Scott Casson-Rennie, head of engagement and delivery at Adoption UK, has shared his story with HuffPost UK after a survey by the charity and the BBC found that more than half of adoptive families have experience of child-on-parent violence.
This statistic may sound shocking to some, but Casson-Rennie believes that for mums and dads who have been attacked by their children, it may actually offer a beacon of hope.
“I would say those figures will come as a relief to parents who have been going through this alone,” he said.
“Admitting that you can’t control a seven-year-old who is kicking, punching and biting you is very difficult, because society says that is a failure of parenting.”
“But that’s not the case,” Casson-Rennie continued. “It’s a trauma that a child has experienced that is causing this and you shouldn’t feel like you have to go through it alone.”
Casson-Rennie and his husband Tristan have adopted three sons. The oldest two, F*,19, and B, 18, were adopted in 2008, and the youngest, 11-year-old J, joined the family three and a half years ago.
“The first time we experienced child-on-parent violence it was a massive shock,” said Casson-Rennie. “I have to be honest, we did not know what on earth it was. We hoped it was a one off.
“It happened when we were on holiday and on reflection we now know that would have been a trigger point for J, because he wasn’t within his comfortable surroundings of our home.
“From then it happened consistently every week and gradually it got worse and worse.”
Casson-Rennie and his husband had experienced difficult behaviour with their other two sons, but never anything physical.
“It was scary and we did have to get immediate support because we did not know how to deal with this long term,” Casson-Rennie said.
“J was small when he was seven, but we were worried about what would happen when he was 16 or 18.”
The family accessed therapy through their local authority and the Adoption Support Fund, which was established by the Department for Education to help pay for essential therapy services for adoptive families.
The sessions have focused on helping J understand his life story and giving him strategies to be able to deal with his anger. Casson-Rennie said it has “helped a lot”, although J’s recent transition to secondary school has resurfaced a number of his trigger points.
“J’s birth mother inflicted domestic violence on him,” explained Casson-Rennie. “So he has carried his experience of that with him. When he’s angry or upset he basically plays out that scenario as he would have done in his previous life when he was angry or upset.
“His aggression can be triggered at any point. We’ve been subjected to biting, hitting and kicking.
“Sometimes we’ve also had to actually physically restrain him to stop him from hurting himself and of course then we suffer from physical abuse as a result of that.”
Casson-Rennie and his husband have now learned ways of dealing with their son’s outbursts, which centre around “keeping calm”, making sure J isn’t in a situation where he could hurt himself and then walking away. But he stresses that techniques for dealing with child-on-parent violence will vary from family to family.
Which is why it is vital that you seek support, from qualified therapists, but also from your peers.
“It can be difficult to be honest about what you’re going through,” Casson-Rennie said. “We were very embarrassed in the early days. I would never have been as open about this three years ago as I am now.
“But it’s only through talking about it that you come to know who else is suffering from it and how we can support each other.
“That’s why I’ve stuck my head above the parapet to say: ‘this is happening to me and I need help with it and I want to help other people as well’.”
For peer-support Casson-Rennie said he cannot recommend social media highly enough - particularly Twitter.
“It’s almost like an encyclopaedia - not for factual information - but about personal information,” he explained.
“That’s where you’ll find the proof that you’re not alone.
“You can be as anonymous as you want to be, as you can have a pseudonym. - a lot of people do and will share their stories. There’s huge support for adoptive parents through that community on Twitter, just look for tweets about adoption or CPV [child-on-parent violence]. ”
There are also a number of private Facebook groups (search for ‘parents abused by children UK’) and Adoption UK has forums where parents can speak with their peers
“To have the opportunity to have that little area of respite, even if it’s just behind a keyboard, that can be really helpful,” said Casson-Rennie.
“Just to share something with people who understand helps relieve a lot of the pressure.”
Being honest about the situation with those you’re close to will also open up another avenue of support.
“We have one friend who supports us quite a bit,” said Casson-Rennie.
“They allow us that little bit of respite every so often, especially when things are a bit tough. Even if it’s just a couple of hours in which they’ll go to the cinema with J, that gives us some time as a four to regroup.”
One group of people who parents may be wary of calling on for help is the police, as they tend to be thought of as a source of punishment rather than support.
But Casson-Rennie said they may be your greatest ally.
“The police are probably the best people to get involved, but initially not at a heated moment,” he explained.
“If you start experiencing CPV then you need to go to the police and explain it to them.
“If you’re an adoptive parent take what files you’ve got and sit down with a neighbourhood officer and explain it.
“Generally they are quite good and they will put a note on your file with instructions for if a call comes in from your address.
“As a parent, regardless of whether that’s by birth or adoption, you do get worn down by it and when you’re feeling like that, that’s the point when you need to start thinking that ‘next time this happens I’m going to ring the Bill to come along and have a word’.”
Guidance issued by the government instructs police to handle child-on-parent violence with the main objective of dealing with the situation in a way which will not only stop the incident but also prevent repetition.
They are also advised not to: “assume that this is a parenting issue [as] the parent is the victim in this situation”
“I know of a number of examples where that’s worked,” said Casson-Rennie.
“One person I know has a very good relationship with their police officer now after the number of times they have rung them in the moment and they’ll come along and talk to the family.
“Just having the presence of an authority figure who is not from the house can help calm things down a lot, and once the moment has passed it can help start conversations about why they get angry.
“It can all have quite a positive effect on a child and can help the parents as well.”
Casson-Rennie wants parents to know that with the right support the situation can become more manageable.
“I would not change my life, I can tell you that,” he said. “I love J, even when he’s kicking off, I have nothing but love for him.”
Further sources of support:
Young Minds offers a telephone support service for parents struggling to support a young person’s mental health needs, between the hours of 9.30am and 4.00pm, Monday to Friday: 0808 802 5544.
Family Lives offers a confidential helpline service (free from landlines and most mobiles): 0808 800 2222, which is open 9am – 9pm, Monday to Friday and 10am – 3pm Saturday and Sunday.
Adoption UK has forums and helplines for adoptive parents looking for support. Parents in England can call 07904 793 974 and 07539 733079 from Monday to Thursday at 10.00am - 2.30pm and on Fridays from 10.00am - 12.00pm (excluding bank holidays). In Northern Island the number to call is 028 9077 5211 (Monday to Thursday 10.00am - 4.00pm and Friday 10.00am - 2.30pm). In Scotland it’s 0131 201 2489 (Monday - Friday 10.00am – 2.30pm) and in Wales it’s 02920 230319 (Monday - Friday 10.00am – 2.30pm).
*Names withheld to protect children’s identity.