Greater understanding of child-to-parent abuse needed across London, Sadiq Khan warns

Fiona Simpson
Tuesday, April 12, 2022

School exclusions, undiagnosed mental health issues and unidentified special educational needs and disabilities are among the key drivers behind child-to-parent abuse, the mayor of London has said.

Sadiq Khan speaks to professionals and families with experience of child-to-parent abuse.
Sadiq Khan speaks to professionals and families with experience of child-to-parent abuse.

Social workers, school staff and other frontline practitioners working with vulnerable children have been warned to expect a “continued increase” of child-to-parent violence or abuse in new research commissioned by London’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU).

A lack of standard definition of child-to-parent abuse – which means children under-16 are treated as adult perpetrators of domestic abuse – combined with a lack of co-ordination across local authority, health and emergency services leads to opportunities for early intervention being missed, according to the report.

It highlights that trauma, exploitation and extra-familial harm, exposure to domestic abuse, unmet emotional and psychological needs and unidentified special educational needs and disabilities may make families more vulnerable to such abuse.

At a launch of the research held in Peckham, south London, Sadiq Khan called for a greater understanding of the factors behind child-to-parent abuse across all professionals working with vulnerable people.

“Too often the child will be excluded from school, too often they will be sent to a pupil referral unit without the work to address trauma, mental ill health or special educational needs.

“Hopefully this report will be a wake-up call to this serious issue to practitioners and experts thinking about the issue and the steps they can take to address it,” he told CYP Now.

“It’s crucial we have a joined-up approach to tackling this issue because I want all Londoners, including parents and carers, to have confidence in reporting concerns so that services can intervene much earlier and provide the support families need and deserve.”  

The report also finds that at least 40 per cent of parents or carers who experienced violence by their children between 2011 and 2020 refused to report it.

All parents and carers interviewed as part of the report said they only contacted the police at crisis points when they felt they had no other choice and were afraid for their physical safety. 

“Immense shame and fear of criminalisation of their child or the child being removed from the home” are the main drivers behind the underreporting of attacks, abuse or coercive control of parents, the report states.

It also finds a “significant gap” in services supporting families dealing with child-to-parent abuse and violence across the capital.

“Some services provide support for the parent, while others focus on the offending behaviour and a criminal justice response,” according to researchers.

In a series of 10 recommendations to government, the VRU is calling for the creation of new statutory guidance of child-to-parent abuse and violence covering any young person up to the age of 25 which includes a standard definition of the issue.

Other key recommendations include:

  • Working to facilitate multi-agency collaboration.

  • The training and development of child-to-parent abuse specialists in each London borough’s children’s social care/safeguarding team.

  • Establishment of a central "helpline" to provide information and guidance to practitioners on identifying and making referrals.

  • Supporting practitioners to increase awareness of where to get support for this specific form of abuse and/or support/help from others with similar experiences.

Lib Peck, director of London’s VRU, said the research had been commissioned to “understand the scale of this form of violence, the opportunities for early intervention and the support being provided across London for young people and for parents and carers”. 

“We will use this research to work with others to raise awareness and bring services together to intervene earlier to tackle this form of violence and ensure greater access to support,” she added.

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