Tag Archives: Child to parent violence

A response to the proposed changes to Domestic Abuse legislation in Britain

These comments are my own and do not necessarily represent those of other parties working and interested in the field of child to parent violence.

I have used the terms adolescent to parent abuse (APA), adolescent to parent violence (APV), child to parent violence (CPV), and parent abuse (PA) interchangeably, except where this has been made clear, to reflect the different usage at different times and by different people.


This week the Government published their landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, alongside the response to the Consultation, Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse. The Consultation looked at four specific areas:

  • promoting awareness
  • protecting and supporting victims
  • transforming the justice process and perpetrator response
  • and improving performance.

The Consultation Response and the Bill have been welcomed by many, particularly for the inclusion of economic abuse within the definition, recognition of the harm afforded to children and young people affected by domestic abuse (DA) within the family, for the protection afforded to victims and witnesses in court, and for the commitments to secure tenancies for those being rehoused. Nevertheless, there has been significant concern expressed about the need to translate words into actions, with adequate funding of services. Particular interest groups have rightly pointed out areas where they feel commitments could have been stronger, or where a change of direction is needed.

Along with colleagues working with families experiencing child or adolescent to parent violence, I was pleased to be invited to contribute to the round table meetings, as well as the open consultation process. CPV and APV have remained hidden for far too long. Despite mention in the VAWG strategy, there has been little further recognition since the publication of the Home Office Guidance in 2015. So it was pleasing to see specific mention and recognition of adolescent to parent abuse within the commitments of government, and within the proposed legislation.

In enshrining the definition in law, it is acknowledged that domestic abuse need not be confined to couples, but might also take place between those who are related to each other, “including parental abuse by an adolescent or grown child.” This is confirmed in the Bill itself, which defines individuals who are ‘personally connected’ as including ‘they are relatives.” Following the consultation, the age limit remains at 16 years old plus, so young people over this age using violence against parents will fall within the legislation, though younger children are excluded, and by implication their behaviour is considered as something else.

The remaining parts of the proposed legislation consider the creation of the post of Domestic Abuse Commissioner, powers for dealing with DA, protection for victims and witnesses in court and then miscellaneous provisions; and with such a strong focus on a criminal justice response it might be felt that there is little else of direct interest to those working in this field. I will be interested though to see how the DA Commissioner takes this forward, with an explicit role of improving performance, including the collection of data – and how much attention we can attract for the future.

There is slightly more to work with in the consultation response. We have a clear statement early on that this is a specific issue that has been under-recognised:

“… it is clear that the impact of domestic abuse on young people needs to be properly recognised and we need to ensure that agencies are aware of it and how to appropriately identify and respond. This includes: children living in abusive households; teenage relationship abuse; and abuse directed towards siblings and parents.” (1.1)

but after an initial flurry of excitement, I will confess that I was left somewhat confused.

A call for good healthy relationships education in schools, and specific guidance across all sectors in responding to DA, with a recognition that more needs to be done to raise public awareness is to be applauded; similarly a recognition of the harm done to all children in witnessing DA, since we understand many children to be using abuse themselves after witnessing it in other relationships. Then we come on to money. Section 2.2 of the consultation response considers the allocation of funding, which is to include £8million (out of a total £100 million 2016-2020) for particular groups such as the LGBT+ community, elderly victims, male victims, disabled victims, those affected by APA, and victims of economic abuse. There is also recognition of the value and importance of collaborative multi-agency approaches, with services commissioned locally and driven by local need, and a need for more training in effective working. So far, so good.

Then we have Section 2.5.3 Adolescent to parent violence. I’ll give you the whole section here as I think it’s important.

2.5.3 Adolescent to parent violence

Adolescent to parent violence is a relatively hidden but increasingly recognised form of domestic abuse. Victims of this type of abuse may feel unsure of how to access support and may not feel they will be believed if they do come forward.

It is important to recognise that services need to take an approach that provides wrap-around support to the entire family, and that responding agencies need training to be able to do so effectively, both to reduce harm and to prevent children ending up in the criminal justice system.

You said:

“It is important that adolescent to parent violence is recognised as distinct from intimate partner violence if patterns of violent and abusive behaviour by all children are to be taken seriously.”

You said that young people who perpetrate domestic abuse is still a relatively hidden area of abuse and that there is a lack of focus on it in current government activity. It is clear that this is a complex and hidden type of abuse, which requires a specialist response.

Some of you who have experienced abuse from your children cited feelings of alienation by social services and other agencies, and felt that there was a lack of services available.

You emphasised that services need to interact to support the entire family, and that agencies need training for dealing with this kind of abuse. By concentrating efforts on services available to children and parents, it potentially reduces the harm caused, as well as keeping children outside of the criminal justice system.

We will:

We will draw together best practice and develop training and resources to improve the response to victims of adolescent to parent violence.

We will also promote and embed existing Home Office guidance and general principles in addition to working with experts to develop service-specific guidance.

Well, there’s an explicit recognition of the preference to keep young people out of the CJ system, and of the need for different responses to other, adult, perpetrators; and a commitment to training and resources …. BUT, by the time we get to the grid of commitments in annex C to the consultation, we have managed to maintain the commitment to develop best practice and to promote and develop service specific guidance – but somehow lost the money! I’ve read it over and over again, but in Section 2.4.1 APA has disappeared from the list of specialist needs.

At the risk of being accused of sour grapes, opinion is split as to whether we should be considering adolescent to parent violence within the domestic abuse field at all. Wilcox (2012) states that it is only by moving away from a youth justice framework and conceptualizing it in this way that we can break the silence around the issue, securing the pre-existing expert multi-agency approach that is so necessary, and countering the prevailing narrative of mother-blaming. In contrast, Westmarland (2015) believes that ignoring the significant differences with IPV, and subsuming parent abuse under the heading of domestic abuse has served rather to make it more invisible, contributing to the lack of research attention and theoretical development. There is also proper concern at the focus within the DA field on the criminal justice pathway as the main response, for children and young people who may be using violence and abuse for reasons related to the experience of trauma, neuro-developmental differences, or mental ill-health. Reassuringly, here, the government is recognising that there are many differences which call for a distinct response.  Clearly many parents do resort to the law as a response to the abuse they experience, but whether they do this because they believe it to be the appropriate avenue of help, or whether it is the only one available is a question that needs to be explored further, and not simply accepted as the way forward.

Whichever point of view we take, it is important to be clear that this particular legislation only encompasses abusive acts committed by individuals aged 16 and over. We understand that much violence and abuse is directed towards parents by younger teens and indeed by children of primary school age, and for a vast range of reasons. And what happens at age 16? Have the issues changed, or are young people to be held differently accountable? It is not only academics and commentators who struggle to find a framework to understand this phenomenon. Many parents affected are clear that they feel uncomfortable about naming the abuse they suffer as domestic violence. I do believe that government departments across the board, and all services, need to be aware of APV as an issue, and for all to develop a framework for responding which recognises the multitude of factors, and the kaleidoscope of family types and needs.

Does the proposed legislation move things forward positively? I am always pleased for the recognition of this as an issue, and here, one that is acknowledged to have been hidden and poorly understood. I remain ambivalent myself about whether this is the correct framework for understanding and action. There are many significant differences to be found, and it is clearly possible to develop multi-agency responses without this umbrella definition.  I remain fundamentally confused as to whether there will be any money there or not, but looking at the other groups sharing it I suspect there will be thin pickings in any case. But … I will be very interested to seeing how the role of DA commissioner develops; and to being included in the development of best practice and in training and resources to improve the response to parents affected by APA; and to updating and promoting the Home Office guidance document to ensure as many practitioners as possible are equipped to respond to this in future. Many of us having been shouting for a long time. It is gratifying to feel that you have been heard!

Added 30th January

The Human Rights Joint Select Committee is seeking views on the draft bill. You are invited to send written submissions by February 15th. Please see here for more information and the submissions form.




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A far from normal life – the impact of child to parent violence

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.

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Confined Spaces, an interview with Sophie Cero

Do you like your art calming and reflective, or maybe you enjoy the challenge of something complex and abstract? For thousands of years, artists have used their work to comment on the human condition, and to explore ideas of power, truth, and reality. Nevertheless, you might be thinking, “but what can art tell us about child to parent violence?”

What I like about any new way of looking at things is that the questions are slightly different, the insights often trip us up and change the direction of our thoughts, and we can be left with new questions that we hadn’t even thought of before! So I was excited to come across artist, Sophie Cero on twitter and to hear about her work exploring child and adolescent violence towards parents. Sophie kindly agreed to be interviewed for Holes in the Wall. Continue reading


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Learning from a Serious Case Review

Over the weekend, I came across the Serious Case Review (SCR) into the death of a young person referred to as ‘Chris’, published recently by Newham LSCB.  I was drawn to it particularly as a social worker, and someone based in the area to which it refers. It is a profoundly moving document, highlighting real moments of good practice in work to support Chris and his family, while also indicating areas of work where people and agencies fell short in their roles and responsibilities. It is first and foremost an opportunity to learn about the lives of Chris and his family, to identify opportunities for learning from his tragic death, and to make recommendations to reduce the likelihood of similar events happening again. Continue reading

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Your call, on speaking to the media about CPV

Back in 2013, I blogged about whether it was helpful to speak to the media, and how we could work within professional ethical guidelines with this. I find myself revisiting this theme now, partly because I am increasingly being contacted by investigative journalists interested in learning more about child to parent violence, and partly because I do believe the general tone and atmosphere around this is changing. With coverage in the mainstream media, and on flagship programmes it is in everyone’s interest to present as full a picture as possible, and to ensure accuracy of coverage whenever we are able to influence direction. Continue reading


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What do we mean by ‘Intent’, in the context of Child to Parent Violence?

The issue of intent, and what exactly is meant by this in understanding child or adolescent to parent violence and abuse, is a complicated one that has generated significant discussion over the last year particularly. It has been suggested (Thorley and Coates) that we are better served by an overarching understanding of young people’s family violence, with a division between those who act aggressively with intent, and those we would struggle to understand doing so. Others disagree, and this has sparked thoughts that perhaps we are misusing the word, and that we should go back to basics in our understanding of how we use this terminology in the wider field of domestic abuse.

I was musing along this line with Kate Iwi, and persuaded her to write something for us! 


In the adult domestic violence (DV) field it’s often noted that even in the heat of the moment when a perpetrator says he ‘lost it’ and ‘saw red’ he is still accountable for his behaviour.  In part this is because they clearly still retained some control, in the sense that they are setting limits to the level of abuse they are prepared to use.  After all, if you are stronger than the other person and/or there are potential weapons around, and you’ve not killed them yet, then you must be setting limits.  It’s also noted that victims of DV learn to tread on eggshells – they avoid doing the things that seem to trigger the violence. The aggressor gets their way. Its often concluded that for adult perpetrators, ‘violence is intentional’. Continue reading

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CPV Conference Season!

I do love a good coincidence! It seems we are in CPV conference season at the moment, just as the political parties get going on theirs, but more impressively, the themes that are emerging for me resonate from one event to the next.

I attended the Break4Change Annual Network Event in Brighton in September, and one of the key themes of the day was the need for collaboration across services in the delivery of support for families experiencing child to parent violence. Ideally, this was seen as taking place in a multi-disciplinary project, such as B4C Brighton where Children’s Services, the Youth Offending Service, Rise (domestic abuse) and AudioActive (an arts and media charity) not only work together on a day-to-day basis but are all represented on the Steering Group. More particularly to this project, it was considered that it should be embedded in the local authority in order to be delivered effectively. Continue reading

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