Engaging the Whole Family Unit to Solve Child to Parent Violence
Child to parent violence is on the rise. With many parents feeling lost and unable to cope, a focus on the entire family unit is key to preventing family breakdown, and ensuring healthy recovery.
From slapping, spitting and kicking, to punching, swearing and biting. These are just some of the behaviours displayed by children on Channel 5’s Violent Child, Desperate Parents. Recounting feelings of helplessness, resignation, and powerlessness, parents are subjected to violence and abuse from their own children, aged as young as six. In the first episode of the series, mum Debbie, after a violent outburst from her nine-year-old son Joe, tells him he has ‘broken her’. For many parents of violent children, this is a daily reality.
Child to parent violence (CPV) is often unfamiliar in the wider public consciousness. Defined by adoption support agency PAC-UK, CPV is ‘a pattern of physical, psychological and emotional behaviour seen in children and adolescents who cannot regulate their feelings in other ways and/or have a great need to gain control over their parent/s or carers’. While much of the attention surrounding violent households frequently centres on domestic violence between partners, figures show CPV may have increased by up to 95% from 2012 to 2016, with 10,051 incidents of CPV investigated in England and Wales in 2015/6.
Using a non-violent resistance approach, child psychologist Laverne Antrobus attempts to aid desperate parents in the Channel 5 series. With 25 years of experience, Antrobus believes in order to prevent CPV, the whole family must be treated. This is the same method RISE believes is crucial to solving CPV. Employed in the Positive Relationships Programme the approach aims to enhance the protection and safety of all family members by focusing on the parents of violent children, in a combination of 8 sessions for the parent(s) and 6 sessions for the young person, which offer therapeutic support and psycho-educational intervention. The sessions focus on breaking unhelpful patterns to end incidents of violence, increase respectful communication, and bolster family resilience.
The Non-Violent Resistance Programme achieves this through its unique focus on parents, rather than violent children themselves. With child participation not essential, practitioners are able to easily begin implementing solutions with parents, beginning to influence the dynamic of the parent-child relationship. Based on a short-term intervention first conducted by Weinblatt and Omer (2008) which saw child aggressiveness and escalatory behaviours decrease, the approach uses de-escalation and support networks in order to influence the behaviour of the parent(s). This results in the secondary impact of causing positive changes in the child’s behaviour, as a result of the work done with the parent(s).
With children of a young age still reliant on parents, and the core of CPV taking place within the family home, the focus on changing parent behaviour is key. In an ongoing case, the parents – especially the mother – of Adam* suffer ongoing violence. Adam has been known to shout, swear, throw heavy objects, and use weapons to intimidate her. He was excluded from school following an attempted assault on staff. He had not engaged with any professionals and had also assaulted them when this was attempted. After beginning the Positive Relationships Programme, a RISE practitioner recounted how after just 4 sessions with Adam’s mother in the family home, Adam ‘started to talk to me about his game…When I tried to leave he again interjected about a tournament he was about to play.’ Adam was ‘polite, gave me eye contact and seemed completely comfortable’, after initially refusing to speak or remain in the same room as the practitioner at the beginning of the course. The family’s social worker also praised Adam’s mother’s ability to now ‘challenge her son’s behaviour’, and that Adam has ‘responded well’. After exclusion, Adam had also been out of education for many months, but since participating in the Programme, Adam’s mother has been able to get Adam to attend school consistently, and on time.
For many parents suffering with CPV, the chance to take part in these programmes and achieve positive results is vital. Rachel Condry, associate professor of Criminology at the University of Oxford, highlights how in ‘a lot of areas…there is practically nothing’ in the way of help for struggling parents. These parents are often victims of ‘burnout’, as Condry calls it, including everything from family breakdown to economic and mental health problems. Leslie Clough*, in an article for the Guardian, recounts how after being the victim of CPV from her autistic son Tom*, she ‘could barely work because I was getting so little sleep’, and that when she ‘tried to visit my GP to talk about my own mental health, all I could do was sob wordlessly.’ She highlights ‘the impossibility of finding any solution other than her son’s move out of the home’. When her son Tom was eventually moved out, and into care, Leslie described the outcome as ‘searingly painful’, saying she is ‘often paralysed by recriminations, guilt and despair’, due to her feelings of failure.
Twitter user Hannah Meadows (@HLMeadows), another victim of CPV, describes how she ‘locked myself in the kitchen to avoid further #CPV. So far this morning have been bitten on the breast, slapped hard on the arm and had a shoe thrown…Last night, two smashed glasses…and P [her husband] kicked in the stomach.’ On her blog, she recounts how her six-year-old daughter Charlotte ‘kicked Pete so hard in the stomach that it left him unable to move, even to stand up, for several hours’, after he told ‘her it was bedtime’. RISE’s Positive Relationships aims to solve situations such as Hannah’s. The core elements of the Non-Violent Resistance Programme include parental commitment to non-violent response techniques, de-escalation skills, increased and varied parental presence, creation of a support network, and acts of reconciliation, among others. These elements help not only tackle violence, but create a safe environment for the whole family, which in many cases includes siblings.
After changing her behaviour and employing non-violent resistance techniques, such as de-escalation, Channel 5’s desperate parent Debbie describes how her violent son Joe made ‘huge progress’, and that she ‘can’t remember the last time Joe was violent’. It is this family-oriented approach, focusing on the parents of violent children which allows both the child and the parent to recover from the potentially devastating effects of CPV. This not only gives both parents and children their relationship back, but prevents worst-case scenarios, such as the breakup of the family unit, and, for many parents, the feelings of failure and loss that accompany it.
If you would like any more information on RISE or the topics detailed in this blog, please contact Clare King via firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Names have been changed.