“It’s been an absolute nightmare”: report from Australia into kinship care

I am grateful to Eddie Gallagher for bringing a new report to my attention. “It’s been an absolute nightmare”, Family violence in kinship care, was published by Baptcare in September 2017. The report, written by Rachel Breman and Ann MacRae, draws on the responses to a survey of kinship carers in the state of Victoria, into the types, frequency and impact of family violence directed towards the kinship care placement, from close family members or from the child themselves. This group of people offers care to children in both statutory and voluntary placements, the true number of which may be significantly higher than the number known about. They were found to be particularly under-supported, and experienced additional risks, threats and actual violence because of the family link. Violence and abuse from the children and  young people themselves was associated with the experience of trauma and attachment issues. There is an interesting section on the reasons these families find it difficult to report the abuse. Recommendations are made for better understanding, training and service provision for these families.

Many of the issues will resonate for those familiar with the experience of abuse by foster and adoptive parents, but there are specific additional risks and issues identified, including the often unplanned and sudden nature of the placement, the loss of employment and life plans, as well as ongoing relationships with the child’s parents. Where the arrangement was informal, there were real problems in accessing therapeutic help.

Baptcare has produced a number of videos about their work which are available on YouTube. In this one Ann MacRae and two kinship carers talk about their experiences and the findings of the research project.

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Exploring Child to Parent Violence: PhD opportunity at Bradford University

This PhD is particularly concerned with adult children, where those children have learning difficulties or ASD diagnosis, and their violent, challenging behaviour is directed towards parents.

Project Description

To what extent is child to parent violence recognised within the legal system, as adults with challenging behaviours commit acts of violence against their parents and how is this experienced as an everyday occurrence?

Adolescent to parent violence (APV) has, in recent years, been recognised as something different to domestic violence. This is often due to the fact that those experiencing the violence are the parent, more often the mother, and therefore do not want their ‘child’ to face charges and go to prison. However, in the context of learning difficulties and ASD people who are violent towards family members are not always under 18 and so do not fit within the adolescent to parent age group.

What can we understand about this phenomenon? How does a parent, more often a mother, manage these practically volatile emotionally charged encounters? What can social care do to support these families without fear of the incarceration for their son or daughter? How can this contribute to a ‘safeguarding’ agenda?

We are looking for PhD students who would be able to carry out qualitative research with family members, offenders, or those who work within this challenging area.

 PLEASE NOTE: This opportunity is for self-funded students.
More information and application details here.

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“Not a solution, but a system”: Adoption and Fostering Podcast interview with Delyth Evans

Another cracking podcast from the Adoption and Fostering Podcast team!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 26 features an interview with Delyth Evans, Service Manager at the Centre for Adoption and Support. Delyth and Al Coates talk about the experience of child to parent violence within adoptive families. I have been asked a lot recently about safety plans and so of particular interest to me were discussions about family safety planning and safe holding, and all within a context of safeguarding the whole family.

The Centre for Adoption Support offer a three stage support programme for families,

  • A 1 day workshop on child to parent violence
  • An introduction to the principles of NVR
  • A workshop on how to manage challenging behaviour at a practical level

and family safety plans are described as fundamental to the whole offer. The emphasis is very much on understanding the violence in context, rather than as a specific incident; and in supporting parents to find strategies to manage their child’s behaviour while keeping the whole family safe.

Well worth a listen!

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Unless we address the issues behind CPV, “we are committing children to failure”

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.

Nearly 3000 families were surveyed for the report, and the findings are unsurprisingly in line with the report into adoption disruption by Professor Julie Selwyn from 2014. More than a quarter of families described themselves as in crisis, with serious challenges impacting on other members of the family, and at risk of breakdown or already disrupted; but almost two thirds reported aggression in the home and half had sustained serious violence, with injuries requiring hospital treatment and even sexual assault. Within the radio programme, interviews with families related extreme levels of violence and destruction from even young children of primary age, necessitating calling the police. While a high proportion also reported that they were glad they adopted, the meaning and interpretation of this figure has been contested by parents since the report has been published.

The programme goes on to explore the levels of information or help available from local authorities and the difficulties in accessing this, in the face of extreme levels of distress and mental ill health in the children affected. Child to parent violence has been hidden for a long time, and though it is now discussed more openly, there is catching up to do in the help available. While some pockets of excellence are developing, there was concern expressed at the patchiness of provision, as well as the lack of oversight and evidence base for some practices. With contributions from the organisation Family Futures, Professor Jonathan Green from the University of Manchester , Nigel Priestley from Ridley and Hall Solicitors, and Lord McFarlane the discussion concluded with a question as to whether it is time to reconsider the model of long-term care for children who have experienced such degrees of harm and trauma in their early lives.

Clearly child to parent violence has come out of the shadows, and is now a widely recognised phenomenon – within adoption at the very least. The commitment of families – the perseverance and love reported in the face of extreme levels of violence and abuse directed at parents, siblings and home, was overwhelming. The more important aspect of this programme for me lies though in two thoughts: in highlighting the shocking experience of CPV for parents, we must not then demonise the children, neglecting the needs of the child that have brought them to this point; and without proper support for child and family, we are “committing children to failure”.

A number of organisations have issued releases or responses to the report: Local Government network here, the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies here, the Centre of Adoption Support here, Beacon House here. You can see the results of the survey itself on the CVAA website. There is an extraordinarily moving response from an adopter in the Huffington Post here.

The link to the whole episode of Victoria Derbyshire, and interviews with a number of adopters, is here. You can see short clips below.

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DVIP representation at the European Conference on Domestic Violence

There are regular opportunities to apply to present a paper or workshop at national and international conferences on domestic violence or child protection, and it is good to hear from people who have taken up the gauntlet and travelled afar to take part in wider opportunities to learn and share good practice. Recently a team from DVIP travelled to Portugal, and I am pleased to post this review of the conference by Maria Duah, one of the presenters from the DVIP team, who works as a trainer with Youth2000.  Some interesting thoughts here about the way the issue of child to parent violence is conceptualised in different countries, and the corresponding differing responses.

My work at the Domestic Violence Intervention Project takes me all over London – sometimes outside of London! On this occasion there were no complaints from myself or my colleague Nathan, we were more than happy to travel to Portugal to deliver a workshop on Child to Parent Violence at the European conference II on domestic violence . It was a 3 day event held at the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences of the University of Porto (FPCEUP), Portugal. The Conference was a collaboration between FPCEUP, UMAR – Women’s Association Alternative & Response and APAV – Portuguese Association for Victims Support, and is held bi-annually.

In the morning I attended a workshop hosted by Advocacy after fatal domestic abuse and the Ministry of Internal affairs (Portugal) on domestic homicide reviews, looking at UK practice & Portuguese practice. It was a very interesting workshop hearing and learning how different countries have, and are, continuing to develop legislation around domestic violence homicide reviews. There were quite a few people from Ireland in the workshop and they expressed their concern about Ireland’s process of handling domestic violence cases and that many of the perpetrators are painted in a good light in the media …’he attended church regularly’, but not commenting on the true crime and the victim (there wasn’t enough time to debate domestic violence and Catholicism which is a whole topic/workshop in itself – which I would have attended)

DVIP’s workshop was in the afternoon and our group consisted of workers from Iceland (mainly social workers and one police officer) and Norway (alternative to violence project). Whilst speaking with the group from Iceland they explained that any incident concerning a child is referred to child protection, so if it is ‘child to parent violence’ it is seen as a form of self harm. What came out of the workshop was the different ways in which countries view ‘child to parent violence’ and how the young person is seen perhaps as more of a victim opposed to someone who is a victim that also uses abusive behaviours and/or violence; also the support that is available for parents, families, carer’s and young people varies as does the approach and agencies available to support them.

The conference also offers the opportunity for budding academics to submit ‘abstracts’ for oral presentations during the conference, which I think is a great opportunity to showcase new thoughts & approaches to domestic violence. Nathan and I really enjoyed the conference (thanks DVIP) and thanks to Nathan who helped me partially conquer my fear of heights by walking with me over Ponte D. Luís I bridge!

Maria Duah – Young Person’s Practitioner & Trainer. You can follow her on twitter here.

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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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