The Blog

Adoptive Families Dealing With Child-on-Parent Violence

Can you imagine what it would be like to be physically attacked by a member of your own family... in your own home... on a regular basis? And what if the perpetrator was your own adopted son?

Can you imagine what it would be like to be physically attacked by a member of your own family... in your own home... on a regular basis? And what if the perpetrator was your own adopted son?

If you were beaten-up by a child who you've chosen to join your family, to love and nurture for ever, how would you feel? Would you be too ashamed to approach professionals for help for fear of having your child taken off you? And would you keep the violence secret from friends and relatives in case they judge you or your child?

Child-on-Parent Violence (CPV) is an under-reported and under-researched phenomenon. Often the mother suffers the most. It can include physical violence, verbal abuse or damage to property. Of almost 100 adoptive families who received peer support services from Adoption UK in 2013/14, more than one-third of parents were experiencing CPV.

A quarter of cases receiving our current peer support identified significant physical and/or verbal aggression from child to parent and requested a specific tailored service from us to help them address the situation.

Concerns about child on parent violence have been known to us through the experiences of our members and were starkly evidenced in the research report by the University of Bristol Beyond the Adoption Order, which found that 3% of adoptions disrupt but many others were in crisis due to extreme behavioural problems.

At a recent sell-out Adoption UK conference: Non Violent Resistance in Birmingham it was clear from our members that there is an unmet need for learning the skills to deal with this kind of problem before it spirals out of control.

One parent, who attended the conference, told us how her 10 year-old son "came at me with a knife".

She said: "I'm quite embarrassed and ashamed about the idea that I get beat-up by a 10 year-old boy. It seems quite a pathetic situation to be in."

Her husband added: "I hate the fact my children who are quite young hurt my wife. They have impulses that I simply just don't have."

These parents, like many others in the same situation, did not want others to know about their child's behaviour, but as Adoption UK members they can be supported to find the right help through research, signposting, peer support, courses and information.

Parents and children both need skilled help and support so that we can help to reduce the adoption breakdown rate. For parents, it is just as important to know what not to do - i.e. actions that will escalate violent behaviours - as well as how best to manage both at the point of crisis and beyond.

Children who have suffered the trauma of abuse or neglect respond differently to other children, they have experienced the world being an unsafe and dangerous place so what might be minor issues to others - such as mentioning homework or setting reasonable expectations on tidying up at home - will trigger violent responses.

The child's violent behaviour reveals extreme distress and a need to feel safe and protected. These children need to receive a strong sense of belonging from their parents and need to know what is unacceptable behaviour whilst rejecting this at the same time.

Adoption UK has recently received a grant from the Department for Education to provide tailored support to adoptive families experiencing CPV. This will allow us to share proven methods of preventing and managing challenging behaviour that works for both child and parents on a wider scale. This support will be delivered by skilled adoptive parents who have received specialist training to avoid placement disruptions, improve and make safe the quality of family life.

It's anticipated that in year one of the pilot we will have helped 200 families. We also provide peer-to-peer support to our members through our website, message boards, dedicated helpline and different levels of individual support, depending on need. All those providing this support communicate from their lived experience of adoption and/or professional expertise.

Hugh Thornbery is chief executive of Adoption UK, the leading charity providing support, awareness and understanding for those parenting or supporting children who cannot live with their birth parents.