Family matters

A Good Start…

The government has acknowledged that child to parent violence exists – now the real work begins, says Joss Smith

This week the government announced a change to the domestic violence definition to recognise that 16 to 17-year-olds can be victims of abusive behaviour.

Many organisations, including Adfam, lobbied for this change in our response to the consultation in March. It’s a really great start to wider understanding of the complex nature of domestic violence that can affect people at different ages and, crucially for Adfam, within different relationships. However that is what it must be viewed as… a start.

In partnership with AVA we recently released our new report Between a rock and a hard place considering the often significant impact of child to parent violence. Under the previous definition, a 17-year-old physically abusing their parents or grandparents was not considered to be perpetrating domestic violence. Our research indicates that it’s more likely to be considered a child protection issue, anti-social behaviour or conduct problem and service responses to child to parent violence are not as developed as those towards partner violence. This group of parents also did not recognise the actions of their children ­– which ran the full range from physical assaults with weapons and death threats to coercive control including extreme behaviour, blackmail, emotional abuse and financial exploitation – as domestic abuse.

Domestic violence services are unlikely to be in touch with these parents (who typically look for help regarding their child’s substance use and not the abuse they suffer) and may not be used to characterising these experiences as domestic violence if they normally work on intimate partner violence. Parents are generally unwilling to disclose the abuse due to the ‘double stigma’ and shame that surrounds both having a child using substances and being abused by your own child.

The new definition opens the door for further discussions on 16 to 17-year-olds being both victims and perpetrators of child to parent violence. However we must not assume that the widening of the definition will neatly result in an increase in the safety of parents or an improvement in the response of services to their situation. Many services are vastly over-stretched and underfunded and the hidden nature of child to parent violence means that it often goes unrecognised. Practitioners need training and support to work with this different client group, whose experience of violence has many similarities to intimate partner violence but also unique characteristics, which require a specialist understanding.

This change definition is a good start and we are pleased that Adfam’s and many other organisations’ views have been listened to, but we are still faced with the struggle of what to call the violence parents suffer, how to respond appropriately to both the perpetrator and victim, and where this sits within government policy. As Dr Sarah Galvani concludes at the end of our report, for these parents, ‘what is clear is that we need to do better’.

Joss Smith is director of policy and regional development at Adfam,