Families at war: Hidden violence and rows that are tearing parents and children apart
In a disturbing new report, one terrified mother said her sons lit fires in the house and that she was choked by her nine year-old and had to go to hospital (see interview below).
The survey, by YouGov on behalf of national families charity 4Children, reveals that more than half of families with children under 18 years old – around 4 million nationwide experience major arguments, conflict and even violence.
Only 7% of parents said there was no conflict in their home.
The charity's groundbreaking report, The Enemy Within, presents the full picture of conflict and violence within families.
It reveals that both children and parents are both victims and perpetrators of family conflict.
Squeezes on household budgets are a key factor, with one in 5 parents reporting conflict over serious financial worries and debt.
Other causes of family conflict include:
• Arguments with teenage children, 20%
• Disagreements over child discipline, 17%
• Sibling rivalry between children, 17%
• Redundancy/ long term unemployment of one or both parents, 7%.
When asked what happens during family conflicts, arguments (64%) and shouting (57%) were the top two answers followed by verbal insults (29%).
Most worrying is that 10% of parents said conflict in their families even involved physical fighting.
Almost one in 10 parents also said that possessions had been destroyed during a family row.
Now 4Children is calling on councils to wake-up to the true extent of conflict in families.
Separate research by 4Children has revealed that almost half (46%) of local authorities do not have a domestic violence strategy which mentions violence committed by family members.
And one in 10 (11%) don't have a domestic violence strategy at all.
Anne Longfield, Chief Executive of 4Children, told Parentdish.co.uk: "Domestic violence is familiar ground, but family violence is often hidden from view.
"Conflict need not turn to violence if families get the help they need.
Violence within the family threatens lives, breaks up families and has severe ongoing psychological and physical effects on hundreds of thousands of parents and children every year.
4Children's Give Me Strength campaign is focused on getting Government and the whole of society to work together to prevent family crisis.
"Even more worryingly, children who face or witness family violence in the home are significantly more likely to commit other crimes in later life.
"Up to 79% of those identified as the most troubled families in some authorities are living with domestic violence and in some areas three quarters of children on child protection orders are on the registers because of concerns over domestic violence in the family.
"Unless urgent action is taken, it is clear that this cycle of violence will continue to plague families for generations to come."
Like many problems that can lead to family breakdown, family conflict and violence can often remain hidden within families for years because of a reluctance to openly admit to the problem and seek help.'
CASE STUDY: 'My sons beat me up and lit fires in the house'
Sandra, 42, has been living with her violent sons for over 14 years in the North of England.
As far as she can remember they have always been violent.
At the age of four, William was already hitting and kicking teachers.
Sandra felt her boys were out of control so she turned to social services for help.
Their response was to send Sandra to a parenting programme which, while it helped, was not well equipped to deal with the scale of Sandra's challenges.
Both her sons were subsequently diagnosed with ADHD (at the ages of six and 11).
By the time William was nine, Sandra's parents had to call the police because he was choking his mother and they were afraid he would harm her further.
Sandra had to attend A&E for her injuries. Once again, Sandra sought help from social services and this time she was sent to a Strengthening Families programme.
But the problem was too serious. She became absolutely terrified of her children as they entered their teenage years.
"I was totally frustrated that I couldn't change things," she said.
They would trash the house, light fires in the house, punch holes in the walls, steal things... pin me against the door and put a knife to my throat.
"I just couldn't take it any more. I was so scared."
Sandra lost count of the times that she called the police for help when the boys became physically violent.
"But they always returned them home after the incidents. I was absolutely terrified," she said.
As a result of these incidents, Sandra developed major depression. Eventually, she was referred to a specific programme through her social worker in her authority working with teenage perpetrators.
The programme has worked with Sandra and her two sons over the last year, and Sandra finally feels that she has some control over her life, and is more able to manage her sons' behaviour.
• The Enemy Within is the third report published as part of 4Children's Give Me Strength campaign calling for a new approach to strengthening support for the most vulnerable families to prevent crisis developing. For more information go to Give Me Strength http://www.givemestrength.org.uk/