What is Parent Abuse?

Judy Nixon
Sheffield Hallam University
What is Parent Abuse?
 Physical and/or psychological violence including acts of
domination or coercion
'when an adolescent attempts physically or psychologically to
dominate, coerce and control others in their family. It takes a
number of forms. The most commonly acknowledged forms are
physical violence, destruction of property and/or possessions,
threats and intimidation, psychological, emotional and social abuse,
financial abuse and sometimes sexual abuse' (Howard and Rottem,
 Important to distinguish abusive behaviour from other
troublesome behaviours that could be seen as falling within
the range of 'normal' adolescent behaviour
Evidence from English FIPs
 Evaluation of support projects for those at risk of
eviction. Not looking for it….
 In a sample of 84 families –child to adult violence
affected 11 % of mothers:
“He was like a bloke at 13, shouting at me, made me go to
bits and, you know, I mean I couldn’t deal with it.”
“…. I was having a lot of trouble with my children and like
my son was hitting me – and mental abuse.” (Nixon et al
Evidence from “Breaking the Cycle”
 “Well Willie’s
just, like the same [as her violence
partner], I’d had bad relationships, violence, and its
like, I’m getting it from a young boy. And its, its
hard but sometimes it actually makes me sick …
See when he starts arguing, oh, its like my legs are
like jelly [for fear of violence] … And I should nae…
be sitting in my own house, scared of my 14 year old
boy. I says, I’m sorry it’s a bad day when your son,
your own family, steal off you. You know what I
mean? And he was sitting, just finished taking the
soup up, I had heat it in the microwave and we both
sat down. And I says it’s a bad day when your own
family steal off you. He went oh F*** you and he
flung it in my face” (Pawson et al 2009)
Youth Justice and Domestic
Violence Studies
 Youth Justice
 Evidence from a number of small, mainly qualitative, studies
suggest that parent abuse is far from uncommon (Squires and
Stephen, 2005; Holt, 2009; Condry, 2009).
 A study focussing on Parenting Orders found that it was an
issue for 12 out of 17 parents (Holt, 2009:3)
 Domestic violence
 1996 British Crime Survey found 3% of DV incidents involved
child to parent violence (Mirrlees-Black et al , 1996)
 A study of Accident and Emergency patients reporting
domestic violence at an UK hospital which found that 6% of
these cases were child-to-parent (Condry ,2009)
Parent line Plus survey
 The UK charity Parentline Plus survey of 30,000 calls
to its helpline found that a quarter of calls in the
period October 2007 - June 2008 concerned reports of
children's verbal or physical aggression
 Most incidents took place at home, and were targeted at
 The majority of young people were not seen as being
eligible for support services as 'children in need'
 Many parents have tried to access support from a range
of agencies to no avail and reported feeling desperate,
isolated, helpless, ashamed and out of control
(Parentline Plus, 2008)
Characteristics of young people and
their parent(s)
 Parent characteristics:
 there is general agreement that mothers are most likely to be
 Young People:
 most studies suggest that sons rather than daughters are
more likely to be physically aggressive;
 the age of onset and peak offending varies between studies
(typically 12-18);
 there is some evidence to suggest that white young people are
more likely to abuse their parents as compared to other
young people.
Innovative responses
 Break4change at Brighton and Hove
 Multi-agency approach involving a women's refuge
project, FIP, YOTs, Children and Young Peoples Trust
 Provision of two parallel dedicated programmes of
support; one for young people and one for parents
 Use of Brief Solution Focussed approach combined with
of creative sessions to help young people express their
feelings (writing, film work etc)
 Early feedback from the project is very promising
Key questions to consider
 Have any of you come across cases involving parent abuse?
 How can we take this issue forward and develop new
avenues and perspectives for policy and practice?
What action should be taken and by whom to deal with
this complex form of family violence?
What role should existing services (Social Landlords,
ASB/youth justice; Domestic Violence; child care) have?
Is there a case for developing specialist provision?
Do we need further research and if so what aspects of the
problem should research focus on?
Break4Change Brighton and Hove. Contact for more information: Dennis Bryne Target Youth Support
Team Leader Brighton and Hove City council email: Denis,[email protected] Tel 01273
Biehal, N. (2005) Working with Adolescents supporting families, preventing breakdown London: British
Association for Adopting and Fostering
Condry, R. (2009) Adolescent-to-parent Violence: A challenge for Youth Justice Paper presented to the
British Society of Criminology Conference University of Glasgow
Holt, A. (2009) Parent Abuse: Some reflections on the adequacy of a Youth Justice Response Internet
Journal of Criminology Accessed 20/11/09
Howard, J. and Rottem, N. (2008) It all starts at home: male adolescent violence to mothers. A research
report. Inner Couth community Health Service Inc and Child Abuse Research Australia. Monash
Nixon J., Hunter C., Myers S., Parr S., Sanderson D. (2006) ASB Intensive Family Support Projects: An
evaluation of 6 pioneering projects London: Department for Communities and Local Government
Pawson H., Davidson E., Sosenko F., Flint J., Nixon J., Casey R., Sanderson D. (2009) Evaluation of
Intensive Family Support Projects in Scotland Edinburgh: Scottish Executive
Parentline (2008) You can't say go and sit on the naughty step because they turn round and say make
me' Aggressive behaviour in children: parents' experiences and needs. Accessed 2/02/2010
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