Interview with Adoption UK’s Child to Parent Violence Project Co-ordinator

Published: 13.10.16

Sally Donovan, Adoption Today's editor, meets Margaret, Adoption UK’s Child to Parent Violence Project Co-ordinator.
Interview with Adoption UK’s Child to Parent Violence Project Co-ordinator

Last year Adoption UK was awarded a government grant to deliver peer-to-peer support to adoptive families in England experiencing child to parent violence (CPV). As the project comes to the end of its first year Sally caught up with project co-ordinator Margaret to find out how the project works and some of the unique benefits of peer-to-peer support.

Why was the project set up in the first place?

The project has its origins in Julie Sewyn’s et al research into adoption breakdowns. Their report, ‘Beyond the Adoption Order’, published in 2014, identified child to parent violence as a very significant issue in a number of adoption disruptions, especially in families with older children and young people.

As a result, the government was keen for services to be developed to support adoptive families experiencing this issue,and our bid for funding to provide peer-to-peer support was successful. The government recognised the unique nature of the peer-to-peer support that we were already offering and was interested to learn through the grant how effective this type of intervention could be in such circumstances, albeit as just one element within a wider package of support provided to the family. We were asked to deliver this new service in four regions of England as part of the pilot and we identified consortia of local authorities in the South West, West Midlands, East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humberside.

The Department for Education grant allowed us to offer the service at no cost to the local authorities and to arrange for it to be externally evaluated. This evaluation will be based on pre- and post-intervention questionnaires completed by the participating adoptive parents

In what ways does the project support families experiencing CPV?

After an initial telephone assessment where details about the child’s history, the family’s needs, the support they are already receiving or have received is gathered and written up, the information is passed to a parent consultant who then makes direct contact with the family to arrange the first call.

The ‘unit of support’ that is offered consists of six forty five minute phone calls with an experienced adoptive parent who has undertaken training in therapeutic parenting models, developmental trauma and brain development, and the Non-Violent Resistance (NVR) model of addressing issues of violence from children and young people.

The calls are arranged to suit both the family and the parent consultants and can be in the daytime or evening. Ideally, we prefer both parents, where there are two, to be involved and the calls can be on speaker phone or Skype to allow everyone to be heard. Some family’s circumstances make this very difficult and so calls are made to just one parent. Sometimes parents take turns in taking the calls. The idea is to be as flexible as possible so that it does not become another stress point for parents.

 The parent consultant’s role is to offer parents:

  • a listening ear and empathy
  • advice and signposting
  • help to understand their child’s history and the impact of developmental trauma
  • an exploration of alternative parenting techniques
  • help to keep families safe and to enable parents to look after themselves
  • help to get their voice heard by professionals.

I’ve heard lots of great feedback from parents. What do you think peer-to-peer support offers that other forms of support don’t?

I think peer support provides something quite different form professional support. Our parent consultants all have the lived experience of being an adoptive parent as well as excellent training.

While there might be professionals who happen also to be adoptive parents, in their work with families they are professionals first and adoptive parents second. Our parent consultants are very much parents first and adopters who use the service know they are talking to another adopter who really ‘gets it’. They can therefore skip the stages of explaining their children’s behaviour and justifying their parenting approach. They don’t need to feel embarrassed or ashamed because, even if the parent consultant hasn’t experienced exactly the same issues they are dealing with, they know about and have lived with the challenges that adoptive parenting brings. Unlike most professionals, our parent consultants are often willing to share their own experiences of parenting their children and this makes a huge difference to many parents as they often feel truly understood and can draw hope from the parent consultant’s experience and successes.

What are your hopes for the future of the project? For instance, are there any plans to roll the project out in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

We certainly plan to continue to provide this service as a part of our Family Support Service after the project comes to an end.Our hopes are to be able to offer this service to more families over more of the country. The anguish and stress that families experience when their children express powerful and unmanageable feelings through aggression and violence is painfully evident from this project and we now know that our peer support service can and does make a real difference, so we need to try and make it available to as many part of the country as quickly as we can.

The Welsh government has invested in this issue by funding Adoption UK to deliver NVR training for parents and social workers to ensure that families become better equipped to manage their children’s violent behaviour. Scotland and Northern Ireland are not as well served in this regard yet but efforts to create an awareness of the issue and the need for support for families in these parts of the UK are ongoing.

What have you learnt from working with families and buddies?

Personally, I have learned so much more about the struggles that many adoptive families have, not just with their traumatised children but with the systems around them – education, health, local authority etc. In spite of now having money available for therapeutic support through the Adoption Support Fund in England, the battles that parents need to have to get what their children need go on and it is truly exhausting.

More positively, I have gained a huge amount from the parent consultants about the transformative process of becoming a therapeutic parent and from their generosity of spirit. Parent consultants have their own family and work responsibilities and still they offer their time to develop their own skills and knowledge and then share this, along with their personal experiences of parenting, with other adopters who are struggling. They are an extraordinary bunch of people and I feel privileged to have worked with them and immensely grateful for the superb job they have done and are doing.

If you could give an adoptive family living with CPV three tips, what would they be?

Learn about therapeutic parenting - ask for training, therapy and support to apply this - it’s really hard to do well!

Try not to get into confrontations with your child – use de-escalation techniques when you can.

Tell people, including professionals, what you are dealing with. Don’t be ashamed – it is a manifestation of your child’s early trauma and use your support network to enable you to look after yourselves.