Thank you very much for inviting me to introduce this round table policy meeting for the Responding to child to parent violence project.
The first thing I want to do is to congratulate all those who have been involved in this project, from its inception almost two years ago to today’s event.
I am particularly proud that a city within the region I represent, Brighton and Hove within the South East of England, has played a leading role within this project.
I’m also very pleased to see that both the University of Brighton and Brighton and Hove City Council initiated the project and have worked closely with academic and practitioner partners from Spain, Bulgaria, Ireland and Sweden on this issue.
That pan-European approach is particularly helpful here because, as everyone in this room knows, child to parent violence is a reality right across Europe. It may have different cultural connotations and occur in different family forms- but it is there, behind closed doors in far too many homes across Europe.
As the organisers of this event have stated, child to parent violence is the most hidden, misunderstood and stigmatised form of family violence- so it is perhaps no surprise that there is a dearth of information available about its prevalence and impact.
This project is an innovative attempt to remedy that gap, and bring into the spotlight this phenomenon which is more prevalent than many of us would hope to admit.
I hope that this project will go some way towards transforming our perceptions of child to parent violence. Perhaps it will help to effect a shift like that we have seen in relation to what is often called ‘domestic violence’; violence between partners within a family, generally but not exclusively by men upon women. As we all know, in many countries tolerance of domestic violence has, rightly, receded.
Until recently however, this kind of violence was viewed as almost inevitable and discussion of it was taboo.
The challenges of dealing with child to parent violence are in some ways even less tractable; not only is the issue a taboo for many, but some people may, through the lens of prejudice or a lack of education, view it as an ‘aberrance’ or somehow ‘unnatural’.
Yet this project has shown that not only is child to parent violence occurring right across Europe, but more positively, that violent and abusive behaviour can be changed by trained practitioners working with families over the long term.
This kind of work is painstaking, challenging and resource-intensive. As the authors of the executive summary for this project state, there is no ‘quick fix’ for child to parent violence; but over the long run, with appropriate professional support, parents and children can re-build respectful relationships.
That needs, however, a recognition from policy-makers of the existence of the problem and the need to tackle it. Child to parent violence has not been at the top of the policy agenda and so those practitioners who have focused on it, such as through the Break4Change and Non Violent Resistance projects, along with programmes which are represented here today, have been real pioneers. So I am delighted that we have representatives from the European Commission at this meeting.
I hope you will take forward the messages from this project, which I am sure will be amplified by the presentations and films we are due to see this morning.
I support the four sensible, and achievable, conclusions of this research project:
- we need EU-level policies to tackle child to parent violence, so it is included within action plans for relevant policy areas like child protection, education, domestic violence and child maltreatment prevention
- we desperately need more high-quality information to judge the scale and incidence of the problem, so must encourage researchers, services and organisations to start collecting and collating and reporting on data on child to parent violence
- we must have a focus on training practitioners so they can recognise child to parent violence and deal with it appropriately, whether they are social, education or health workers, or work in the third sector, for example in support services for those suffering from domestic violence.
- And we must build a network of evidence-based interventions which are closely linked to mainstream services, so that both parents and their children can have the support they need.
All this will be challenging in the context of austerity and reduced government budgets, but given the emotional and health costs of child to parent violence, these actions are the morally right thing to do and will be good value over the longer term.
Thank you again for inviting me here today, and I hope that by the end of this meeting we will, together, not just have a better idea of the nature of child to parent violence and how to help prevent and remedy it in individual cases, but also how we can act together to create the collective conditions for policy change in this area.
This post is adapted from a speech given to the EU Responding to Child to Parent violence round-table on 20th January 2015.