Working with parents who have been victimized by their adolescent children?

Working with parents who have been victimized by their adolescent children?

The prevalence of domestic violence in juvenile court cases sends a clear message for increasing the use of batterers' interventions in juvenile justice programs. Many women and girls have come forward to talk about their inability to leave a boyfriend/partner in an abusive relationship. There are also many parents who have not reported physical abuse from teenage sons and daughters because of their fear of their child being incarcerated and not receiving help while institutionalized.

It is estimated that between 60% and 90% of the youth in the juvenile justice system present with co-occurring disorders. It is safe to say that 60% to 90% of those same youth are at high risk of becoming, or have been involved in, domestic violence. Where they have been involved in domestic violence, most has gone unreported. Domestic violence does not occur in a vacuum. Unfortunately, most of the time an adult in the same household has modeled the abusive behavior. Sometimes the abused parent has been the perpetrator of violence against the child or another family member in the past. Children who grow up in violent homes are 74% more likely to be involved in crimes against other persons (Massachusetts Department of Youth Services, Youth Risk Behavior Survey).

The worst thing about domestic violence is that it will continue for generations unless there are concrete interventions as early as possible. These interventions must address physical and psychological abuse. There are very effective models in Santa Fe, NM; Santa Clara County, CA; Duluth, MN; King County, WA; and Travis County (Austin), TX; that are worth looking at for possible replication. Travis County (Austin), TX, uses a 24-week Expect Respect Curriculum in its Teen Dating Violence Reduction Program; Santa Clara County, CA, has Family Violence Court; Duluth, MN, has the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project; and King County, WA, has the Step Up Program.

Some signs that youth are at risk of becoming batterers are controlling behavior, extreme jealousy, withdrawal from friends, and hyper-vigilance toward obeying the partner's rules. Parents must be vigilant about observing their children's behavior and seeking treatment for drug or other substance use, including frequent testing. If mental health and substance abuse interventions are not available in the community, the parent must engage the juvenile or family court. Judicial intervention does not have to mean that the child will be locked up. The court can and will usually order the interventions needed and can hold any order in abeyance as long as the juvenile is following his/her treatment regimen.

Victim support groups are very important for parents so that they are keenly aware when and if psychological battering begins. Victim support groups help to keep the focus on planning for safety and seeing that the child complies with all requirement of the court. It will also help the parent to go through with reporting non-compliance without feeling guilty. The support group is there to help a parent to work through the cycle of emotions that goes with this action. Parent participation in support groups is usually voluntary, but program advocates encourage them to come out and be actively involved if they intend to resolve their problems.

Systems that work with children and families have a responsibility to begin to screen for abuse/family violence. Courts should require interventions that reduce battering whenever intake screening identifies exposure to abuse or violence, even if neither is related to the presenting charge. Court policy should allow the use of protective orders whenever there is a finding of family violence. Courts should continue and intensify efforts to have their staff and providers reflect the races and cultures of the children and families they serve because batterer intervention and treatment have proved to be more effective when they are culturally competent (Buel, S.M., Why Juvenile Courts Should Address Family Violence (PDF), Juvenile and Family Court Journal, July 2002).

Since Juvenile Court/Family Court are often the only refuge for battered parents and the siblings of juvenile batterers, it is critical that we learn from the experiences of successful models and replicate the parts that will work in our individual communities.