This is the first qualitative research project in the UK to explore the experiences of grandparents who are subject to violence and/ or abusive behaviour from their grandchildren, with whom they are in a kinship care relationship; and took place between June 2018 and January 2020. The individuals had been recruited specifically because they had experienced abuse, and all described shocking and often daily experiences of violence and abuse directed towards them as well as to property, sometimes involving weapons and leading to extreme injuries. While there were a variety of “triggers” the respondents were unanimous in attributing the abuse to the trauma and loss the children had experienced (most often as a result of domestic abuse, mental health problems, substance use or child abuse / neglect). Grandparents play a vital role when they step-up, in keeping children out of the care system, and out of the youth justice system, but the difficulties implicit in such placements are poorly recognised, whether with regards to the relationship with the grandchildren – or indeed their own children. Unsurprisingly, given how little known and understood this aspect of family violence remains, all the grandparents reported problems accessing help and support from a range of services. Interestingly the police were often reported to have been the most responsive and compassionate.The report concludes with a series of recommendations for policy and practice, from a universal and early intervention stage, through very specific tailored support, including a change in mindset and proper funding.
This research project has shown how much broader we need to be thinking in terms of violence within the home. While we have become accustomed to thinking about domestic abuse / intimate partner violence and child abuse, with a developing understanding of elder abuse and even child / adolescent to parent violence, this aspect of abuse towards grandparents (and kinship carers) has been sorely neglected in study, policy and provision. The call for greater training, support, research – and importantly funding – outlines some very specific avenues for development. It is crucial that we offer support early on in these families’ journeys. To ignore them merely adds to the distress, trauma, injury and hardship further down the line, both for the children and for those who have made unexpected changes to their life plans to accommodate their needs.
For more information about the research study I can heartily recommend the project website, which has been created in lieu of a national launch. It’s easy to navigate and really accessible with clear sections explaining the research project itself, with information generally about children’s violence to grandparents, about Amanda, and signposting to help for those impacted. Finally, the website includes a podcast in which Amanda talks about the project and discusses the findings with Lucy Peake, CEO of Grandparents Plus, John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research and Development with CoramBAAF, and Dunston Patterson, Youth Justice Effective Practice Adviser.
This is an important piece of work, broadening our knowledge about violence within families, and shining a light on this hitherto neglected area. Congratulations to Amanda and Jenny!
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. Continue reading →
Family violence and youth justice have been subjected to an intense focus in Australia in the past year. Reviews have revealed the failure to provide effective responses to these issues. Government responses to family violence have emphasised the importance of perpetrator accountability, while in the youth justice field recent reforms have seen a toughening of legal responses.
Adolescent family violence is violence used by young people against family members. Most often, it refers to violence occurring within the home.
It is distinct because the adolescent requires ongoing care even when violent, which mean responses used in other cases of family violence can’t readily be applied. It has detrimental effects on the health and wellbeing of families, and is surrounded by stigma and shame.
Extent and impact
Data from the Melbourne Children’s Court show that between July 2011 and June 2016, there were 6,228 applications made for a family violence intervention order where the respondent was 17 years or younger. There were 4,379 cases involving a male adolescent, and 1,849 cases involving a female adolescent.
In 45 cases, the respondent was aged ten-to-11-years-old. In more than half the cases, the affected family member was the female parent of the adolescent.
Existing international and Australian research suggests that adolescent family violence is largely unreported. Consequently, rates of recorded adolescent family violence are likely to underestimate its extent. There are complex reasons for reluctance to report. They include parental shame and self-blame, fear of consequences for the adolescent, and an inability to locate an appropriate service.
Our research into adolescent family violence, which includes an anonymous open survey of those affected, reveals a wide range of abusive behaviours. These extend well beyond physical violence and include coercive and controlling behaviours, property damage, and economic abuse.
One participant described:
Having doors broken in my home either through continuous banging, punching or throwing bricks through the glass. Having a teenager scream and yell at me, swear and belittle me. Being spat on. Having a teenager stand over me and using threatening behaviour to get what he wanted such as money or other items of value.
The effects are severe. People described “walking on eggshells” in their own homes, experiences of depression and stress, and social isolation:
I don’t invite people into my home because of the damage and because my home environment is very unpredictable. I have lost a lot of confidence in my abilities and feel like a failure as a parent. I don’t get much sleep as I am constantly worried for my son’s wellbeing.
Recognising vulnerability and complex needs
Adolescents who use violence in the home often have complex needs and may have experienced family violence themselves. Parents described their adolescents as suffering from substance abuse problems, depression and anxiety, and mental health and intellectual disability disorders.
As one parent described:
My 13-year-old son had major depression and anxiety combined with poly substance abuse. Whenever we tried to challenge him even slightly about his drug use or general behaviour, he would get extremely angry – acting in a threatening manner by standing over us and yelling, hurling abuse and saying horrible derogatory things about us, punching holes in walls, slamming doors until they broke.
All of this was very traumatic and sometimes quite terrifying.
Another recognised her son’s needs, but struggled with the impacts:
My son is 13. He has Asperger’s Syndrome and experiences overwhelming sensory overload with his body flooded with adrenalin. He deals with this by fight or flight, the default being fight. Mostly this involves lashing out with his fists, but he has attempted to use weapons, such as a knife. This only happens when he is overloaded but is frightening nonetheless.
The criminal justice system is not the answer
Recognition of the complex needs of adolescents who use violence in the home suggests that, while family violence committed in any context must not be excused, there is a need to respond to this particular form of it – where possible – outside of the criminal justice system.
Our research is revealing that families who have experienced adolescent family violence and those working with them feel the criminal justice system is not appropriate.
In contrast to cases of intimate partner violence, where separation of the parties involved and obtaining an intervention order or court outcome may be a priority to ensure safety, parents often want to maintain the family unit in adolescent family violence cases, and are acutely aware of the stigma and consequences of criminalising their child’s behaviour.
Survey respondents describe the reasons why they had chosen not to contact police. One mother commented:
We were worried that if we called the police things would escalate more … We also thought that if we called the police we would completely lose any remaining trust or relationship with our son.
The small number of survey respondents who did contact police felt such interactions were unhelpful. One mother said:
On each occasion, I have felt that the situation was futile. Through calling the police [our son] felt like I have betrayed him … it did not result in an outcome where our family got any support or help.
The need to move away from criminal justice responses is important to emphasise in the current political climate, where youths are increasingly facing more punitive consequences for using violence.
Recognition of the complex needs of all those impacted – including adolescents who use violence, and their parents, carers and siblings who are victimised – reinforces the need to look beyond punitive justice responses in tackling this form of family violence.
New knowledge and new specialist responses
Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence found that there is a limited understanding of adolescent family violence among family violence specialists, youth and family services, and in the justice system.
Our research aims to contribute to urgently needed knowledge about adolescent family violence’s nature, extent and impacts. Across Australia there is a need to better understand this complex form of family violence, and to develop specialist knowledge and multi-agency responses.
Effective responses will require government commitment in terms of specialist funding and the resourcing of new forms of integrated service responses.
If you have experienced adolescent family violence, please consider sharing your experience with us via our anonymous online survey.
The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
Jo Howard describes the issue of adolescent violence in the home, and how it differs to adult family violence.
Adolescent violence in the home has many similarities to family violence, but there are some key differences.
Adolescents who abuse their parents use similar strategies to violent men to gain control and power. They often coerce, threaten and intimidate, destroy property and possessions and physically assault their parents. Global research indicates most victims are mothers and most offenders are males – a gendered presentation similar to adult family violence (Howard 2011). However, female adolescents are also offenders and fathers and other family relatives may be victims. Continue reading →
(Screenshot. See below for link to the interview).
This week saw huge progress in the drive to make child to parent violence less of a hidden problem, with a headline story on Monday’s Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC2, presented by Joanna Gosling.
A film, produced by West Midlands journalist Noel Phillips, led the story, and there was studio discussion from me, alongside Ann Ramsden of the Rosalie Ryrie Foundation and Seamus Oates, Executive Head Teacher of TBAP, representing the Youth Justice Board. The Family Lives helpline was offered for anyone seeking more support or information, and Anastasia de Waal chair of Family Lives answered questions throughout the day on local radio stations also picking up the story. If you listen to local radio you may also have heard stories from other families experiencing violence, and local practitioners discussing their work.
I have been asked about the figure of 4 million families being affected, offered by Noel Phillips early on in the film. This comes from the 2012 4Children report, The Enemy Within, based on a YouGov survey, which asked families about their experience of conflict and violence.
We are all very excited to have been involved in this, and look forward to further development of these stories being taken up in the same way in the future.
I was at a meeting last week considering the need for practice standards in work with families impacted by parent abuse.
While it still feels uncomfortably random whether you are able to access help or not as a family or practitioner, it might be surprising to hear that there has been a real surge in the development of services across England at least. With a limited amount of research and evidence to base work on, it is perhaps less surprising that many of the services show great similarities, even when they have started from different places and within different agencies, but there is variety and this is both good (flexibility in design and delivery meets specific needs) and potentially problematic (how can we be sure that work meets the needs). Now that programmes are more established and have themselves worked through initial teething problems, it seems a good time to think about how to assure quality and safety in the work. Continue reading →
We hear a lot about the cross-over between domestic abuse and child to parent violence (CPV), but significantly less about how CPV is to be understood within a child abuse and protection framework. This is an area of work dear to my own heart, and one that has also been the focus of some research in the Netherlands. Recently Dutch researcher, Dr Remy Vink, was tweeting about a conference she had attended, and she kindly agreed to be interviewed about it for the blog.