Police need ACE training to better understand impact of child violence, study says

Police officers should be trained in understanding the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on young people in order to tackle an increase in child to parent violence, new research suggests.

The study was commissioned by Northumbria Police. Picture: Adobe Stock
The study was commissioned by Northumbria Police. Picture: Adobe Stock

A report commissioned by Northumbria Police, Policing Childhood Challenging Violent or Aggressive Behaviour: responding to vulnerable families, makes the recommendation as part of a wider strategy to help its police officers better understand the causes of child to parent violence.

The study, carried out by a research team from Northumbria University and training provider Children’s Emotional Language and Thinking, analysed incidents of childhood challenging violent or aggressive behaviour (CCVAB) recorded by Northumbria Police from March 2019 to January 2020.

Researchers found there were 515 incidents of CCVAB which increased month on month between March and July 2019, peaking at 83 before dropping back down to 37 incidents in August.

Just under half of the children (226) involved in the total number of incidents were already known to Northumbria Police.

Despite specific data relating to ACE not being included in the investigation, the North East is a region with high levels of ACE indicators compared to the average for England, the report states.

“One of the risk outcomes for higher levels of ACEs is increased risk of substance misuse, which is evident across all localities in Northumbria Police Operational area.

“It is also known that increased underage substance misuse is a cause for CCVAB,” it explains.

Data collected by the team showed officers attended 89 out of 515 incidents that involved substance misuse by the child involved in the incident.

Of these, 74 incidents included cannabis misuse by the child and 22 incidents included alcohol. Eleven incidents included both alcohol and cannabis misuse by a child carrying out an act of violence against an adult.

While the study indicates no “single cause” for CCVAB, the findings support previous research pointing to an increased risk involving children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and higher levels of ACEs.

Parental reporting revealed 153 out of 515 children involved in CCVAB for the period between March 2019 and January 2020 had SEND.

Of these, 52 had autism, 28 had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and 73 had mental health conditions.

Researchers attributed the peak in numbers of CCVAB incidents in July to pupils experiencing higher levels of stress during the summer term due to exams, assessment and school transition periods.

This had led, in some cases, to children reported to police by their families for CCVAB also being excluded from school for similar behaviour, a trend that was increasing across the Northumbria Police operational area, the report states.

“The notable reduction during August would support previous debate around the difficulties some children have during their school day that leads to an increase in CCVAB at home,” it concludes.

With officers openly discussing the “limitations” of their knowledge, skills and competencies when dealing with children with SEND, social, emotional and mental health needs or ACE indicators, the report calls for all officers to receive basic training in these areas.

A designated named officer should also be appointed to focus on CCVAB incidents in specific operational areas of the Northumbria Police force where higher levels of incidents are occurring.

Jeannine Hughes, part of the research team from Northumbria University, said the recording of statistics in the study would help develop a better understanding of the underlying causes of CCVAB and the key links to adversity.

“Importantly, it will also help agencies to connect the dots between cases and bring a focus back to local authorities and others.

“This will lead to a growing recognition for all those affected that this is something that many other families are experiencing and so they should not be afraid to talk about it and ask for help,” she said.

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