Category Archives: Family life

Abuse and Violence from Adult Children

An article in the Guardian this last weekend was picked up by the BBC PM programme yesterday; a piece of research into the phenomenon of the Boomerang Generation, young adults returning to live with their parents, or in fact never leaving the family home. Katherine Hill, senior research associate at the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, reported that they found

Nearly two-thirds of childless single adults aged 20-34 in the UK have either never left or have moved back into the family home because of a combination of a precarious job market and low wages, sky-high private sector rents and life shocks such as relationship breakups. Around 3.5 million single young adults in the UK are estimated to live with their parents, an increase of a third over the past decade, and a trend that is likely to accelerate as the economic and social impact of the coronavirus pandemic deepens.

The BBC segment focused very much on the positives of this trend – for both sides – as well as the different cultural expectations within some families; but also drew attention to the fact that some families would find it much more difficult where financial constraints or size of accommodation were an issue.

I have been sorting through old notebooks recently, checking back on conferences I attended some 10 years ago, and I found reference from a 2014 notebook to the problem of adults returning to the nest, specifically because of homelessness and substance use. Listening to parents in this situation, we learn that there may be very different motivations to the cosy renewing of relationships, and spending more time while you can with your lovely daughter. A fear that their son or daughter might become destitute, might end up in prison, or might overdose, may present as compelling reasons to offer a bed; but set within the daily demands of poor health, financial insecurity and the greedy all -consuming focus of addiction, this is far from the fairy tale scenario otherwise offered.

Coincidentally, I had bookmarked an Irish news article from a year ago, examining a piece of research into family law cases, and I revisited it while thinking about this. Phelan reports that almost a sixth of the domestic abuse cases observed in this research involved parents seeking protection from an adult child.

The authors, Dr Sinéad Conneely, a senior law lecturer at Waterford Institute of Technology, and mediators Dr Roisin O’Shea and Shane Dempsey, found there were no support services indicated for parents in such cases; and tellingly, “These difficult situations require a multi-agency response. These were among the most stark examples of cases in court as a result of failures elsewhere in the system such as addiction, mental health, behavioural issues and brain injuries.”

The issue of violence and abuse from adult children towards their parents is a significantly neglected area not only of practice, but also of research. Holt and Shon drew attention to some of the reasons for this in their 2016 paper, Exploring Fatal and Non-Fatal Violence Against Parents: Challenging the Orthodoxy of Abused Adolescent Perpetrators, including the dominance of the idea of adolescence as a particular time of family conflict. But our fixation on the issue of child and adolescent abuse, with a cut off at 18 or early 20s, other than for the energies of parents so affected, has no real rationale other than the horizontal slicing of service provision. There have been some suggestions that young people “grow out of” their patterns of abusive behaviour. For some that may be the case, but for others it may simply be that they leave the home and continue the abuse in other relationships, with significant evidence that unaddressed early violence will come out in teenage peer abuse, and then in adult intimate partner violence.
It may seem obvious to some that violence between adult members of a household should be addressed as Domestic Abuse (DA), within the legal remedies available; or that at the very least parents should be enabled to evict their child from within the home. But what we see and hear is that parents draw back from this, for similar reasons to those they expressed when the children were younger:
  • This is s blood relationship, or alternatively one in which significant time and energy has been invested. It is not emotionally feasible to simply stop loving and caring for someone.This love and care extends to concern about what are perceived as worse alternatives – homelessness, prison, exploitation, death.
  • For many young people, the gap between chronological age and developmental age may mean there remains a need for guidance, and daily living support, which may not be adequately available elsewhere.
  • The level of fear and abuse may have worn a family down so low that there is no longer a belief that there is any choice.

Within this context, it is not surprising that there have been more and more requests of late for guidance about how best to support families where young adults and older children have taken control away from their parents and are driving the home life with a combination of threat, fear and violence. Some of these adult children will have returned home, some may never have left. It is also important to note too that, for some families, the abuse and the exhaustion of daily demands of an entitled child continue even after their offspring may have settled elsewhere.

As with younger children, it is important to recognise the many different scenarios in which older parents might find that they are subject to ongoing abuse. Understanding the different impacts of mental health diagnosis, of developmental trauma, of experiencing domestic abuse, or of learning disability for instance, on the adult child and on the capacity to form healthy relationships or to successfully achieve independence, is fundamental to the development of a support package which addresses context as well as action, taking in all elements of vulnerability and risk. Just as we need to recognise the needs of the 16 and 17 year olds coming within the DA legislation as differing to those of adults in the type of response offered, there is developing awareness of the need to develop more specific, proven support for families where the abuse and violence continues – or begins – well beyond the teenage years. It is encouraging to see that this is beginning to take place, as pressure grows and understanding deepens. Some parents have been calling for this for a long time. We need to be careful to give them the credit for their perseverance and determination as we move forward in this new phase of work to support families to remain healthy and safe.

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Taking #CPV Services Online Part 2

Following on from my earlier post about the logistics of providing support for families online rather than in person, I was really pleased to be able to speak with Jane, a parent of 2 adopted children aged 4 and 6, who wanted to share her own experience of accessing help over the last few months. While she had been experiencing some difficulties prior to the spread of COVID, and she had been receiving help in relation to her older child, for her family the effects of lockdown were devastating as the behaviour of her younger child became dangerous and unmanageable as he struggled to cope with the sudden change in routine. Furthermore, the family immediately lost all access to support – formal and informal – and respite, which had previously kept them going. Continue reading

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An important message from the adoption community. 

Sue Armstrong Brown, CEO of Adoption UK, wrote on their website this week about the potentially devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown for families. Reassuringly, she also writes about the growth of online support, including the provision of therapies, and peer to peer work. Getting help early is important at the best of times, but even more so now, while so many families find themselves facing additional day to day stresses.  

The Support Gap

The past six weeks have taught us more about adoption support than the previous year. It’s been a deeply uncomfortable experiment into what happens to adoptive families when social, medical and academic infrastructure is disrupted, family routines are upended, pressure on relationships goes up and respite goes down.

This is what we’ve learned. Continue reading

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Child and Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse during Covid-19


Last week I was interested to follow a number of conversations about some of the consequences of Covid-19 on family life. While there have been many tragic examples (for instance, increases in domestic violence abuse and homicides, in the risk of child exploitation, and in child care proceedings), it was notable that some people were also talking about the lightening of the load for their children, the increase in wellbeing even, and the easing of strained family relationships. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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

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A message of hope for 2020, Break4Change in Rochdale

When I sent out an invitation in November for people to write something for me, I never expected to receive such interesting contributions!  I’m thrilled to be able to start a new year with the first of these contributions from Emily Nickson-Williams, who I have been following on twitter after seeing some very positive comments about the work her team were engaged in around child to parent violence. Emily is the lead for the ‘Relationships Revolution’ at Rochdale Council.  She has worked in Children’s Services for the last 17 years and has pioneered a number of initiatives for vulnerable families.  Her work has been described as ‘inspirational’ and her more recent efforts developing work around the relationships agenda, including responses to child to parent violence and abuse, led to her receiving the Innovation Award in 2017. Emily brings us a letter from a parent who has attended one of the Break4Change programmes running as part of this work.

I think that for me this open letter is a message of hope.  Hope for other families who may be too afraid to come forward to speak to someone because of the fear of consequences from Children’s Services and the Police.  The message we would like to give families living in Rochdale is this… Continue reading


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#CPV on Drivetime

A huge thank you to Eddie Nestor, of BBC Radio London Drivetime, who devoted more than half his programme yesterday to the topic of “children who hit their Mum.” You can catch the programme by following this link. The show is available till the end of May. Eddie starts off by interviewing Yvonne Newbold from about 1:21.00 and then takes calls from around 1:48:00.

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Living with a child with mental illness who is violent

It would be so much easier if we could point to one clear cause of violence and abuse from children towards their parents. Once that was made obvious we could then wheel in bespoke solutions and solve the crisis in an instant. Sadly the reality is much different, with almost no end to the factors that might increase vulnerability, and often layer upon layer of complexity for families affected. Some situations get a (relatively) large amount of coverage: exposure to domestic violence and early childhood trauma for instance. Others are highlighted less often. While each family’s experience will be unique to them, there is much to learn from the experience of others, and the despair that is common to parents across the board. Continue reading


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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: Continue reading

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