Violence against parents by children a growing problem

Conference hears issue is the most under-researched form of domstic violence

Children’s violent abuse of their parents is a “growing and under-researched problem” a conference in Dublin was told today.

Children’s violent abuse of their parents is a “growing and under-researched problem” a conference in Dublin was told today.

Sat, Oct 19, 2013, 20:04

Children’s violent abuse of their parents is a “growing and under-researched problem” a conference in Dublin heard today.

Declan Coogan, a social worker based in the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre in NUI Galway and project leader in Ireland for an EU-funded project ‘Responding to Child to Parent Violence’ , said the issue of children under the age of 18 and as young as eight violently assaulting their parents had particularly emerged here since 2007.

“Around that time [during his time as senior social worker in the Mater Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service] we began to hear parents say they were living in fear of their children. They might say things like, ‘I am worried about depression but she also beats me’, or ‘He’s moody and I’m terrified of him’.

It is the most under-researched form of domestic violence and yet it is growing.”

The conference was hosted by the Family Support Network.

Though little research had been done on the extent of the problem here he cited data from the United States which found 18 per cent of two-parent families had experienced child-parent violence and 29 per cent of lone-parent families had - usually directed at the mother.

He said it was one of the fastest growing issues in calls to parent-support organisations, such as Parent Line.

“We are not talking about the normal rows and shouting at each other that can happen between parents and children. This is violence to gain control over parents or a parent.”

He gave anonymous examples he had come across in practise, including an eight year-old who assaulted and bullied his single mother and a girl who had been “perfect” until she was aged 14 at which point she started using drugs, going missing for long periods of time as well being highly abusive to both parents.

Parents would live for a very long time with violence in their family before they would tell anyone because of the shame, the fear of being judged, the belief that it was in some way their own fault, in much the same way as women abused by their partners often felt it was their own fault, he said.

“Let’s be clear. Whatever the underlying reason, whether it’s depression, addiction, ADHD, you are not to blame and if a child hits you it is never acceptable and never excusable.

“These situations pose huge problems and dilemmas, as well as being hugely stressful. This is not classic domestic violence. It’s not a child protection issue as the child is not at risk. The parents are at risk but you can’t get a barring order against your 14 year-old daughter.”

Having worked with families affected, Mr Coogan has developed a programme of non-violent resistance to address the issue, which has been found to be hugely successful.

His work is feeding into the EU ‘Responding to Child to Parent Violence’ project. Teams in four other States are also working on the issue and their findings will be presented at a conference in Galway in June 2014.