there will be any money there or not, but looking at the other groups sharing it I suspect there will be thin pickings in any case. But … I will be very interested to seeing how the role of DA commissioner develops; and to being included in the development of best practice and in training and resources to improve the response to parents affected by APA; and to updating and promoting the Home Office guidance document to ensure as many practitioners as possible are equipped to respond to this in future. Many of us having been shouting for a long time. It is gratifying to feel that you have been heard!

Added 30th January

The Human Rights Joint Select Committee is seeking views on the draft bill. You are invited to send written submissions by February 15th. Please see here for more information and the submissions form.

 

 

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CPV: Fighting for a kinder, person-centred response in the future

For the last few years it seems, in amongst all my other CPV posts, I have thought, discussed, and posted a lot about the experiences of adoptive parents experiencing violence or abuse from their children, but this year feels already like there’s going to be a lot of attention – rightly so – given to those struggling with the behaviour of their children with learning difficulties or disabilities. With the treatment of children and young people in assessment units very much in the news, expect to hear even more! For many, the conflation of this type of behaviour – identified as a response to anxiety and stress in the face of unreasonable (and often very reasonable) expectations – with deliberate, manipulative acts of violence and control from some neuro-typical children does not sit easily. Indeed, Yvonne Newbold has coined the term Violent Challenging Behaviour to make this distinction.

This post, Time to breathe out, from a mum blogging about Life with Aine, starts us off.

It’s the first day of school after the Christmas break.  The anxiety that has been simmering for the last two weeks, for me at least, becomes reality.

When faced with doing something that she doesn’t want to do, Aine can become physically violent.  This is something that she has displayed at various levels over her life.  It started as self-injurious, biting her arm during physio sessions.  We bought bangles and chewy items to prevent the injury but nothing seemed to satisfy her the same as hurting herself.  She would bite the therapist if they weren’t quick enough, but it was mainly herself.  This progressed to head hitting and elbow banging, bending her arm and smashing her elbow hard onto a surface; table, wall, door.  Less often she would bang her head on surfaces and also bend forward into a most envious forward fold yoga pose to bite hard on her knees.

It was easier to dodge when she was little and it was far easier to distract her.  A game made her forget that she was being dressed or being made to take foul-tasting medicine or being made to contort her tight muscles into painful stretches,  As she has grown, she has become more savvy.  “This uniform means school and I don’t want to go there!”  “This spoon means medicine and it tastes like feet!”  And also the realisation that certain behaviours and words push certain buttons in care givers has developed.  If I am failing to respond to a pinch or a scratch, a swift slap around the face gives the eye contact she wants.

For the remainder of the post, and for others by Kate McDonagh, please do visit the website: If you jump in muddy puddles …

Many differences indeed, but also some similarities, which reminds us in fact that every situation, every family and every child is unique, with their own situation, anxieties and response. Above all, we need compassion; and we look this year for a more kind, hopeful and person-centred response to those families in need.There is a long debate to be had about how we understand different aspects of violent or challenging behaviour from children, what we call it too. Its a puzzle we’ve been trying to untangle on this site, and we hope you’ll join in this year as we carry on fighting for awareness, understanding, and a thoughtful and supportive response for families.

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CPV: Standing together

I am breaking my silence.

I am breaking my silence for any person who is a stepparent, and they are living in a dangerous situation at the hands of their stepchildren.

I am breaking my silence because I know what it is like to scourer the internet trying to find someone or some resource to signal that I was not alone.

So begins a post from Dr Sam Kline. You can read the rest of the post here, and there is the promise of a follow up on her site in a week or so. You will recognise many of her comments:

  • The assumption that ‘step-parent abuse’ was abuse BY step-parents
  • The societal messages to girls and women not to make a fuss, to keep the peace, to look after the needs of the men
  • The shame and lack of expectation of help that stops people coming forward

She raises important messages to families in responding to abuse:

  • The importance of parents ‘being on the same page’
  • The importance of going through with plans, however hard to do
  • The importance of support from friends and of being believed

And she also talks about the way that parents keep loving, even when that means loving from a distance.

We have no certainty of how many families – of every hue – experience violence and abuse from their children, and we can probably never know exactly. While parents find it difficult to come forward for help, and for all of us to talk about this, there will continue to be people who believe that they are totally alone in their experience. Thankfully, the last couple of years have seen more people speaking out, more sympathetic coverage, and a more widespread response, but we still have a long way to go. In the meantime, I draw comfort from every post such as that from Kline, not that they have had to go through the abuse, but that they have found the courage to speak out, and by doing so will have helped someone else recognise that they are not alone.

I know what it is like to come across a story on the internet and feel comfort in knowing I was not alone.

We cannot change issues if everyone remains silent.

 

Kline has since published Part 2 of her blog on violence from step-children. You can read it here.

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CPV: Looking forward with hope

Well, it’s been an interesting year, culminating in a hectic last few weeks!

Thinking about what to write today I flicked back through old reports, including that written by Parentline Plus ten years ago, “You can’t say go and sit on the naughty step because they turn round and say make me”. In some ways it feels as if nothing has changed, the same stories from parents, the same understanding of background risk factors, the same difficulties in accessing help. But what does feel different is the volume of coverage, and the gradually changing tone.

There is a lot of interest in CPV with a growing number of PhD students looking at this around the country. We’ve seen more new research papers this year, including a really helpful overview of research from the last 60 years from Simmons, McEwan, Purcell and Ogloff. There’s been a long awaited book from Eddie Gallagher, giving us the benefit of his life’s work in one volume, so some interesting insights there. In parallel there has been increasing action from the adoption community as they try to untangle the conundrum that is trauma-driven abuse directed towards them by their children; and a growing voice from those experiencing violence and challenging behaviour from children with learning disabilities. Researchers in the domestic violence field, such as Hannah Bows, have started to make connections between elder abuse and child initiated abuse of parents, with a longitudinal approach to understanding this issue; and we have seen a widening of understanding to include abuse to adults in a caring role other than parents. In Australia there was much excitement with the release of money to fund services for families across Victoria.

Funding problems continue to affect services for families in this country, but it is exciting to see that many places have been able to sustain a service, and even develop it further where there is buy-in at a strategic level. We have seen a lot of media interest too, with some refreshingly thoughtful examinations of adolescent to parent abuse from the Guardian and Observer in particular, and further coverage on the BBC. There is increasing recognition that this is more than ‘a parenting issue’, and that it could happen to anyone. Oh, and did I mention my book? I am very excited to have finally completed the manuscript and sent it off to the publisher two weeks ago. Fingers crossed for news after the new year!

So what to look for in the year ahead?

  • More news on my book I hope
  • A long awaited volume from Condry and Miles
  • More published research about abuse affecting other family members
  • More published research from a longitudinal perspective
  • More published research about practitioner experiences of work with CPV
  • More great media coverage!

In the end though, more and more research doesn’t necessarily cut it for parents. What we need to see is research converted into action on the ground, with the development of sustainable, respectful, accessible services that meet the needs of families and help to prevent behaviours becoming entrenched, as well as providing support in times of crisis. This is what we hope for in 2019. This is what I wish for families.

I know that there is already much good work happening to enable families to live together peacefully. As I travel around the country I am encouraged by the people I meet and the conversations I have.Thank you for all you do already! I will continue to work towards this wherever and however I can. I invite you to join me in working for change for families, and in bringing hope for all for the new year.

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Abandoned to cope on their own

Once again the Victoria Derbyshire programme stepped up to the mark this week, with a segment devoted to the plight of families of children with autism, particularly Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). The programme is available for the next month only, but the film included, “I feel really bad when I hurt my mum”, from Noel Phillips, will be available for longer.

 

The programme explored problems parents have in obtaining a diagnosis of autism / PDA and then the appalling lack of support following a diagnosis. As a result of a lack of help for families, parents may be coping alone with extreme levels of violence on a daily basis, as children ‘meltdown’ when dealing with anxiety of stress. Children may be excluded from school because of their behaviour, further increasing their vulnerability. We are warned that without timely assistance, many young people are on a trajectory to prison. Continue reading

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Confined Spaces, an interview with Sophie Cero

Do you like your art calming and reflective, or maybe you enjoy the challenge of something complex and abstract? For thousands of years, artists have used their work to comment on the human condition, and to explore ideas of power, truth, and reality. Nevertheless, you might be thinking, “but what can art tell us about child to parent violence?”

What I like about any new way of looking at things is that the questions are slightly different, the insights often trip us up and change the direction of our thoughts, and we can be left with new questions that we hadn’t even thought of before! So I was excited to come across artist, Sophie Cero on twitter and to hear about her work exploring child and adolescent violence towards parents. Sophie kindly agreed to be interviewed for Holes in the Wall. Continue reading

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Learning from a Serious Case Review

Over the weekend, I came across the Serious Case Review (SCR) into the death of a young person referred to as ‘Chris’, published recently by Newham LSCB.  I was drawn to it particularly as a social worker, and someone based in the area to which it refers. It is a profoundly moving document, highlighting real moments of good practice in work to support Chris and his family, while also indicating areas of work where people and agencies fell short in their roles and responsibilities. It is first and foremost an opportunity to learn about the lives of Chris and his family, to identify opportunities for learning from his tragic death, and to make recommendations to reduce the likelihood of similar events happening again. Continue reading

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