New research shines light on violence and abuse by children towards parents

New data from London’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) finds that 40 per cent of parents and carers chose not to report to the police.

25/04/22

New research shines light on violence and abuse by children towards parents

Research has revealed the scale of child-to-parent abuse is likely to be much greater than figures suggest.

The research, published by London’s VRU, found that immense shame and fear of criminalisation or the child being removed from the home has led to significant underreporting of attacks, abuse or coercive control of parents.

“Parents feel huge shame around this behaviour,” Jane Griffiths, Director and lead practitioner at Capa First Response CiC, said. “They feel judged and blamed for how their child behaves towards them. It is a hugely isolating issue, with parents feeling unable to talk about what is happening or seek support.”

The data, published earlier this month, revealed that at least 40 per cent of parents or carers who experienced violence by their children between 2011 and 2020, refused to report it. However, research shows the scale of the issue – known as Child/Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (CAPVA) – is likely to be much greater than reported figures suggest, and frontline practitioners working directly with families have warned they expect it to continue to increase.

“People are so secretive; they are just so ashamed by domestic abuse generally. They are worried that people will feel they have done something wrong, that they will be judged or that their children will be taken into care,” one children’s social worker told researchers.

Researchers found that there is no standard definition of CAPVA, which means children under-16 are treated as adult perpetrators of domestic abuse. As a result, opportunities to better understand drivers of behaviour and to intervene are minimised, or lost.

The report reveals that there is a lack of awareness amongst parents, carers, young people and even professionals about CAPVA, leading to an inconsistent and patchwork provision of support available for families and a lack of understanding about how to access it.

Research shows that some services provide support for the parent, while others focus on the offending behaviour and a criminal justice response. It demonstrates a significant gap in provision across London, and the country, as no single agency has responsibility. As a result of a lack of coordination, services are not joined up and further opportunities for early intervention are missed.

Frontline practitioners interviewed said that exposure to domestic abuse in the home, either experienced or witnessed, was one of the potential drivers of CAPVA and may also lead to boys displaying misogynistic behaviour or violence with female family members and in their own relationships.

“One of the cases I was working with, the boy was starting to be aggressive and intimidate his mum. It emerged that quite a few girls made allegations of inappropriate sexual touching against him. When the social worker interviewed him and mum she asked about his dad and whether his dad talked to him about women and what views his dad had about women. The fact the son was being aggressive to his mum meant all of this stuff came out about sexual abuse that happened when he was little,” one early help practitioner told researchers.

The report outlines 10 recommendations for the VRU to help address this issue, centring around not viewing children as perpetrators, but instead looking at the needs of both the young person and the wider family and how support can be accessed.

The VRU, working with others, will consider key findings from the report and look to take forward a recommendation that it advocates for statutory guidance of CAPVA to include any young person up to the age of 25.

Lib Peck, Director of London’s Violence Reduction Unit, said that speaking with communities, the Unit found that violence and abuse by children towards parents was a ‘consistent concern’.

“The VRU was set up to better understand the complex, underlying causes of violence, and to lead a partnership approach to reducing violence and supporting young people, families and communities.

“The VRU commissioned research to understand the scale of this form of violence, the opportunities for early intervention and the support being provided across London for young people and for parents and carers.

“We will use this research to work with others to raise awareness and bring services together to intervene earlier to tackle this form of violence and ensure greater access to support.

University of Roehampton’s Dr Amanda Holt, one of the co-authors of the report, said the report is the first of its kind to offer a comprehensive analysis of child/adolescent violence towards parents.

“It highlights the extent of its under-reporting, the reasons why parents and carers don't come forward, and why a multi-faced and collaborative approach is necessary for any kind of effective intervention. I look forward to seeing the next steps for developing appropriate responses to combat this particularly hidden form of family violence.”

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