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What can law enforcement do in the face of Child to Parent Abuse?

Social enterprise ‘Parental Education Growth Support’ (PEGS) spoke to Police Oracle about the extent of such abuse and the importance of officers having an awareness of it.

Child to Parent Abuse is a form of domestic abuse that could encompass a range of behaviours including financial and sexual abuse from a child directed at a parent or guardian. 

There is no standard definition at the moment, although a consultation is currently ongoing with the aim of a definition being published this year. Currently the Home Office use the term Child/Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse. 

Statistics published by the Home Office in March on Domestic Homicide Reviews showed that roughly in one in eight cases fitted the ‘Child to Parent’ abuse structure. Of the 124 cases looked at, 10 had been caused by the son of the victim, four by the daughter and two by a grandchild. The extent of data collection in this area however is limited. 

In April, research commissioned by London Mayor Sadiq Khan found that 40% of parents and carers who experienced abuse at the hands of their children did not report it. 

Founding Director of PEGS, Michelle John, explained: “What we're looking at here really is a pattern of behaviour that can include physical, emotional, psychological coercion and control, financial abuse, digital abuse - and also sexual abuse. 

“Some of the behaviours that we hear about from parents are not too dissimilar to intimate partner domestic abuse. But what's different is the fact that CPA isn’t spoken about, we don't openly even call it domestic abuse. 

“The onus goes to what's that parent done to that child? What has that child been witness to or had done to them or seen - and the voice of the parent is hidden. 

“We’re not talking about typical behaviours or boundary-pushing, we're talking about extreme behaviours that cause the parent or carer to live in fear of their child, the child's reactions, and quite significant injuries and harm.” 

In a survey sent out by PEGS, 94 per cent of 226 respondents had experienced verbal abuse, 17 per cent sexualised behaviours and 89 per cent damage to property at the hands of their child. 53 per cent said they had reached out to the police. 

As well as providing support to parents themselves, currently PEGS are working with a number of police forces, including the Met, Warwickshire and West Mercia on training programmes to raise awareness among staff. 

“What I think would be really useful for officers when they go out is to remember that they're going out at a point of crisis, because the parents have got nowhere else to go. Their response is so vital because it can [potentially] be really damaging,” MIchelle said. 

“They play such a crucial part in advocating for the victim.” 

Michelle has lived experience of it herself and described a positive interaction with officers from her local force. She explained that if she had not had an officer who was as informed or as open, she may not have reached the outcome that kept her safe at that time. 

Dyfed-Powys has embedded a risk assessment model created by PEGS within their multi-agency referral form, while PEGS are working on a training programme to deliver for all officers within Warwickshire. Meanwhile, other forces, such as Humberside, are making referrals into the organisation. 

DS Shelley Orr was able to help with the introduction of PEGS into West Mercia. She told Police Oracle: "‘Child to parent abuse has previously been under recognised by the police and on occasion dealt with inappropriately making an already unmanageable situation worse.

"In recent years, organisations like PEGS have helped us to understand that child to parent abuse is different to intimate partner abuse. The complexities, emotions and practicalities of the relationships mean we can’t approach this in the same way we deal with incidents of partner abuse however the risk remains just as high."

The training PEGS offers differs between forces, but includes addressing areas of bias, looking how to respond to different situations and a discussion on language used in front of potential victims. 

“Parents don't want their child to be called a perpetrator. So we have to respect those that we're working with, you could still talk about the child - if you want to talk about perpetrator in your own force [that’s different] but using certain language can help build or break trust,” Michelle said. 

She described a really positive relationship with the forces she has been working with so far, with a lot of eagerness to upskill officers where they can. 

Police Oracle asked about the bias that surrounds this area, with ideas around parents needing to control their children, Michelle said: “If you wouldn't say something to an intimate partner victim of domestic abuse, stop saying it to parent victims.

“One of the difficulties in the police, they don’t want children and young people in custody. We also don’t support criminalisation - sometimes it’s the only option, but then it’s about what we can do as agency partners to support police. 

“It the child is under 18, let’s look at safeguarding [...] they don’t need a criminalisation response, they need a social care response or a multi-agency response regarding safeguarding. If we take the criminalisation route and they end up in court for criminal damage for example, who do we thinking ends up paying the fine?” 

PEGS is organising a Child to Parent Abuse awareness day on 14 October 

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