Addressing Child to Parent Violence in Oxfordshire: The Work of the Youth Offending Service and the Development of a New Programme.
Time to read
by Pete Wallis and Colette Morgan
Pete Wallis: I am a restorative justice practitioner with Oxfordshire Youth Offending Service (YOS). My role is to talk to the young people who have committed a crime and are referred to the YOS by the police or the courts, consult with the people they harmed, and explore any interest in a restorative process to resolve the issues that led up to or have arisen from the offence. Child on parent violence first came to my attention through a string of cases involving young people causing damage in their home, typically punching or kicking holes in doors. I developed an arrangement with a senior CPS lawyer, who felt that such cases should be dealt with informally rather than by criminalising the young person, even if this ran counter to the CPS targets for successful convictions. The court would be asked to adjourn the case for three weeks, and if the issue could be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, the young person wouldn’t have to return to court and the case against them would be dropped.
I enjoyed the sense of natural justice involved when working with a young person to repair their door. Rather than work in situ we would remove the door, tie it to the roof rack on my car and drive to a suitable venue. The doors tended to be the hollow type with plywood covering a honeycomb of cardboard, and a nightmare to fix. In asking the young person if they were prepared to repair the door (and most did, in order to avoid returning to court), they would learn that it takes just a second to kick a hole in the door, and several hours to make it good again. There would be a good chance to chat with them over a practical task, and their parent(s) were often amused and impressed to see them at work. Finally, while the door was being re-hung a restorative conversation could be held between child and parent, to reflect on what was going on for the young person to make them lash out at the door, and how everyone in the household was affected by their behaviour.
Sometimes such a pragmatic approach can be all that is required. However there have been many cases involving offences within the home which couldn’t be sorted out with polyfilla and sandpaper. Situations where the police have been called by a parent who was physically attacked by their child, where it clearly was just the latest incident in a history of violence within the home. In one case a mother said that her son had become a ‘monster’, that she no longer loved him, and that she felt unsafe in her own home.
I’ve tried over the years, with varying degrees of success, to adapt the usual restorative justice process for cases of child on parent violence (cpv). With one family I arranged a series of meetings in their living room, in which they were supported in holding the difficult conversations that they felt unable to have without help from a facilitator. I realised that the young person’s controlling and violent behaviour was a symptom of dynamics within the family that went back years. Although this particular family found the process helpful, I was left feeling that a deeper and more rigorous approach was needed for addressing this particular type of domestic violence.
When Dr. Rachel Condry approached me to ask whether our YOS would participate in her research, most of the case managers I work alongside were able to identify cpv issues within their caseload, even if it wasn’t related to the young person’s index offence. In September 2014 I organised a talk at St. Hilda’s College with Rachel’s help, inviting Martyn Stoner from Break4Change to share his experience of running a cpv groupwork programme in Brighton. The talk was so heavily over-subscribed that a number of practitioners had to be turned away for lack of seating space. The Police and Crime Commissioners’ policy advisor was one of the attendees, and she put forward the idea that I should put in an application to the PCC to run a cpv pilot project. The application was successful, and the first task was to appoint to Project Manager. We were extremely lucky to appoint Colette Morgan, an experienced Independent Domestic Violence Advisor and Welsh Women’s Aid trainer and Policy Advisor. Colette will pick up the story…
My background is firmly located in the domestic violence arena, starting way back in 1986 as a volunteer/short term paid worker in a Women’s Aid refuge, when domestic violence was still very much behind closed doors and barely touching any political agenda. My new role, as Oxfordshire Child on Parent Violence Project Development Manager, feels somewhat similar, in as much as being in at the start of working towards finding solutions and raising this issue up the political agenda, making it visible.
We are currently at a very exciting point in the development of the CPV programme in Oxfordshire, which we have named Building Respectful Families. Since coming into post at the end of December, I have realised just how fortuitous a time this is for the development of our programme. I have been able to undertake research to identify the best way forward for the programme and attend the Responding to Child to Parent Violence Conference in Brighton. This was an excellent opportunity to extend my understanding and knowledge base in respect of CPV, as there were many experienced professionals and academics in this field, who have worked hard to lay the foundations to build upon.
The CPV advisory group, Pete Wallis and Liz Jones, of Oxford City Council, have been incredibly supportive of all suggestions and recommendations that have come from the research, which is why we are now at this exciting stage of development. In piloting Building Respectful Families, we are using the Break4Change model, as this fits with the outcomes we want to achieve, it is a tried and tested model that has delivered positive results, with a high programme completion rate. The Break4Change Team have trained our facilitators, and the programme began on 16th April 2015.
This is a very exciting and groundbreaking time for Oxfordshire and we look forward to sharing our outcomes and finding from running the Building Respectful Families Programme.
For more information contact:
Oxfordshire Child on Parent Violence Project Development Manager
Building Respectful Families Programme
Tel: 01865 203829|Mob: 07419374271