My life now is radically different … But I still can’t sleep. Putting my child into care was searingly painful. I am often paralysed by recriminations, guilt and despair.
The words of a parent, writing in the Observer this last weekend, in a long, tender and heartwrenching piece about her experience of abuse and violence from her teenage son. Tom’s violent behaviour was thought to come from his acute frustration, communication difficulties and problems regulating his emotions, due to a range of diagnoses. It included actual violence to his mother and siblings, damage to property, and controlling behaviours which took over the life of the family, making a normal existence well nigh impossible. The writer, Lesley Clough, describes calling the police on numerous occasions, and the good support of local DV services, but ultimately the impossibility of finding any solution other than her son’s move out of the home and into care.
While one of the key things that sets violence and abuse from children apart from that from adult perpetrators is the emotional wrench – as described by parents – of separating from their children, it is also important to bear in mind that there may be greater hope for restored relationships, with young minds more open to change, and behaviour patterns less fixed. As we continue to learn more about the numerous links with different vulnerabilities, we see too the possibility of putting in help earlier, to mitigate the effects of early experience and of various diagnoses.
Lesley’s story was taken up as well in the Guardian podcast, Today in Focus, broadcast on Monday December 10th. Speaking with Anushka Asthana, Lesley raises the importance for families of having a strong support network, and talks about what it means when your child is given a diagnosis to explain the violence and abuse. She describes the point at which she realised the family could no longer carry on as they were, and the steps she had to take to protect all her children.
It has been so exciting and encouraging this last year to see the way the issue of children’s violence and abuse within families has been taken up by journalists. We have to hope that the noise generated will help to contribute towards a move for greater funding and provision of services for families.
I have written in the past about work taking place in the state of Victoria, Australia, both in terms of research and government policy. You can read about the work the Adolescent Family Violence Research team here, and the 2016 Royal Commission on Family Violence here. (Although set up specifically by the Victorian government, there was a hope that relevant measures might be adopted more fully by the federal government.)
It was very encouraging last week to see the press release from the Victorian government concerning the announcement of $1.35 million over 2 years to strengthen work addressing the reduction of adolescent violence in the home. This will go towards programmes across three sites, which seek to access help for young people in areas of their lives impacting on the use of violence; in strengthening family communication and relationships; and crucially, intervening early to offer help before violence is entrenched and serious. The funding announcement has been welcomed by groups such as that in Geelong, which runs the Step-Up, Building Healthy Relationships programme, and which last year offered support to 96 families.
Where governments understand the issues there is real hope for funding and change. Sadly, this is not the case everywhere, and continuous budget cuts (for instance in the UK) not only slow down the development of support services, but also risk decimating what early help there is.
Tuesday, this week, saw an explosion across the media within Britain of items on the challenges of adoption, particularly the impact of child to parent violence.
The BBC’s joint investigation with Adoption UK culminated in a 40 minute File on 4 radio programme, Adoption: Families in Crisis, which was picked up on national and local stations, and TV programmes such as Victoria Derbyshire; interviewing families and organisations and further unpacking the crises in which many families find themselves. Continue reading
As a new year begins most of us hope for better things to come. The last year was considered by many to have been particularly vicious in an inanimate sort of way. I do believe there is always something to celebrate if you look hard enough; and for those working the field of child to parent violence there has been, within the UK at least, an encouraging interest in training, and a period of consideration of what I have termed nuance – understanding that not all experiences of child to parent violence and abuse will be the same, with a corresponding need for varied responses.
But there have also been personal setbacks for some, with a fear that no one understands their situation. It may have been an unanswered plea for help; or they may have been at the sharp end of an investigation with false allegations made by a child against them. It is right that procedures then roll into action – allegations must be taken seriously, but this should involve a thorough and proper investigation of what has supposedly taken place. Sadly, for one mother in Tennessee, events took a rather different turn, as reported here. Whether out of prejudice, misogyny, or sheer ignorance, is not clear at this stage, but, thankfully for her, her lawyer has supported her all the way and is now calling for a review of procedures in this instance, and in general. The lawyer’s letter follows: Continue reading
This was a headline in the Sun newspaper last weekend, in an article by Michael Hamilton. Freedom of Information requests to 149 councils in England resulted in a figure of 62 children, ranging in age from 10 upwards, removed from their homes in 2015 by just 16 authorities. Some authorities refused to answer, citing data protection laws. The article lists the authorities which did respond and the relevant number in each case. The corresponding number for 2014 was 49. There are no other details, other than comments from an NSPCC spokesperson, recognising the impact of trauma on children’s behaviour and highlighting the need for help and support for families. Please assume my usual comments about the reliability of statistics such as these! Continue reading
This headline and the accompanying piece in the Family section of the Guardian last Saturday could not fail to shock those who came across it: a mother describing the terrible physical abuse she experiences at the hands of her teenage son.
“Sarah” has found it almost impossible to admit that she is scared of her son, and yet when she first asked for help was told that it was unlikely she would get any – because he was loved and not in any danger. This reflects the prevailing story: that in a culture that separates children’s and adults’ needs and services, and focuses on the rescuing of children from danger, we fail to recognise the centrality of relationships in family lives, whether in their fragility of care or their strength to bring healing. Feeling undermined by professionals as much as by strangers and increasingly isolated at a time when their need for support on every level increases, the family is now offered 2 nights respite care every six weeks. Continue reading
Some good news at a time when we are becoming used to hearing of funding being cut. Congratulations are due to Learning Links, a charity based in the south east of England, who announced last week that they have secured funding from Children in Need which will enable them to continue to run their Circles of Support programme for a further two years. Circles of Support consists of Non Violent Resistance (NVR) sessions with additional parent and child relationship building activities. The target is to reach and support parents and carers of 90 children aged between 5 and 17 years.
The Business Development Manager, Clare Mussell said: “Our NVR courses have been absolutely crucial in supporting families who are living with child to parent violence. It is crucial that families get support to alleviate stress and to ensure that children achieve the best outcomes in life. The BBC Children in Need funding will enable us to deliver NVR and build bridges between parent and child and bring the family back together”.
Learning Links has offices in both Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, and details of how to contact them can be found here.