Mention Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (APVA) to professionals who work with families and/or young people and the response is often that they are aware of families where this is an on-going concern.

APVA has been described as: “The most hidden, misunderstood and stigmatised form of family violence.”[1]

What we see and hear is often just the tip of the iceberg, particularly as prevalence of APVA is difficult to quantify. Data suggests an estimated prevalence of between 3% and 10% of families experience serious APVA[2] and that the age of the young person who begins to engage in abusive behaviours is approximately 12 to 14 years of age, with the behaviour peaking about two years later.[3]

Research findings and reporting from interventions with families, demonstrates that abused parents find it difficult to acknowledge that their child is abusive. For many families, the feelings of fear, shame, guilt, and self-blame impact on decisions about reporting or disclosing APVA. Research and feedback from parents highlights their fears that they will be judged in a poor light and their feelings of failure and poor parenting will be confirmed by others. It is important to note from previous work, that young people engaging in APVA experience similar feelings of isolation, shame and guilt, which feeds into their behaviours and perpetuates the cycle of abuse.

Although there is not an accepted definition, academics and professionals identify that APVA covers a range of behaviours by children and young people aimed at achieving on-going control over parents.

These behaviours go beyond the ‘ordinary testing’ of boundaries within the home environment and can include; emotional, mental, financial and physical abuse. Behaviours such as; shouting, swearing, manipulation, stealing, threatening violence, using violence and intimidation become evident   Patterns of behaviour emerge and can instil fear and shame, shifting the balance of power from parent/carer to the young person, changing the dynamics of the parental/adolescent relationship. 

A robust response is needed to address APVA and work with families to redress the power imbalance, breaking the cycle of violence and abuse in the home. Restoring Respectful Families is adapting and developing a strengths based, restorative, solution focused, short term intervention programme, which uses a whole family approach. The Restoring Respectful Families programme is based on the Step Up Programme, developed in 1999 and successfully used and quality assured within the youth court service in Seattle, USA. Permission to work with this is model has kindly been given by the authors.

The 12-week intervention programme aims to reduce and cease the incidents of violence and abuse in the home. The Restoring Respectful Families programme is structured to place safety, responsibility, respect and change at its centre. The curriculum is being designed as a 12 session programme, with one 2-hour session per week.

Groups are either multi-family group sessions, focusing on areas such as Safety Planning where the families work together or as separate young people and parents’ groups. Using a skills and strengths based methodology; young people learn how to use different, respectful approaches to communicating, resolving difficulties, as well as changing negative action to positive actions. Parents explore responding to abusive behaviours, restorative parenting, enabling responsibility for behaviours, engendering respect and positive support within the family.

Siblings may also need support; their needs may become overlooked when families are trying to cope with APVA in the home. Having a group as part of the programme gives siblings a voice, opportunities to identify their strengths and develop new skills.

A whole family approach works with and enables the family to make changes by offering new ways of communicating, resolving conflict, taking responsibility and being accountable for behaviour. Using restorative practice begins to repair the harm and enable the family to break the cycle of abuse.

Colette Morgan, Director Restoring Respectful Families – 0330 043 1316 – @RestoringRespe

[1] Executive Summary Responding to Child on Parent Violence (2015) Report from pan European CPV Study
[2] Gallagher, E (2008) Who’s in Charge (Australia) cited in Respect Young People’s Programme (2010)
[3] Holt A, (2013), Adolescent to Parent Abuse – Current understandings in Research, Policy and Practice, Policy Press.