A lot of important and good work is taking place in social care agencies and by campaigners to address issues of domestic violence and abuse. This Christmas the ad campaigns encouraging us to happily consume were broken at times by a sobering public information film for the season when domestic violence escalates, showing that abuse can be psychological as well physical. There are understandings that men as well as women can be victims and that for children living in a household where domestic violence is happening, even if not directly against them, can be hugely traumatising and cause lasting psychological damage.
Domestic violence is very often a reason children are taken into care. Sometimes parents who have been victims of their partners violence lose their children as it is safer to let them be cared for elsewhere as the support systems fail to support them to leave the situation without remaining in danger or becoming homeless.
The added issues of secrecy, shame, guilt, fear and sometimes love for the perpetrator makes victims extremely vulnerable.
Whatever the cause and effect of domestic violence and abuse, nobody would argue it is not a horrible, frightening and painful experience for the victims. It would be considered dangerous for professionals to knowingly leave a victim in an abusive situation and expect them to carry on without support intervention.
One of the main arguments put forward for certain areas of adoption reform is that children are being left in abusive situations for far too long and a zero tolerance attitude to domestic abuse must be taken by social care agencies.
I can’t and wouldn’t argue against that. I believe that all victims of violence or abuse in the home should be fully supported. I also believe it is wise to examine and address the causes that create perpetrators of abuse.
So what can and should be done to support adopters who find themselves victims of domestic abuse from their adopted children? It is often a hidden and under reported problem. This may be because when reported the professional response often seems to blame the parenting skills of the victim, or unfortunately the lack of support or understanding can lead to placement breakdown.
I have spoken to many adopters who, on a regular basis, deal with verbal and physical abuse and violence. It is surprising to some I’m sure, but it is true and the effects of constant put downs, controlling behaviour and aggression, even if it is from a young person, can be absolutely soul destroying and lead to stress and depression. More disturbingly it can lead to defensive and angry responses from worn out parents in efforts at self protection. The most difficult thing is knowing there is no way out, that the perpetrator is a frightened and traumatised child who has no effective self regulation and needs you more than anything to survive. It’s not appropriate to call the police and frighten or criminalise a young person who actually needs intensive therapeutic support. The last thing most adopters would ever want is for the child to be removed. Many adopters report living restricted half lives for the love and protection of their children. These are serious issues which are not accounted for in disruption or breakdown figures.
Imagine however, if the professional advice to any other victim of domestic abuse was to encourage a therapeutic approach to the violent perpetrator, advice that you should be selflessly putting their needs and safety before your own. A keep calm and carry on regardless piece of martyrdom advice. It would cause public outrage.
As someone who has experienced extreme and regular aggression, verbal and physical assault, as well as property damage over many years through adopting a traumatised child, it always amazed me how often the social workers would simply act as if it were an expected part of “the adopters job”. Its not a job as there are no statutory holidays, end of working days, supervision or training that other people who work in high intensity situations are guaranteed to enable them to function properly and do their job well.
This is not a poor me cry. I have no regrets. I love the very bones of my girl and as it turns out I am a very resilient person. I would do it all again now I’m all tooled up. It’s seems hypocritical, unjust and damaging however, to expect adopters to live with abuse without specialist support and training. More importantly not fully informing, believing and supporting adopters around issues of violence in the home is ultimately not in the best interests of traumatised children. Aggression often comes from fear and frightened children need measured and calm responses from parents who are skilled in conflict resolution and management not worn out angry or sad parents who live in fear of failing.
(Any adoptive or foster parents who are experiencing regular aggression or violence in the home please contact http://www.theopennest.co.uk for information on strategies or therapeutic respite breaks which will be available in May 2014).