IDVAs (Independent domestic violence advisors) are front line practitioners with specialist training in delivering practical and emotional support to victims of domestic abuse, and their children. While the vast majority of clients will have experienced violence and abuse from a partner or ex-partner, a small percentage of the work involves what is termed “familial violence”, and I was pleased to be able to speak with 2 Familial IDVAs recently to hear more about what they are able to offer.
Patience and Susie are based in the Stronger Communities Directorate for Southampton. Theirs is an ‘adult service’ and so they support a range of individuals where there has been what they term COPA (child on parent abuse), POCA (parent on child abuse), sibling abuse, or abuse to grandparents, as well as honour-based abuse; all where the perpetrator is over 16 years of age. Those using harmful behaviour are mostly male, and a mix of adolescents and men in their 30s and 40s, with the vast majority of the work involving abuse from men to their mothers. There is often a link with intimate partner violence, in that the perpetrators ‘ping-pong’ between the homes of their partner and their parent. They work with an average of 75 – 100 high risk cases a year referred through the MASH (multi-agency safeguarding hub), using tools from their IDVA training, and from specialist adolescent to parent violence (APV) training, in their case provided by AVA.
While some of the skills are transferable, there are very different dynamics with APV and so it is important to have this broader understanding and perspective.
Familial IDVA work is short term – around 4 months though sometimes longer – and involves the offer of emotional support, risk assessment and safety planning, and then referral on to a more appropriate service. It is notable that issues of love and guilt are frequent themes which come up in the emotional support work, and the victim will often be concerned to find help for their child and to enable them to remain safe together. The work is solely with the adult victim, but ideally they would work in conjunction with others offering a service to the perpetrator, and there is frustration that this is not always possible or available. If the adult victim is not identified as vulnerable in their own right, or the young person is similarly not considered vulnerable, then it can be difficult to access support from Children’s or Adults’ Social Care for instance.
Despite these frustrations however, both Patience and Susie reported tangible benefits which are experienced by those they support. For many, them “just being there” no matter what, being non-judgemental, and listening helps victims to keep going, to remain safe, and to develop greater self-confidence. They recognise the privilege of being allowed into people’s lives and are keen to emphasise the importance of viewing the victims as the experts in their situation – rather than rushing in with ideas and suggestions. So they seek to help their clients find their own solutions, reflecting on what has already been tried, rather than suggesting lots of new things themselves.
Is this a role that could be rolled out more widely?
It is often said that our understanding of children’s violence towards their parents lags a long way behind that of intimate partner abuse, and yet we have seen a tremendous increase in interest and awareness over the last 10 – 15 years. Many things work together to discourage those experiencing CPV from coming forward for help – the stigma, lack of awareness, poor resource provision, but the situation is improving and we will undoubtedly see a rise in the demand for help. In an ideal world we would see a range of services to meet the needs of many different family configurations and situations, with expertise spread evenly around the country and throughout different sectors. In the meantime, it is encouraging to see a growing and widening appreciation of the pain and harm caused through CPV, and an increasing group of practitioners trained to provide a service within their field of work.