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Child to Parent Violence – What is it and How do we Solve it?

Child to Parent Violence – What is it and How do we Solve it?

Adolescent Parental Violence and Abuse (APVA), Child to Parent Abuse (CPA) or Child to Parent Abuse/Violence (CPA/V) may be terms you are hearing more often these days, but it is not a new phenomenon. Historically such behaviours have been hidden, in part due to a lack of recognition that it is a form of Domestic Abuse in its own right. For example, the cross-Government definition of domestic violence and abuse is ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse’. While this definition applies to those aged 16 or above, APVA can equally involve children under 16. Fortunately, the Government and an increasing number of local authorities and statutory agencies are seeking to identify and understand the depth of this harmful social problem, this has been reflected in the latest draft Domestic Abuse Bill (to be published Sept 14th 2021 following a consultation period).

Cottrell (2003) describes child to parent violence as “…any harmful act by a teenage child intended to gain power and control over a parent. The abuse can be physical, psychological, or financial.”

Violent behaviour includes threats, intimidation, property destruction, degrading language and physical violence.

  • It involves teenage and younger boys and girls who use physical, psychological, emotional or financial abuse to gain power over their parent/s or carers
  • CPV reverses the usual power relationship where the parent/s or carer/s have authority in relation to their sons or daughters
  • CPV is not the kind of unruly behaviour children display but when a child persistently uses more severe abuse and or violence to get their own way
  • Parents find it hard to admit to themselves, let alone others, what they are experiencing from their child

Another reason CPV has remained hidden is the associated guilt and stigma surrounding the issue. Parents who are victim’s themselves may feel that they have failed at putting the appropriate boundaries in place or think that they have failed their child in some way, they might think that agencies will blame them for poor parenting skills (Selwyn and Meakings, 2016). In fact, studies have shown that there is no single cause for CPV and that cases are often complex, involving multiple factors such as substance misuse, mental health and a family history of domestic abuse (Holt and Retford, 2013). What is clear however is that power and control sits at the heart of CPV and until that is addressed holistically, the cycle will likely continue.

The following views reflect the difficult power dynamic in relationships where CPV is present, the views come from real parents where substance misuse was also an additional factor (Between a rock and a hard place Project Report)

  • I’m drinking more now than I’ve ever done. I never used to drink as much… I want to be ready for it, so I’m sitting there sipping whisky or brandy so if he comes to the door I’m strong enough to handle it…I’m waking up in the middle of the night sitting in a chair with a half empty whisky bottle on the floor. Now I’ve no-one to hide that from because I live on my own and I’m doing it more and more
  • He was abusive in the way he used to steal things…I went on holiday one year, left money in the house. Came back and he’d been looking after the house and he told us we’d had a burglary (i.e., the money was missing)
  • I’d get phone calls and screams ‘I’m going to throw myself off the bridge’. It’s really bad.
  • My experience is…to do with mental harm…he has just damaged me so much I am so tired that I wonder sometimes how I can keep going

Despite many parents suffering immense hardships and frustrations, many did find effective support for the problems raised by CPV when they finally did seek support. Nationally there is still a mixed picture with regards to provision, but many areas are not only learning to identify this issue, but are developing a response. For example, the Stronger Communities Directorate for Southampton employ two Familial IDVA’s who are trained in APV and work with the family unit.

Although work is still being undertaken to understand this issue in greater depth with a view to informing provision, early indications seem to suggest that addressing the issue holistically can be extremely effective (an example can be seen in the ‘Break for Change’ programme). Indeed, any intervention or support for CPV should seek to:

  • Reduce the stigma of APV
  • Alleviate any victim guilt (e.g., for calling the police or feelings of poor parenting)
  • Recognise the role of Power and Control
  • Ideally work with both the Parent/Guardian and Child

RSMS have created an intervention in collaboration with Cambridge Police and experts based on these principles. The programme consists of 9 chapters covering areas that are commonly associated with CAPVA, and is designed to be facilitated by a professional. Each chapter is heavily discussion based, ensuring that parent/guardian and child develop their communication and listening skills. The areas covered include

  • Experiences-Looking at how our past experiences can impact on our behaviours, parenting styles and interactions, and thinking about how current stresses affect us.
  • Respect-What is it, why is it important, how do we show it, what are the benefits?
  • Managing and Showing Emotions-Why is it important, how can we do this in a healthy way?
  • Violence and Abuse-What does this look like, what is the impact, how can we avoid it?
  • Substance Use-How can this change our behaviour and contribute to an unhealthy home environment?
  • Perspective Taking- Including views of, and impact on Siblings
  • Developing a Family Plan- Drawing together what has been learnt, what will be put in to action and how will this be monitored by those involved

RSMS are looking forward to piloting this programme in conjunction with UK Police Forces and Youth Offending Services in the coming months. If your organisation is interested in supporting a pilot or getting involved, please email Kira Day: Kira.Day@rsg.ltd

Author: Kira Day


Adfam (2012) Between a Rock and a Hard Place, viewed 18 August 2021, available at https://adfam.org.uk/files/docs/Between_a_rock_and_a_hard_place_-_Project_report.pdf

Bonnick, H. (2021) Draft Statutory Guidance on Domestic Abuse, 12 August 2021, available at


Bonnick, H. (2021) Familial IDVAs, 13 July 2021, available at https://holesinthewall.co.uk/

Bonnick, H. (2021) Research into child to parent violence and abuse in London, 6 July 2021, available at  https://holesinthewall.co.uk/

Miles, C and Condry, R. (2020) Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-2021: Does the inclusion of ‘relatives’ go far enough in addressing the issue of adolescent to parent violence?, viewed 18 August 2021, available at http://blog.policy.manchester.ac.uk/posts/2020/07/domestic-abuse-bill-2019-2021-does-the-inclusion-of-relatives-go-far-enough-in-addressing-the-issue-of-adolescent-to-parent-violence/

Sanders, R. (2020) Adolescent to parent violence and abuse, viewed 18 August 2021, available at https://www.iriss.org.uk/resources/esss-outlines/adolescent-parent-violence

Selwyn, J and Meakings, S. (2016) The British Journal of Social Work, Volume 46, Issue 5, July 2016, Pages 1224–1240, https://doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcv072

Southampton City Council 2021, What is Child to Parent Violence (CPV)?, viewed 18 August 2021,  https://www.southampton.gov.uk/health-social-care/domestic-abuse/what-is-domestic-abuse/child-to-parent-violence

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