Category Archives: Discussion

Behavioural Science and Child to Parent Violence

I am pleased to publish this blog from Eleanor Haworth of Adoption UK, about her interest in Behavioural Science and what we can take from this to aid our understanding of child to parent violence and abuse. You will also find it published on the Adoption UK website. 

I am a great fan of behavioural science. I love the idea of using gentle linguistic and behavioural nudges to move us all forward, rather than the world being governed by big, bureaucratic, behemoth systems. You might question what connection this could possible have to the issue of child to parent violence. You would not be alone in suggesting that I am making an outlandish connection, this is sort of my stock in trade. However, I am begging your indulgence and asking you to bear with me on this one. I promise there is a connection, really. Behavioural science is clever and complicated and I am sure that it is beyond my humble powers to explain. However, the key elements that I think are essential to a discussion of child to parent violence are fascinating.

Firstly, behavioural science talks about two different brain and thinking systems. System 1 and System 2. This was summarized elegantly in the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. In this explanation System 1 describes the rapid, emotional, fluid activities of the brain. System 2 is the slower, more methodical and rational elements of the brain.

Secondly, behavioural science talks about how our psychologies evolved over many thousands of years to provide us with the rapid response skills needed to survive in the Neolithic period.

Our brains did not evolve in a technologically saturated world. Evolution has predominantly been preparing us for life and death threats in the wilderness, not to cope with secondary school, deal with cyber bullying or manage our TikTok followers. I think this straight away starts to talk to the Fight, Flight, Freeze responses which we are so familiar within Child to Parent Violence.

Thinking about it in terms of System 1/System 2 terminology, we can see that children and young people who are using violence and control to manage their environment are operating primarily from a System 1 starting point. That is to say, that this is a familiar, comfortable and reliable thinking pattern and system that is the “go to method” to deal with stress, threats and overwhelming situations. I believe that understanding that 95% of our thinking is done in System 1 means that we cannot stand in judgement of young people who are using their System 1. We all do. We all do without knowing. We all do because it feels nicer, it is quicker, it is more reliable and built in deep into our methods. It isn’t a failure on their part to be reliant on System 1. It is not because they don’t want to use the clever, sensible, better System 2. System 1 is everyone’s “go to” mode of thinking.

It also explains to me why people might resist System 2. Behavioural Science tells us that System 2 takes a lot of energy and effort. System 2 is something can only be sustained for a short period. Complicated processes can be learnt and moved into System 1, but this takes considerable practice and exposure. Imagine if you are in “fight, flight, freeze” and you are being asked to do lots of System 2 thinking. System 2 thinking would appear incredibly hard, off putting, and probably the preserve of other people. I should imagine that subconsciously System 2 seems to be the thinking and behaviour that parents and schools want, despite the fact that it is very hard. What a lot we are asking.

So, where does this leave us in terms of Child to Parent Violence? I think there are multiple lessons that can be learnt about how we could respond to children who are using violence. I think we can learn to recognise that their behaviour stems from a system that we all have and we all use. I think we can recognise that if we want to communicate with children who are experiencing “fight, flight, freeze” then we need to communicate to System 1 and not System 2. I think this is echoed in the training programmes content. Whenever we are told to “connect before we correct” we are seeking to access System 1. Whenever we are told to “understand the communication behind the behaviour” we are seeking to understand the child’s behaviour in terms of System 1 rather than judging them by the standards of System 2. I think the moral of this story is to understand that demanding a consistent use of System 2 is unachievable for anyone, let alone children with a history of trauma, or adverse experiences or fear.

However, the bigger challenge is for us to consider our own use of Systems 1 and 2 in our parental responses. How often do we think we are using System 1 when we are squarely in System 2? How can we ask ourselves to offer a parenting response from a System 2 place, when System 2 is unsustainable. How do we offer connected parenting and relationship support from our System 1 place? And then we can move to the nudge mindset which is where we provide gently encouragers towards behaviours that benefit all. This is surely the ideal we all aspire to.

Leave a comment

Filed under Discussion

Lockdown reflections

It’s been a few weeks since I posted anything here (though I’ve been busy on other pages) but I thought I would treat you today to some ramblings and reflections. Like many people I am sure, over the last 3 months I have experienced both periods of intense, pressured work to tight deadlines, and days of feeling bereft of direction and purpose. Conferences, training events and report launches have been cancelled, and it is too easy to forget the hours of work and preparation that will have gone in to them by all involved. For some families, lockdown has brought a relief as stresses have been removed, and more harmonious relationships are formed and developed. For others the pressure cooker environment has increased fear and risk. Practitioners have been forced in to new ways of working – at short notice and without always having the kit or the skills – and yet some of those ways have paid dividends as they have learned to communicate with young people electronically – on their own “territory” – for a change. Being in Lockdown has intensified the sense of importance of what we do, but also the despair that things take so long to accomplish.

Overall though, I would say there have been some real gains in the field of child to parent violence and abuse.

Mainstream media attention.

As countries around the world locked down, we started to hear reports of increases in domestic abuse. In the UK, Refuge reported a 125% increase in calls to the national domestic abuse helpline, while calls to the Respect helpline for perpetrators increased by 25% over the previous week. While most of the focus was on abuse within intimate partner relationships, there was also considerable interest in harm from young people towards their parents and carers, with interviews carried in mainstream outlets, and across radio ( for instance here and here). Some of these were responding to the immediate situation, but there are other longer pieces in process, looking to explore the issue in greater depth. It has been great, as always, to hear the coverage on Woman’s Hour, following up the launch of the research into violence and abuse towards grandparents, from Dr Amanda Holt. I like to think that each time this takes place, more journalists are persuaded of the importance of the issue and so the chances of them – and others – reporting on it in future increases. The ‘R’ in this respect is definitely more than 1!

Events moving online

After an initial period of cancellation, both trainers and conference organisers have been exploring offering their events in a different way. Inevitably there are some losses, with fewer opportunities for networking for instance, but the gains from not having to travel and so opening up the accessibility of courses should not be under-estimated. In some instances, events are being offered at minimal cost, further improving their reach. As well as bringing different speakers and attendees together over zoom (for instance), there seems to have been a flurry of interest in the webinar format, with so many more conversations available to listen to whenever convenient, and many of those working around CPV using this method to share knowledge, or to further the discussion. There is the added bonus that these are then available as learning tools for months and even years to come (many of these available on my Sound and Vision or Events pages) .

The Domestic Abuse Bill

The British government had committed to seeing this through before lockdown, and so it carries on. While the definition includes only those aged 16 and over, the process has generated significant discussion at high level about CPV, including the issues of (i) age (ii) whether this is the correct framework for understanding and (iii) the lack of resources generally for families experiencing CPV. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner is very aware of the need for development in this area, and I have confidence that the issue will not be dropped. Related to this, the Home Office APVA Guidance document is in the process of being updated, but this is likely to be a long-term project.

Social media promotion

This bit’s all about me! I was very smug recently to pass the 2000 followers mark on twitter. I’m learning more about how to use social media all the time, and have been playing around, softening my approach – and attracting more followers at the same time. For me it’s all about increasing awareness, starting conversations, and encouraging others, so I am always pleased when this is reaping rewards. This is another arena where increases are exponential too!

Time and space

Finally (for now) I think the crisis has given thinking space. This may sound ridiculous if you’re shut in with children trying to juggle your own work and also school and childcare – and my apologies if this is the case; or if you’ve been on the frontline discovering day to day new ways of responding to families. For me though, I have had a chance to pick up pieces of work and ideas that had lain dormant for a long time, and see if they still have life; and I’ve also been thinking about what needs to happen next, to complement the work happening in different places around the country, to start up a more strategic conversation. I hope to bring more news about all of that at another date.

So, if you’ve made it this far, thank you! Thanks for your interest, your parenting in the face of challenging behaviour and difficult times, your work supporting families and developing awareness, and your tolerance of my ramblings.

As always, if you have any comments please do join in the conversation.

1 Comment

Filed under Discussion

You take into this pandemic the risk you carried with you.

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. 

1 Comment

Filed under Discussion

An innovative approach to working with adolescent family violence in DuPage County, Illinois

Continuing the series of guest blogs, I am pleased to bring you this from Amanda Holt, information about a service in Illinois for families experiencing adolescent family violence. I was particularly thrilled to hear from Amanda, as I have been contacted a number of times by people in the States asking for pointers and guidance in developing or accessing help. News of the screening tool is very welcome, and I was also very interested in the understanding that girls are coming from different circumstances, with separate needs. Finally, the first responder aspect is one which can hopefully feed in to similar discussions taking place in the UK at present. Please do check out all the links; there is a lot of information here and it will take a while to digest it all, but it brings a new interpretation to the table which many will find helpful I think. Thank you Amanda!


This month marks the tenth anniversary that North East DuPage Family and Youth Services (NEDFYS) (in Illinois, US) ran its first adolescent family violence programme, based on principles from the Step-up programme that was developed by Greg Routt and Lily Anderson in King County, Washington State in 1997. Since that time, 170 families have completed all 21-week sessions and graduated successfully: of these, only 11 (6%) were rearrested for a new offence related to family violence within 12 months after graduation. The programme itself is a collaborative effort between the Juvenile Court Judges, the States Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s office, Northeast DuPage Family and Youth Services and Probation and it emerged from a Models For Change four-year grant that DuPage County received from the MacArthur Foundation beginning in 2006. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Discussion, projects, publications

Keeping safe: #CPV and lockdown.


Around the world, families are discovering just how stressful it can be to live in close quarters 24 hours a day, with no end in sight. Sharp words, spoken in haste, throw fuel on to anxiety, anger and frustration, often with no other room to separate people off. And there is only so much screen-time you can allow! Most families will hopefully come through this relatively unscathed; changed perhaps but still ok, still safe. But there has rightly been a lot of concern by government – and in the media – about supporting and monitoring the most vulnerable children now that schools are closed, those for whom school is their safe space or where they get their main meal of the day. There’s been lots of encouraging noise for parents about not having to recreate school, but to focus at this time on keeping kids feeling safe and secure, since these are things that are needed before any learning can take place. But what about the parents whose anxiety is about having the children at home for the next foreseeable because THEY don’t feel safe? What about the families experiencing child to parent violence, now quarantined or social distancing WITH their child? What advice and support do they need? The things we suggest for other families feeling tired and emotional start to sound rather trite and patronising.

It is well established that family violence is likely to increase at times like this. There is an excellent piece in The Conversation from Nicole Westmarland and Rosanna Bellini, explaining the additional stressors, and making helpful suggestions for ways to support individuals we may know over the next months, but again, the focus is on adults. For parents of children using violence in the home, some of the remedies are not available – leaving home for a refuge being the most obvious example, although the government have made it clear, following a certain amount of pressure,  that escaping abuse is an acceptable reason to be out of the house.

The experience of each family will be very different. The needs of an eight year old child will potentially be significantly different to those of a seventeen year old. The risks posed by each will differ, as will likely triggers, and underlying circumstances. Where the source of a child’s stress was itself in school, parents have already tweeted about the great sense of relief that has come with not having to force a child out of bed each day. Relaxing the rules CAN help, but there is anxiety then about the future – and rods made for backs!

I have tried to gather here bits and pieces from a range of sources. This is advice from parents and practitioners on the front line – living and working with child to parent violence on a daily basis.

Refresh your safety plan and check in with friends and neighbours who might be called on to help.

Those using NVR will be familiar with the need for a support network, with the importance of prioritising issues and not focussing on the small stuff. You will want to keep a modicum of normality for your own sanity, but the “tidy house police” will not be round any time soon!

Bring in all those de-escalation and stress relieving tactics and techniques you learnt wherever possible.

Rachael says: “Parents need to feel able and confident to reach out to their support network more now than ever.” (20/3/20) And that means friends and supporters taking the initiative and checking in regularly too – don’t wait for things to blow!

Have a talk right at the start about how things are going to work: Expectations of safety, what everyone will do if feeling angry or unsafe, what consequences might be brought in to play.

Keep expectations low. Sally Donovan tweeted: “After my experience of homeschooling through a fug of trauma, I’d say don’t. Focus on safety and fun and make the focus getting all of you through this emotionally intact. #unofficialadvice” (23/3/20) Other parents have also been talking about removing themselves from the educational aspect altogether and making use of online resources. With so much on offer, and much “education by stealth” there should be something there that everyone can use!

It is important for children to stay in touch with other people at this time, whether chatting, FaceTiming or gaming, but what this means will vary from individual to individual, and it still comes with all the usual concerns about who they’re talking to, what people are saying and what they’re being asked to do. And how do you limit screen time if there seems not much else to do? This might itself be a source of tension and create later risk for child and parents. Talk about the new rules about screen time and how they will be enforced right from the start.

What about leaving the house? Children and young people who insist on doing this are going to be hard to stop and it’s likely the people they are seeing are not positive influences. What are your usual expectations and what actions do you normally take? If the police are aware of your family then now might be a good time to have a catch up with a named officer.

Maximise your own opportunities to leave, whether for exercise, shopping or self-care. Remember to breathe!

Look for the positives! Can you use this time to connect over shared activities you both enjoy, however brief? Use kind words where you can. Write thankful notes to each other if real conversations don’t work.

Make use of specialist support groups more than ever at this time, whether with regard to adoption, special guardianship, special educational needs, disability, substance use, parenting. Check out their suggestions for filling the days, and resources they may offer.  Put helpline numbers in your phone.

Wishing everyone safety, and looking forward to a better time in the future. Keep well!


Parentline Plus

Parenting NI


Adoption UK



Young Minds

Beacon House

Safe Hands Thinking Minds


1 Comment

Filed under Discussion, Family life

Supporting adoptive families experiencing #CPV: making things better, not worse

This is a post that has been a long time brewing. My thanks to a friend for her contribution in helping me work out the many issues involved. Any errors or lack of clarity in the way this is laid out are down to me.

The experience of violence and abuse from children within adoptive families has been well researched and documented. (See for instance Selwyn et al and the work of Al Coates and Wendy Thorley here and here.) Greater recognition and the provision of the Adoption Support Fund within England have made it slightly easier for parents to access help when needed within the last years, but it remains the case that many families feel let down by services who have misunderstood their requests for help, or their degree of pain, or even the mechanisms by which such violence might have come about. (If you are in any doubt about this, the website of Special Guardians and Adopters Together is a record of the anguish and anger of a group of parents who feel betrayed in this respect by the system.) I can speak personally about the individuals who have contacted me or spoken to me at events. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Discussion, Family life

Updating the APVA Guidance Document

Five years ago, after many months of creative debate and editing, we launched the Home Office guidance document on Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (APVA). It was part of the government’s commitment through the VAWG strategy, but also fulfilled a need identified at the launch of the findings of the Oxford research project into APVA.

Continue reading


Filed under Discussion

“Powerful but dangerous”: telling stories about #CPV

Telling real human stories helps communicate hard, complicated issues to the wider public through the media, but anyone doing so should think carefully about what they are prepared to say and what the consequences might be, writes Karyn McCluskey.

I have written something similar to this in the past, but it always bears repeating … Think carefully before you put yourself and your family forward as a “case study”. Given that I myself put put shouts from time to time for people willing to speak to the press, I grant that this could be construed as hypocritical. I do believe that it is important for people to hear what it is really like to experience child to parent violence, and that without the personal stories it will take much longer for the reality of this tragedy to permeate the general consciousness. I know too that parents have heard another person speak about the help they have received, and it has been the starting point for their own journey back. But I also understand how damaging, and even dangerous,  it might be if you say things you later regret, or your child finds out you have mentioned them, or your family is recognised in some way. And that’s before you start reading the comments from people after the piece is published. Some journalists are happy for interviewees to remain anonymous. Others want to use names and faces, but even the former is not without potential difficulties. Continue reading


Filed under Discussion

CPV, Home to School and Back Again

This is the second in a recent series of guest posts. Nikki Rutter writes about the overlap between violence and abuse from children in education settings, and in the home. Nikki is an ESRC-funded Doctoral Researcher at the department of Sociology at Durham University. Her research interests include: Child-to-parent violence, domestic abuse, violence against women and girls, grounded theory. She is a member of Durham University’s Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse (CRiVA), and Communities and Social Justice Research Group at Durham University. You can contact Nikki on twitter. See more details of her work on the CPV Research Directory.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Discussion, Research

Compassion and responsibility

On Monday night the BBC aired Responsible Child, a drama, based on a true story, directed by Nick Holt. The programme had been heavily trailed, and so it is not offering too many spoilers to say that twelve year old Ray, the main character, is involved in the murder of his stepfather, and the story follows his trial in the adult court in the context of his early life. Children’s services and education do not come out of it particularly well. Rather the compassionate responses are those of the legal team and a particular member of staff at the secure unit where Ray finally ends up Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Discussion, TV