Category Archives: Discussion

Guest post: Like Father, Like Son

I am pleased to post this guest blog from a parent who would like to be known as Sam. Sam is passionate in her campaigning to get better understanding for women who have experienced domestic abuse. She is active on twitter, and has written previously for other people, as well as managing her own blogsite. X has a story to tell about the impact on children of living wth domestic violence, the way in which this can be replicated by children once the abusive parent has left, and the long term effects of this for all concerned. Her contribution is also pertinent because of findings across the world of the prominence of the experience of domestic abuse as a contributory factor in child to parent violence.

I am a parent who has been subject of child to parent violence (CPV) and a woman who is domestic abuse victim. I am not a professional, but have vast lived experience of abuse. CPV obviously has a number of roots and in this post I will explain from my viewpoint one of them.

So I am no expert, but I do have observations which I hope will add to the broader picture of CPV. I don’t actually want to talk about my family, but a compilation of families I know.  Mum, Dad, boy, girl, married, home owners. Respectable on the outside at least. Dad, however is a drinker, Mum won’t use the word alcoholic, as they are down and outs (they rarely are, but that’s another post), who spends his weekends in the pub, he also likes more than a bit of pot, even though she wouldn’t touch drugs. She had a life event that led to low self esteem when they met and before she knew it he had moved into her home, and she barely knew him. Dad loves routine and will go ballistic if it is interrupted and he appears to be more attached to his belongings (some of which he has had since a child) than his wife. She feels as though she is a single parent with three children, the eldest being the most demanding. He has a range of behaviour that controls her, throwing better tantrums than the average two year old, if his dinner is not on the table on time or the children interrupt his favourite telly programme. He is a perfectionist at least when it comes to how she does the housework, which is woman’s work. He does men’s work, occasionally he will decorate, tinker with the car and will see this as far more important.

She starts to feel really scared of him and eventually matters come to a head and she manages to kick him out after a number of false starts. He further dominates through the divorce proceedings and she caves into his demands going against her solicitors advice, just to get it over with. Peace reigns, at least for months, then her son starts throwing his weight around. Of course she understands he is traumatised, however the behaviour seems frightfully familiar. Both herself, her daughter and her home are subject to violent rages and her life seems to revolve around meeting his needs. The daughter is a very different child, a “good” child who takes the strain away from the family, she becomes a model daughter, helpful and an excellent student. She is like a little mother.

Roll on a few years, Mum is still single and the son even more controls the household. He has got stronger, smashes through windows and household items, not just his toys. He goes to bed when he wants to and walks out of school regularly. He swears in front and at her, even though such language has not been heard since the Dad left the family home. He does not help around the house unless it involves using tools and just like his Dad, he deserves copious amounts of praise for his efforts. Still, praise and meeting his demands keeps him quiet, and propionately more time is spent on him than anything else (i). Daughter has taken over much of the housework as well as still being a model student. At 14 he starts smoking, it’s hidden for weeks and then he starts openly smoking and demanding money to pay for his habit. Mum moans but gives in, as if she doesn’t money goes missing from her purse. At 15, he goes to his first party, Mum is worried but pleased that he has friends as he has problems socialising. He comes home roaring drunk, yet on enquiring he seems to be able to hold more drink than would have had the average adult on the floor and doesn’t have a hangover the next day (ii). Daughter also has problems socialising, and seems to spend more and more time tidying and keeping clean than anything else.

Mum loves her children, but despairs at the way her son is turning out, but does not notice her daughter’s problems, which long term may actually be worse for her than him. Mum was not brought up in a violent family, but her Mum had “nerves” and deferred to her husband on important decisions, who after all had the good job that kept the family together whilst she was just a housewife.

I am sure if you have read this far, you will realise that I come at this subject from a feminist perspective. Feminism is not a swear word, it simply means equality. In both my personal experience and from now listening to many other victims, abuse is perpetrated because the abuser sees the victim as below them. Children copy their parents, many a pre-schooler loves to help with housework; unfortunately if they also see their parent verbally put down or physically attacked they may consider this is the way to behave. I am certainly not the only Mum who has been called a F…… mental B…. by my young son. Or like the daughter in the above illustration they find another way to deal with the trauma, and is well on the road to ending up in an abusive relationship as an adult.

Basically I am saying that in this scenario it may be  intergenerational, which  may sound surprising coming from someone in my position. I believe it can be stopped though, through education of women and children affected by domestic violence. I now know what a boundary is, as well as acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Even through the limited contact I had with my son, when he was in care, I had to apply the boundaries even when it was difficult. At one point , I walked away after doing so, wondering whether or not I would ever see him again, with all the catastrophic thoughts that could possibly run through my mind besieging me. I am pleased to say I was backed by his placement manager, even though it caused him difficulties at the time. I also had back up from knowledgeable friends, who I could cry down the phone and offload to. For professionals, please ask the difficult questions and know how to phrase them . A woman may not be able to say she is a domestic violence victim, but ask her how she is physically feeling or how her partner drives (iii) and you may  be able to start compiling the picture. Is her son’s behaviour anything like his Dad’s? No one actually asked me that question. Oh and start pulling any weight you may have for a more equal society!

Please give the birth parents knowledge, and in particular empower mothers to  break the cycle.

(i) The makings of a King Baby https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/traversing-the-inner-terrain/201103/king-or-queen-baby

(ii) The ability to drink more than others is an early sign of alcoholism https://www.soberlink.com/recognizing-the-signs-of-alcoholism/

(iii) Every abuse victim I have ever spoken to, had an imaginary brake pedal as her partner was also king of the road.

I am struck once again by the importance for people of just having one person even, who is prepared to listen in a non-judgmental way, and to be present for someone as support. But in a situation such as X describes, we need agencies to work together to support families, as each has only part of the understanding and only part of the solution. 

If anyone else would like to write a guest post, I am always happy to discuss how this might happen. Please just drop me an email!

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Child to parent violence: the voice of the young person

I am very aware when writing and collating material for training purposes, that while we have significant contributions from parents affected by abuse and violence from their children, there is much less attention given to the voices of the young people concerned.

We are not without this completely. Interventions such as Break4Change specifically video young people as part of the programme, using their voices as part of a conversation with parents. Some of this material has been available in training and research reports. Television shows, such as My Violent Child, have at times included direct interviewing of the young person concerned. Books such as Anger is my Friend mediate the teenage voice though years of practice experience. Research reports may include testimony from young people, though often it will be as reported or interpreted by their parent. But Barbara Cottrell is unusual in devoting a whole chapter to the actual teenage voice in her book: When Teens Abuse Their Parents.

I was interested then to read today the recent findings of some research looking at the way professionals gate-keep young people taking part in research. Blogging on the NSPCC websiteDr. Catherine Hamilton-Giachritsis, Dr. Elly Hanson and Pat Branigan discuss the challenges presented by professional gatekeeping – and how to overcome them, to ensure even vulnerable young people are heard.

Certainly all the issues identified in this paper pertain to work with children using violence themselves, but is it true also to say that in the case of child to parent violence there are other issues that make it more difficult than normal? Naturally we need to be aware of the possibility of escalation or of creating further difficulties for the family when we have finished; and parents may be justifiably cautious about allowing researchers to meet with young people because of specific diagnoses that would make interaction with strangers problematic. I do believe though that in many cases there are ways of getting round these difficulties with creativity and sensitivity – as well as good ethics and professionalism. If we are to completely understand the issues affecting children; and to find the most appropriate ways of working to bring about change, we cannot neglect such an important part of the family system.

 

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“He doesn’t mean to hurt”: the impact on families of violent behaviour from autistic children.

Another great programme from the BBC this week, available until November 28th. Victoria Derbyshire looked at the violence experienced by families of severely autistic children, and the difficulties for parents in obtaining support. (You can also read some of the stories here)

 

As well as introductions, and emails and texts from parents throughout the programme, there are two main sections to the item: a film from Noel Phillips (from 16.40 – 33.40), and interviews and discussion with three families and an MP (from 1.20.10 to 1.31.30). The programme ends with further calls from three families affected at 1.50.24. Some commentary is offered from the National Autistic Society, and the Local Government Association. You can view the whole of Noel Phillips’ film here.

There are said to be about 700,000 young people on the autistic spectrum in the UK. While not all will show violent behaviour, for the families of those who do, finding understanding and compassion, let alone support seems to be an impossible struggle on many occasions. For those familiar with issues around child to parent violence, there was much resonance with the experiences of these families: children who move very quickly from being passive to escalating into direct violence to themselves or others – for minutes or even hours; physical injuries, being pushed downstairs, strangulation and self harm, damage to property, concern for the safety and welfare of siblings; and tragically too, the judgement from parents at the school gate, the presumption of blame on the parents, minimisation by professionals, and the increasing isolation of families as a result. “We don’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary because of the dangers from my son”, says one caller to the programme. Sadly too we hear of guilt, despair, and even thoughts of suicide by parents.

I have blogged in the past about the differences between the behaviour exhibited by these children who also have severe learning disabilities, and what we are otherwise learning to call child to parent violence, but there is indeed an overlap for many families where the violence and abuse comes from a mixture of trauma, autism spectrum disorders,  and neurological damage. With a clear lack of intent for these children – which is raised in the programme – Yvonne Newbold chooses to describe it as Violent Challenging Behaviour, rather than child to parent violence. These are children reacting from a place of extreme anxiety and stress.

Josephine Larcher, one of the parents who called the programme, talked about how this sort of experience is “outside of most people’s understanding”. This does seem to be crucial to unpicking why we see such a poor response. Without direct experience of living with a severely autistic child day by day, people fall back on their own experiences of children’s behaviour in making assessments. This can lead to families being told they don’t need additional support to that of any three year old, or an assumption that repeated requests for help mean that you are not coping and therefore your children need to be accommodated elsewhere. The lived reality shown is of failure by local authorities to understand needs, or to intervene early to prevent a situation worsening  – “the parents of autistic children are not being properly supported in dealing with their violent behaviour”, which leaves families experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety themselves, with ” a severe injury waiting to happen”, and in one case severely out of pocket, as a parent spoke of paying £30,000 a year to privately fund a recognised therapy (ABA) that would not otherwise be available.

 

Are these criticisms fair? Asked to comment, the LGA points to the budget cuts inflicted by central government which has led to families falling through the net. Labour MP, Paul Williams, who appeared in the studio, said that he went in to politics himself because he felt powerless at the lack of resources available to professionals and saw this as a way to make a difference. He spoke about the help he believed was necessary as an answer for families. But while its easy, and probably reasonable to pass the responsibility up the chain in this way, there are some things that are easy to fix when you hear about them: lack of compassion from front line professionals, the judgementalism and failure to comprehend what it is that parents are asking for or experiencing. Many, many professionals do act with great understanding and empathy. It is in the nature of programmes such as this that we do not hear the positive stories. But that so many families, as we heard today, are left to struggle, is a testament that we have not got this anywhere near right.

I have tried to summarise what parents were asking for – those on the sofa, those who gave witness in the film, and those who called in:

  • Support, not stigma
  • Prompt diagnosis, starting within 3 months of referral
  • Assessment that starts with the needs of the family, rather than as a gatekeeping exercise
  • Support for positive behaviour intervention within the home
  • Support for respite
  • Better information about where to go for help and how to manage behaviour
  • Offers of support that materialise in practice

This is indeed a hidden issue still within our society, but it is one which is finally getting the attention it needs, and to which we can only hope to see a more positive response in future – if not in terms of resources, then at the very least from the professionals whose awareness and understanding has been raised by programmes such as this.

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Child to parent violence and adoption disruption: Learn on the go

Learn on the go is a Community Care Inform series of podcasts, “where we discuss what the latest research findings mean to your practice”. The first episode of the series considers the issue of adoption disruption, summarising the research and discussing what can be learned from it. It includes interviews with Julie Selwyn, and Elaine Dibben, looking particularly at the groundbreaking report: Beyond the Adoption Order, as well as other linked papers. The website gives a fuller summary of the discussion, with timings and full references. Child to parent violence is unsurprisingly a big part of the discussion!

 

Finding this has inspired me to set up a new page which will offer links to audio and visual resources. I will continue to add to it as I find anything, so please send your own suggestions. Many thanks as always.

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“Children who exhibit the most severe and persistent anti-social behaviour are being failed by the system”

There has been a mixed response to the item about children with “Callous Unemotional Traits” on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning.

 

(Clip here)

An interview with both parents and the young person just after 7.30am, was followed by discussion from leading psychiatrist, Professor Stephen Scott, after 8.00 and then a final segment asking if children with severe behavioural problems are being failed by ‘the system’ just before the end of the programme. Justin Webb‘s sensitive interview highlighted the regular violence and abuse experienced by the family, which leads them now to seek residential school or accommodation under section 20 for their son ‘Max’, as there is no other prospect of change in sight. Max is adopted but his difficulties were explained not so much by early trauma as by a psychopathic trait: Callous Unemotional Trait, which leaves him unable to feel empathy for others, or understand the problems with his behaviour. The overall message was: With an estimation of 1 in 100 adults exhibiting psychopathic traits (and overwhelmingly represented amongst the prison population), should we not be paying more attention to these children who seem to be heading that way, to find ways of moderating their behaviour and teaching / modelling greater empathetic behaviour, if not feelings. Multi-systemic therapy was suggested as one possible route, but the need for significant improvement in the provision of mental health services for young people was emphasised, both from a humanitarian / medical point of view and in view of the costs incurred in ignoring the issue.

So why the mixed response?

It was great to have such prominence given to the difficulties experienced by families in accessing help when they are being abused by their children – and these parents left no doubt that they considered their experience the equivalent of intimate partner violence.  The figure of 1 in 100 children being affected in some way by this condition was alarming (in the context of the many other additional causes that we know about), and there was no suggestion that this was the only explanation for abuse from child to parent, but it lent some weight to the general statistical discussion. There was some suggestion that children could be helped towards more appropriate social behaviour through rewards systems and positive reinforcement, notwithstanding the unlikely improvement in genuine demonstrations of empathy.

BUT….

The overwhelming sense of hopelessness was very strong. Not only was this a condition that might not be treatable, but the very means of help and support is out of reach for many as mental health services, particularly for young people, remain so poorly resourced. I think some parents felt that this was yet another possible diagnosis amongst so many others; and with still no real sense of definition of the problem or official recognition.

Family Futures, an independent adoption support agency, have written a response which you can read here. They remind us of the need to consider the whole picture and not to be hasty in ruling out the effects of early trauma on the developing brain.

I will remain optimistic because that is in my nature. And because the more coverage the better from my point of view – though clearly if you are a parent experiencing abuse on a daily basis, this is small comfort. I would like to know more about the condition, and to see for myself how it fits into the existing understanding and models of child to parent violence and abuse that we already have.

The radio interviews will be available for the next four weeks.

 

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#CPV: What does it look like, part 3. “It happened again tonight”

I am publishing this twitter thread from September 10th, with permission from Ian, who tweets as @DiaryAutism.

I think it adds something to the recent musings about the intent issue, and about the different issues for families where there is an autism diagnosis (here and here for instance); and leaves absolutely no room for any doubt about how it feels, for this person, to be a parent in that situation.

 

The most powerful emotion I have ever felt is the love for and desire to protect my children

It’s not that I’d take a bullet for them. It’s that I’d run through a brick wall to take a bullet for them

Parental love is all consuming and utterly life changing. Nothing else comes close

So when that love is repaid with violence it causes a great deal of cognitive dissonance. Just what the F is happening?

Of course it’s love you want to respond with, your child is not lashing out, they’re in distress. They need a hug from Dad

Which is exactly the opposite of what they want. In that moment, for whatever reason, you are not Dad. You are a target

E normally leads with the head. Not normally a butt, but something to push you away

But you can’t get away because he’s advancing on you and is normally digging his finger tips into your forearms

I say fingertips rather than nails because we’ve learnt the hard way to keep those bad boys short

By this point your soothing voice and pleas to calm down are drowned out by his screams. Screams that bare his teeth. Now it gets scary

Both your hands are busy trying to control his scratches, and he tries to bite you. How do you stop it?

A lot of the time you don’t and you let him sink his teeth into a part of your arm that has long since calloused up

Why? Because it gives you a momentary chance to get hold of something that might distract him. A toy, some food – anything.

By this point adrenaline is flooding your body and Fight or Flight has well and truly kicked in.

What to do? Flight? No chance! That’s my boy; he’s upset! I’ve got to stay and help

Fight? It’d be a lie to say that fighting back isn’t an enormously strong desire, especially if my wife or other children are at risk

But that parental lock kicks in – I’m not going to hurt him, therefore the only choice is to let him hurt me

And then – it’s over. Whatever caused the outburst has disappeared as quickly and as mysteriously as it took over

E will return to normal within a few moments and more often than not will be smiling before you’ve stopped bleeding

The welts, cuts & bruises are the least of your worries now though as that adrenaline you didn’t use to Fight or Flight floods your emotions

The worst part isn’t when it’s happening, it’s the powerlessness you feel afterwards. In feeling that love thrown back so brutally

We’ve had a bad weekend. 2 violent incidents, the first of which resulted in a short trip to hospital for me

But it’s a bad weekend on the back of a pretty good summer. I honestly can’t recall the last time this happened & that is such a good thing

It just goes to show; we’ll never not love him, he’ll never be able to control it always & we’ll never be truly out of the woods /end

Reading other threads, and other commentary, I am very aware that other families may not share the strength of conviction that Ian articulates. It is important that we do not build unhelpful levels of expectation, nor that we rush to heap further shame and pain on those who may experience things differently. 

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Summer #CPV harvest

I am often asked how I come across the news, articles and publications that I tweet and blog about, in relation to child to parent violence (CPV). My original rationale for this site was along the lines of  “I do it so you don’t have to”, but of course things are never that straight forward, and the truth is much more like “we do this together”. But here goes: Continue reading

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