Jane Griffiths tells us about the Break4Change programme that helps parents/carers and children involved in Child-to-Parent Abuse (CPA). CPA gets little statutory attention and as a result, is under-reported, under-researched and unknown to many practitioners. Break4Change aims to address these issues.
The World of CPA
Child-to-Parent Abuse (CPA) can be defined as any act of a child (usually under 18) that is intended to cause physical, psychological or financial damage to gain power and control over a parent/carer. CPA is a significant and widespread problem: research shows that 1 in 10 families are known to be affected. However, CPA is a heavily under-reported area of abuse so this figure is likely significantly higher in reality.
Formerly, in Brighton and Hove – where Break4Change is based – practitioners consistently encountered families struggling with abusive young people for whom there was no real help or intervention. Essentially, there was a gap in domestic abuse services that was desperately in need of filling.
In 2008, interested professionals from several agencies including Youth Offending Teams (YOTs), Targeted Youth Support (TYS), Community Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and Rise came together to address the lack of a programming for CPA by establishing Break4Change.
Break4Change is designed for parents whose adolescent children act in violent and abusive ways, and for the children themselves. It came into operation in 2009. The programme is based on a Pan-European research project by the Responding to Child to Parent Violence (RCPV) movement that identified a significant service gap for victims who experience CPA across many countries, in particular the UK.
How Break4Change tackles CPA
Based on non-violent Resistance (NVR), restorative justice, Cycle of Change and active engagement models, Break4Change aims to reduce the parents’ feelings of isolation, and the young person’s feelings of entitlement.
The programme also aims to:
- Remove the stigma attached to the abuse dynamic (thinking the victim is a bad parent, for example);
- Empower the parent/carer to stop making excuses for the child (common excuses include “father was violent”, “he/she is going through a phase”);
- Help the parent clarify boundaries of what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and balance entitlement with responsibilities;
- Reinforce progress and provide emotional support while the parent attempts to become more assertive and the child attempts to become non-abusive; and
- Help the parents feel less depressed and powerless and decrease the amount of violence and abusive behaviour in the family.
Break4Change works with multiple statutory partners to run a 10-week programme with a weekly session of 2.5 hours. These sessions include group work on strategies for addressing behaviour and creative sessions with an ‘audioactive’ youth music project. The programme also includes a skills-based and restorative group intervention that focuses on non-violence and respect between family members.
Participants are usually referred from partners such as YOTs. Following referral, the programme practitioners – employing a brief solution -focused approach – arrange a meeting with the young person and the parent/carers to undertake a pre-course assessment. There will be a post-course assessment following completion of the programme.
To be eligible for the programme:
- Both the parent/carer and the young person must voluntarily submit for participation and give consent;
- The young person must be of secondary school age 11-17;
- The young person must have been abusing the parent/carer for at least the last 6 months.;
- The young person must be prepared to address their behaviour; and
- The parent/carer must be ready to attend the parallel parents group.
Throughout the programme, the referrer’s continued support is required as they have familiarity with the case.
The Break4Change programme also conducts conferences and workshops designed to help practitioners become more familiar with the issue of CPA as well as equip them with the skills to better understand the victims that need assistance.
Impact on CPA
The evaluation of Break4Change indicated that immediately following the short intervention, most parents reported feeling less isolated, more assertive and having a wider range of strategies with which to address their children’s abusive behaviours. Young people reported having increased empathy, drastically reduced physical violence and increased satisfaction at home. Many of these young people have even re-engaged with school. The case-study below is a prime example of the positive work done by Break4Change.
Practitioner evaluation of the programme has also been positive. Many practitioners found the Break4Change workshops very helpful as it gave them the skills to help them work with CPA. The workshops also helped them to become more familiar with an area of abuse that was relatively unknown to them. Practitioners have also praised the ability of the programme to adapt to different situations by making sure that the individual elements are applicable to unorthodox situations. They were particularly happy about the fact that the programme can be adapted for one-to-one sessions.
The positive evaluation of Break4Change is why Jane Griffiths is currently trying to expand the programme for younger children. Specifically, primary school children around the age of 8 or 9 years. Like the current intervention programme, the junior programme will be evidence-based and will consult with psychologists and child development experts.
For more information about Break4Change contact Jane Griffiths via Break4change@riseuk.org.uk
This case study was compiled by Michael Farinu in 2019
My name is Mary and my son is John he is now 13 – John was diagnosed with Autism in nursery. He loved primary school and he thrived and had lots of friends. From his behaviour and progress there was no reason why John wouldn’t cope at high school. His teaching assistant from primary school went with him to the open day and he went to the settling in programme over the summer and enjoyed that with other 7 children who attended who were deemed to perhaps not cope at high school as well.
Once John started high school things started to go quickly wrong. There was an incident where John was pushed in the corridor and that along with the lighting, the noise, swapping classes for each subject, and the generally chaotic environment of a high school he didn’t manage and simply couldn’t cope.
We struggled on for 3 months and I tried everything to get him there and the more I tried the more and more abusive and aggressive he became.
He was referred to mental health services and offered some home tuition. However, the longer he was out of school the more socially isolated he became. His world became smaller and smaller and so did mine. I couldn’t go to work. He lived in the front room, with the curtains shut and his life was his games console.
He became a very angry young person. The main trigger for the abusive outbursts was me trying to get him to school.
This kind of behaviour of often hidden and you lie to people about it because your friends and others say things like – “you want to sort him out or he will be taken off you”. My partner would say if John kicks off again he would call the Police and social services. I genuinely thought he would be taken from me. I was petrified of that - and of him. He would scream and shout, I was isolated in the kitchen or my bedroom and to get from one to the other I had to walk out of the front door and into the back door as I was too frightened to go in the front room. I was scared to go to bed because I was scared to wake up and what that day might bring. I was sick of the same bullshit every day. It was like Groundhog Day.
He was hitting me, kicking me and I was completely controlled by him. One day my family worker came and she saw him have a major kick off and punch me in the face. I had lied to her as well about how bad it was. She spent 3 hours with me that day and encouraged to go to the programme. That was the actual day I started the programme – I had never called the Police before but that day we did. It was the worst day of my life and also the best. It was the end and the start.
It’s hard to explain but I was controlled by my own child. I was not confident in my own voice; I did not have a voice. The course gave me my voice. I was not the only one living with this and that course gave me the confidence of professionals, I wasn’t judged and I was shown assertiveness and told that I am allowed to tell him what to do because I am the parent.
The beauty of the programme is that went together and he is downstairs with a group of other young people and I am upstairs with other parents and we are working on the same things.
I do not really know what they did with my son. On week 3 he demanded my phone and said “give me your phone”. I said no you cannot have my phone because I do not respond to demands. He said “Sorry Mum can I please use your phone”. He was calmer in his voice. Something as simple as that but I knew things were changing. My partner said this will never work. I had faith and I felt different. I got to speak in the group. There wasn’t someone at the front talking saying “you need to this you need to do that”. We all talked about what was happening for us and were given solutions by the programme leaders for each of our unique, individual problems at home.
Half was through the programme the abusive stopped completely – I have never been hit or controlled since that day.
I didn’t tell the workers until the end that I had lied at the start of the programme because I was terrified of what they might think. But as I grew confidence with them as a group and heard how awful life was for some of the rest of the group I felt it was ok to start saying a bit more what it was really like. There were others just like me and I had thought I was the only person in Rochdale that was living like this.
I looked forward to Thursdays it was so different to anything I had ever done before. I don’t believe it would have worked if John had not come too as I would have been going home with some random magic and he wouldn’t have understood why I was changing if he wasn’t having to change at the same time.
John got a place a specialist school place in October (after almost 2 years out of school). He loves it, it’s small like a primary school and he is happy. The course gave him the confidence to be back with other children in a group setting.
Going on the course and knowing that he was being supported to cope again with other children in a group gave me the confidence to take him to other things too. I knew what to do if he kicked off – I knew how to speak to him. We started off really small going to the little shop and now he comes with me to the supermarket. I couldn’t do that before because he would kick off if someone looked at him.
I trust his behaviour now. He was completely unpredictable before.
I think that anyone who is having a bad time needs this help. Professionals can feel like scary people but they aren’t really. Also you need to understand that some people are not confident as a parent. I thought this was just another course. It’s different to anything else I have ever done. It’s changed my life.
I went to college and got my food hygiene certificates and I applied for my driving licence. I am now looking for work because John is at school – every day. I never thought I was say this but I am actually bored. I really want to work in a school kitchen because then I can work whilst John is at school and I can look after him in the school holidays. Life’s actually great.”