UCLan researchers work with Lancashire Constabulary and Lancashire Violence Reduction Network on Home Office funded project
Research from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), funded by the Home Office, has found that one in ten domestic abuse cases recorded in Lancashire are committed by people towards their own parents.
In partnership with Lancashire Constabulary and the Lancashire Violence Reduction Network, the UCLan Criminal Justice Partnership investigated 26 months of domestic abuse cases from November 2018 to February 2021 and found that of the 66,973 cases reported, 7,171 were committed by people over the age of 16 towards a parental figure.
It is the first time in the UK that research has focused specifically on child to parent domestic abuse cases where the perpetrator is aged 16 or older, which is the age where abuse of a parent by their child is classed as domestic abuse. Most research has explored adolescent child to parent domestic abuse, but this research suggests that it can, and does, happen at any age and involves a complex range of perpetrator demographics.
Currently there is limited information on parental abuse by older children. Leaving police and other organisations having to use assessments such as the DASH (Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment) tool, which may not be appropriate for some, or any cases, where the perpetrator is the victim’s child. This may lead to higher risk cases not being picked up or lower risk cases being dealt with via the criminal justice system where other approaches may be better for the victim. This research suggests that additional guidelines and assessment tools may be needed to be developed for child to parent domestic abuse cases.
Professor of Criminal Justice Psychology and lead author of the research paper Nicola Graham-Kevan, said:
“The guidelines around domestic abuse in family situations need more clarity so that resources can be clearly directed where they are needed.”
“Previous research around child to parent domestic abuse has focused primarily on adolescent perpetrators. However, this research suggests that it is not just adolescents that abuse their parents, and instead our findings uncovered perpetrators aged between 16 and 74 years with victims aged between 30 and 98 years. The average age of perpetrators was 27 years, while the average age of the victim was 54 years.”
The research also found that there appears to be different profiles of perpetrators, suggesting that there is a gap in the understanding of the range of dynamics, risk factors and causes of this kind of abuse.
Where some perpetrators used intimidating behaviour and coercive control and caused the victims significant fear, other incidents appeared to centre around children struggling with substance use, whereas others may be better understood as carer burnout. In around a quarter of the cases, perpetrators appeared to struggle with their mental health and diagnosis, or behaviour consistent with, autism, ADHD, depression, Schizophrenia and psychosis, and emotionally unstable personality disorders were likely an important factor.
While the report focuses on cases reported to Lancashire Constabulary, there is no reason to assume the data is unique to the county and is likely to be broadly representative of child to parent domestic abuse case figures nationally.
The problem may also be on the rise due to changes in national demographics. The Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey found that the number of people aged 20-34 years living with their parents since 1996 has risen by a third and by March 2020, this equated to 28% of people within this age group sharing a home with their parents, grandparents, or step-parents.*
Dr Nathan Birdsall, research fellow in policing at UCLan and co-investigator on the project, said:
“We expect that this figure of 10% will be reflected nationally and in fact, the reality is that the percentage may be much higher.”
“Many instances of child to parent domestic abuse are unlikely to be reported because the victim does not want to criminalise their child, may feel that it makes them look like a bad parent, they feel embarrassed or guilty about reporting, or they may rely on their child to provide and care for them. As with all domestic abuse, reasons for not reporting are complex but critically important so we understand how victims seek help.
“This is especially important given that there has been a significant increase in both the age children typically leaving the family home, and the number of older adults acting as care givers to elderly relatives. Understanding domestic abuse within a wider family setting is needed now more than ever.”
The project received more than £34,600 of funding from the Home Office, following a call out for research related to domestic violence perpetrators. It has now secured a further £51,970 for a second phase, which will further examine the profile of this specific genre of offenders and how this might change over time. These findings will be published later this year.
Detective Chief Superintendent Sue Clarke, Head of the Lancashire Violence Reduction Network, said:
“ This piece of research is particularly important as it provides insight for support service providers and the general public into one of the lesser understood forms of domestic abuse. I look forward to the second phase, which has a focus on profiling offenders to gain a deeper understanding of the circumstances and other factors that lead to people over the age of 16 abusing a parental figure.”
The full report, Understanding child to parent domestic abuse in Lancashire, is available to download.