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Child/adolescent to parent abuse

Domestic violence and abuse can be experienced between family members regardless of gender or relationship. Child/adolescent to parent abuse is a common and often hidden form of family violence and abuse.

Child/adolescent to parent domestic abuse can be understood as a harmful act which is designed to gain power and control over a parent. The abuse can be physical, psychological, or financial. [1]

Child to parent violence is an abuse of power through which the child or adolescent attempts to use coercive control and dominate others in the family and should not be confused with childhood testing of boundaries. [2]

Parents may report the following:

  • Threatening or using violence when their demands are not met. This may include damage to possessions and house fittings.
  • Using psychological and emotional abuse to wear parents down - this might include attempts to degrade, humiliate or embarrass parents and other family members.
  • Threatening they will leave home if you do not do what they want.

The presence of child/adolescent to parent abuse may indicate a host of other risks including harm, trauma and dysfunction prompted by:

  • Domestic abuse in the home – whether current or in the past
  • Mental health difficulties for parent or child/adolescent
  • Substance misuse issues amongst members of the household, including the adolescent
  • Children having been forced to participate in abuse by the perpetrator, whether as witnesses or having been encouraged to participate with the perpetrator
  • Negative external peer influence

[1] Cottrell 2011 (part paraphrasing from wording of definition)

[2] Tew and Nixon 2010 & Coogan 2011

How should professionals respond to child/adolescent to parent domestic abuse?

Where child/adolescent to parent abuse is disclosed, there are a number of immediate actions which should be considered. It is recommended that families are referred to the Children and Families Service, which can assess the immediate risk to all family members, which includes any siblings in the home.

Workers may identify separate safeguarding risks for adults in the family, which may prompt a specific safeguarding adult's referral. Effective safeguarding is achieved when agencies share information to obtain an accurate picture of the risk and then work together to ensure that the safety of the adult at risk is prioritised. In high-risk situations it may be relevant to access the multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) process

Children and adolescents using dominant and coercive behaviours may be experiencing a range of challenges and anxieties, which left unaddressed, may impact upon the immediate safety and wellbeing of parents and children in the household. Left unchecked, behaviours may also escalate in future to intimate partner violence, continuing the cycle of abuse.

Referral and support options should be made available for the parent, including referral to specialist domestic abuse assistance. Parents experiencing this form of abuse may however be reluctant to seek help, fearing judgement from agencies or negative consequences for their child. Parents may also feel out of options or when they have attempted to reach out in the past, agencies may have offered unhelpful or contradictory advice.

Domestic violence and abuse in any context can escalate swiftly, leading to immediate harm and lifelong consequences for all concerned. Practical measures must always be taken to minimise harm and manage risk.

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