Bear with me as I wander around thinking out loud here.
I recently attended the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies’ Troubled Families conference, in London.
Over the course of the day a number of eminent academics from across the fields of history, social policy, social work, sociology, economics, criminology and law presented papers on the origins, evaluation and policy context of the Troubled Families Programme. While the focus of the day was on the way that the Tory government had defined and presented a particular problem; and then gone on to provide a solution to it, regardless of evidence in either case, there was inevitably much to ponder in a more general sense, and much specifically relevant to work with child to parent violence.
I have been interested in the ideas behind the Troubled Families Programme for a long time and have mentioned it in blog posts before. In Britain some of the earliest awareness of the issue of child to parent violence emerged during evaluation of the FIP programme; and there is much to commend the idea of intensive, focused work with a family looking at all the issues they face – when the alternative might be a short assessment of the presenting problem and then referral on elsewhere. While there are huge problems with the way that families have been identified as needing support, and in the way the programme has been funded, some might say that long term, relationship based, holistic work sounds a lot like the social work they originally aspired to do.
So, some notes from the conference and some thoughts:
- Programmes designed to work with “troubled families” across the decades have exclusively directed their attentions to mothers. In this, and other arenas, mothers are “held responsible” for their children in a way that fathers are not. Their duty to care and be responsible is very practical, but also somehow moral in nature.
- Whether under Labour or Tory governments, the drive has been to individualise the difficulties facing families, and the accompanying solutions – Personal blame and failure, rather than government policy or societal failure.
- The focus on the individual, and on everything accompanying that – takes focus and money away from community solutions, support networks, a sense of belonging and being cared for.
- As always the assumption is that families who are struggling are from a particular section of society. “Othering” and then demonising as a result. Those with wealth are presented as not having personal or family difficulties. Yet we know that family violence (for example) cuts across all sectors of society. Very difficult for “ordinary” people to seek help then.
- The presentation of poor parenting as at the root of all of society’s problems makes it even more difficult to ask for help. Your children are not only making problems for your family but for the whole of society.
- As practitioners we need to develop a different understanding of the issues and a different model of help. To be driven by community led provision rather than individual pathologising. We need to listen to families rather than telling them what the problems are. Bottom up help as a result.
Sound familiar? Thanks for listening!
This is an issue that has raised its head a lot recently in connection with child to parent violence, and about which The Open Nest charity has already developed significant resources. This fact finding survey is circulated for all adoptive parents in Britain and closes at the end of February.
Please use this link to complete the survey.
At the end of November 2016, Al Coates, an adoptive parent and social worker, put out on social media a survey asking parents about their experience of child to parent violence. You can read more about it here and here. He received 264 responses over a three week period, largely – unsurprisingly given the main mode of dissemination – from adoptive parents. The collation started straight away and a first paper was put out at the start of the new year. First Impressions is available from the CE< website, part of the University of Sunderland. Dr Wendy Thorley, of the University of Sunderland, is a member of what might broadly be termed the Steering committee for this project, and she has helped to edit the report.
The survey asked questions about a family’s experience of child to parent violence, and about the age at which it started, the impact on the family, and about the help that had been offered – or not.
There has been some concern expressed that the collection of data, and the findings themselves, are not robust and lack the necessary validity and reliability of academic research. To which the answer is that this was never intended as such, but rather as an opportunity for parents to speak and to highlight issues which might perhaps warrant further future investigation. Al is now looking further at the responses received, to draw out themes that warrant greater attention, with a view to encouraging greater research. There will be further papers published, but in the meantime I leave you with this.
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:
The case is a stark reminder of how far we all still have to go. But we can be glad that there are those willing to take up the baton, to raise understanding and to work for change.
Wishing you a happier new year in 2017!
Manchester Metropolitan University are offering a PhD scholarship, beginning in September 2017. The project will explore the context and impact of child to parent violence. Its primary focus is how social care conceptualises and responds to child to parent violence, currently an under-researched area, in order to add new perspectives and inform policy and practice.
This timely research will explore the following objectives:
- To review the evidence base for child to parent violence, including where there are gaps.
- To explore the social care policy context for child to parent violence, with a focus upon how it is conceptualised, understood and explained.
- To understand how far child to parent violence is related to other forms of violence and abuse, including whether and how it differs.
- To explore how young people explain violence towards their parents; what led to it happening; the impact upon them and their families and how it was resolved.
- To understand how social care professionals conceptualise the issue and operationalise responses to it. (How they seek to intervene to prevent it, stop it and ameliorate the effects of it on both the child and parent.)
- To identify some of the policy and practice implications of child to parent violence for children’s social care and other key agencies.
Open to applicants from the UK and EU, more details are available here.
Over the last weeks I have been involved in a number of long conversations with people about the harsh realities of living with a violent child, and their sometimes exhausting journeys to finding help and advice. This is truly one of those things that people struggle to understand unless they have been personally touched – it is such an alien notion and no-one can really understand the violence and rage a child can show until they have witnessed it first hand.
Over the years, research around the world has started to uncover the extent of the problem, to speculate on causes, characteristics, correlations …. but all (as far as I am aware) has come from academics and professionals in the field. Now a parent experiencing violence within their own family is seeking to promote understanding of the issue, initially by surveying parents in a similar position and then using the data gained to commission further research and services. Al is an adoptive parent but wants to open this out to all families experiencing violence and abuse, whatever their situation, and to include grandparents and other carers too. You can read the rationale for the survey here, or go straight to the survey here. This is aimed at families living within England and Wales in the first instance.
There is of course some guidance for professionals already published, specifically the Home Office Information guide on adolescent violence and abuse, which forms part of the VAWG strategy; and amongst the small number of books available there is also discussion of different approaches. Nevertheless, while some professionals are now very much on board and fully supportive of families, there are sadly too many still unaware of the degree of violence experienced, the impact on family life and the harm caused to both parents and child without proper support.
Please do support this new venture by completing the survey yourself if appropriate, or by passing it on to others you know. Thank you.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS SURVEY IS NOW CLOSED
Watch the video «A Home For Maisie» uploaded by wynharlow on Dailymotion.
I know I’ve banged on about adoption for quite a lot of the time recently, and I need to be reminded that there are so many other families also experiencing violence and abuse from their children. And I also know that each family is unique, even when apparently following a similar path. There is no violence and abuse competition. For each family at the time the violence and abuse is too awful and it is a struggle to get through it.
Having said all of that, I do want to bring this video to your attention because it is so informative about the effect of early trauma, and the way that violence plays out, affecting so many people in its wake. It is long, but be prepared to watch all of it for the joy at the end!