Tag Archives: Parent abuse

Child to parent violence: an unhelpful phrase?

Once upon a time, when I didn’t know so much about “parent abuse” it seemed a little exciting to be at the forefront of a new phenomenon. It felt important to speak clearly and categorically, for clarity, and the avoidance of misunderstanding – which was commonplace. “Parent abuse? You mean abuse BY parents? No? You must mean older people then?” Now it seems that the more I learn, the less certain I am about anything – other than the fact that many, many more parents than we would like to think about are struggling daily with much, much more than anyone should ever have to face within their family.

What we call this has been a constant running theme throughout the last 11 years that I’ve been involved. I quickly ditched “parent abuse” for the reasons above, though some still favour it as describing a subset of family / domestic abuse. I do still refer to it on my website home page (documenting parent abuse), but generally these days I have been using “child to parent violence”. Right from the start I was aware of questions around whether the term “abuse” was more appropriate than “violence”. It seemed important to me to capture the very active sense of terror that parents experienced; and I went with the whole phrase because it included relationship, direction and action. It’s probably worth saying at this point that I have counted over the years more than 30 different phrases in use, either in the literature or by practitioners.

Last week I barged into another conversation on twitter. People were talking about how they found the phrase “child to parent violence” unhelpful. Tell me, what was I supposed to do!

First of all, why does all this matter?

It would be really helpful if we could come up with a phrase that worked for everyone. It would potentially make it easier for parents to identify their experience and ask for help, for practitioners to understand what parents were saying, avoid confusion among policy makers, enable more realistic counting, and help us all to be sure we were talking about the same thing. At the moment the media seem to be au fait with “child to parent violence” so should we bite the bullet and stay with that?

Does it matter who chooses the name?

Hmmm. Well I would like to think we let ‘someone’ other than the media define what we’re talking about! In the beginning it was mostly academics talking, and each person adopted the phraseology that most suited what they were addressing in their paper. Many articles, dissertations etc begin with an explanation of the choice of name, quite apart from a definition. The few practitioners who were also writing similarly used terms which captured the issues they saw, and the family configurations they worked with, while continuing to wrestle with the abuse / violence question. (Hence “adolescent violence and abuse”) But are we comfortable, in the 21st century, with professionals naming a situation experienced by others, and imposing that name, if the individuals concerned would prefer something else?

Some snippets from the conversation …

My personal feeling is that children aren’t ‘abusing’ parents.

I am reluctant to give people terms which make them think badly of my child.

I wouldn’t class my child’s behaviour as violent – but other people would.

Some people, who lived through the seventies and eighties, would call this “false consciousness”, but that’s probably not terribly helpful. More useful is to think about the shame that stops families coming forward for help, the love that keeps them going day after day after day, and the loadedness of some terminology in the way it is used in different contexts. Saying that child to parent abuse can sometimes feel like intimate partner violence is one thing. Acknowledging what that means in terms of how you understand your child is quite another.

Hiding inside this conversation is, of course, the definition debate. Does intent matter? Is this one thing or many?

Do we need different names for different situations?

To some extent, we have already started down this road. Yvonne Newbold has blogged and spoken about preferring the term Violent Challenging Behaviour (VCB) for children with severe learning difficulties and mental disabilities. (But there are some who dislike the use of the word “challenging”, finding it a simplistic generalisation which excuses our own lack of understanding or curiosity as to the reason for the behaviour.)

I find this to be an unanswerable conundrum. Clearly there is a huge gulf between children and young people with severe disabilities who lash out, and those who deliberately and provocatively inflict harm to people and property. But there are so many young people in between, so many different scenarios, and overlaps of diagnoses.

If anyone would like to enter this debate they are more than welcome! If you can come up with a better turn of phrase then please let us know. In the meantime, I will leave you with some thoughts from ‘Mumdrah’ from the other evening:

For now ‘violence’ is all we have; we need better words for sure.

Whatever the label, this stuff is beyond hard to understand.

 

Update, August 8th 2017

As usual, the comments and replies came via twitter ….. The consensus seems to be to use the phrase “child to parent violence and abuse” as more accurately reflecting the lived experiences of families. I can’t argue with that!

 

 

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Happy Birthday, Holes in the Wall!

Please allow me a moment of self-indulgence as I celebrate 5 years of this website, Holes in the Wall, ‘born’ in May 2011 out of a desire to make a contribution to the understanding of children’s violence to parents, known sometimes as parent abuse. As a present to myself I have ordered shiny new postcards to leave with people at conferences and events, explaining how ‘Holes’ came about and how you can be part of the community!

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Alice Flowers advocates for parent abuse bill in Florida.

Family Of Woman Who Lost Her Life Plead With Lawmakers To Hear Parent Abuse Bill

 

Some Florida lawmakers and advocates are pushing for a bill classifying the abuse of a parent as a form of domestic abuse. The measure stems from a woman who lost her life years ago.

Flowers is recalling the painful memory of the events that led to her sister, Rosemary Pate’s death. Pate’s son Everett was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder.

“She had suffered years of abuse from him,” she added. “Although he had been detained in the Department of Juvenile Justice, many times he was returned home to her where the abuse continued, although law enforcement were aware of the threats.”

And, Flowers says losing her sister like this has been tough on the whole family.

“My father has been through a lot,” she continued. “He got a call. Early one morning, my youngest sister and her husband went to his house to let him know that his grandchild had murdered his child. We have been through the ringer with this.”

Flowers just finished a bicycle ride from Orlando to Tallahassee in memory of her sister. Now, she’s advocating on behalf of a bill that she says would have helped.

“Myself and four cyclists have cycled to show how serious we are about getting a bill for police protections for parents and a bill that would begin intervening early for troubled children,” she concluded.

That bill Flowers is pushing for is sponsored by Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando).

“We know that in Orange County we have a problem because we’ve studied it,” she said. “And, 426 children were arrested in 2012 for domestic violence, physically assaulting family members in their own homes. And, according to an article, elderly people are likely to be hurt by their children or other caretakers more than any other individual.”

And, Thompson says she’s saddened that even with a restraining order stating that Pate’s son had threatened her and she’d been afraid of him for years, the 51-year-old’s petition went nowhere.

“He had indicated that he would kill her two years earlier when he was 16,” Thompson added. “She said her petition to the judge had not really been acted upon because right now, in the law, regarding domestic abuse, the abuse of a parent is not included and so, this bill would correct that. And, it would include abuse of a parent as one of the forms of domestic abuse.”

The abuse may include aggravated abuse, exploitation of a parent’s assets, or emotional abuse of a parent by a biological child. The bill also requires the abuse of a parent be reported to the state abuse hotline.

And, Rep. Victor Torres (D-Orlando), the bill’s House sponsor, says the measure is needed.

“We need to make sure our parents are protected against abusive children,” he said. “The abuse tends to begin with verbal abuse, gradually progresses to property damage, breaking the walls, breaking down doors…ultimately, it becomes physical and that’s when you have the problems, that’s when you start seeing the aggression against the parents.”

So far, neither the Senate nor the House bill have had a hearing. But, both sponsors say they remain hopeful that if it dies this year, it will still be heard next session.

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Lazy reporting could not spoil an opportunity to discuss parent abuse

This started off as a weary rant from me today and then changed tone as the day progressed!

While it has been exciting and encouraging to see the increase in coverage of child to parent violence and abuse in the media over the last week, I have been disappointed yet again by the tone of some of the pieces and the apparent laziness of reporting.

Times headline

The main headline in the Times, (you may not be able to read the next line, “Families cannot deal with minor domestic rows”)  today picks up on the report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary into the welfare of vulnerable people in police custody, which has held centre stage across the media today. This highlights the often inappropriate use of custody for individuals experiencing poor mental health, or other vulnerabilities, because of a crisis in other support services; and while researchers have said that the findings show pressures faced by many families and carers, and the fact that the police are often used as the agency of last resort, the first example given – thus setting the tone – is of a dispute over a TV remote control. Other examples are given of greater severity of risk and violence. Parents are described as contacting the police because they reach breaking point. But there is no exploration of this issue in a wider way, other than to suggest lone women are finding it particularly difficult to bring up children. Continue reading

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Standards and quality assurance: next steps in parent abuse work

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

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A brighter future for families experiencing child to parent violence

Continuing a mini series of interviews about different projects around the country, I have been speaking with Sian Taylor at Wish for a Brighter Future in Bristol.

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Wish for a Brighter Future (WISH) has been in operation since 2003, when a small group of Hartcliffe residents identified a need to provide domestic abuse support in their community. WISH worked for many years supporting men, women and children affected by domestic violence and abuse (DVA) within the local community before developing their parent abuse project. They found their understanding and experience of DVA were vital in making the transition from domestic to parent abuse support. While the original expectation was that the work would be with young people, delivering domestic abuse prevention work through education and group work support – and the funding* supported this plan – once the doors opened the organisation was inundated with referrals for parent abuse, and for the last year this has been the sole focus of the work. Continue reading

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Parent abuse: looking back, looking forward

It is the traditional time for looking back – and looking forward – a time when many of us reassess our hopes and dreams, and make new plans for the future. I recently wrote a guest blog for the Oxford APV website, looking back over the last ten years of work in this field. I don’t want to rehash what I wrote there – go take a look – but here are some more musings and a bit more detail to some earlier hints for the direction of my work in the coming months. Continue reading

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