When drawing up anti-bullying strategies, school leaders and governors often lend much support to pupils on the receiving end of abusive behaviours. However, the reasons why children and young people engage in bullying tactics are complex and can indicate deeper issues affecting their families and home lives. For this week’s ‘Boards Against Bullying’ article, we caught up with Respect Young People’s Service, a domestic abuse organisation supporting families experiencing Child and Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (CAPVA). The following guidance was drawn up with help from Amanda Flanagan, Young People’s Service Development Manager at Respect.

CAPVA describes a situation in which a young person repeatedly engages in harmful and abusive behaviour towards a parent or adult carer. Many adults struggle to recognise and report such abuse due to a lack of awareness surrounding CAPVA. Abusive behaviours may include (but are not limited to) making threats to hurt themselves or others, breaking things, punching walls, hitting, kicking, hurting pets, making personal insults, screaming, demanding money, or stealing.

School leaders and governors mustn’t judge or write off pupils who display challenging behaviours at home and school. Children and young people who engage in bullying tactics and CAPVA have often experienced traumas that they are afraid or unable to communicate verbally. In some cases, young people who use abusive tactics towards their parents, adult carers, or other pupils may themselves experience violence or abuse. If left undetected or unaddressed, the cycle of abuse may continue and negatively impact pupils’ families, school lives, and social networks.

What can schools and governors do?

When analysing policies surrounding violence and abuse, leaders and governors should consider the kinds of environments in which pupils spend their time. For example, are there any problems with drugs or violence in the community at large? What kinds of technologies do they have access to? Addressing these broad issues could help inform abuse detection and prevention strategies.

Schools must also consider the possibility that parents experiencing CAPVA may have difficulty getting their children to school. In some cases, frequent absences may indicate that the young person has control of the house. What’s more, if parents are unable to “parent” due to their own traumas (such as medical and emotional issues), there may be safeguarding issues the school needs to address.

Broadly speaking, CAPVA requires a whole-school approach that considers the links between child-on-child abuse and CAPVA. When liaising with parents about a child’s behaviour, it’s important for staff to be aware of the signs of CAPVA, including physical injuries and a willingness to make excuses for their child. Asking sensitive and confidential questions about whether the parent is experiencing abuse could also help detect problems at home.

As well as implementing protocols for detecting CAPVA, schools should consider how they address non-attendance at school. Issuing fines, for example, can further victimise parents and will not address the root cause of the problem. Instead, schools should ensure they have support services in place to work with parents and young people to address problems and safeguarding issues as soon as they arise. Are there pathways in place to support parents, young people, and siblings who may witness abusive behaviours? Is the school working with local domestic abuse services, agencies, and children’s organisations capable of offering direct support to everyone affected by CAPVA and child-on-child abuse?

Finally, school staff and governors must be educated about the kind of language to use when referring to young people who use abusive behaviours. Words like “bully” and “perpetrator” can stigmatise the child and impact how they are treated. In all likelihood, these children and young people are experiencing trauma themselves or facing challenges that prevent their basic needs from being met.

While the links between bullying and CAPVA are complicated, spotting the signs of abuse and supporting young people who use abusive behaviours can help build safer environments at home and school, as well as within the wider community.

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