Restorative Justice and Family Violence: Youth-to-Parent Abuse

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Doran, Joann E.
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Youth-to-Parent abuse is a form of family violence that has received minimal attention both at a societal level and in the academic literature. Researchers are unable to say with any degree of certainly if or how youth-to-parent abuse is different than spousal/partner, child or elder abuse. The Restorative Justice Program in Halifax, Nova Scotia receives approximately sixty such cases a year. Using a qualitative phenomenological approach that incorporated feminist-informed research principles, this study investigated the experiences of six parents, four mothers and one couple. All five cases involved families where the youth had acted out violently against his/her parents. Subsequently the parents called the police and in all cases the youth were referred to the Restorative Justice program for resolution. Participants took part in audio-taped interviews that lasted from ninety minutes to two and a half hours. A semi-structured interview with open-ended questions encouraged parents to reconstruct their experiences as narratives. The findings were analyzed using a reflective structural analysis (Moustakas, 1994) and Kirby & McKenna’s (1989) adaptation of the constant comparison method. Parents’ descriptions of their youths’ behaviors met the definition of youth-toparent abuse. The findings are organized around five focus areas: Power Struggles, Parents’ Construction of their Children’s Problems, Parents’ Perceptions of Their Roles and Responsibilities, Negative Responses from the Systems and Positive Responses from the Systems. Themes emerged from each focus area and include: negative school experiences, family influences, labeling, cultural influences, negative peer influences, setting limits, persuasive talks, ambivalence, never give up, blaming the parents, vii ineffectual solutions/band-aid solutions, some solutions made the problems worse, not taking the problem seriously, parents felt heard, non-judgmental, help provided for parents and youth, complex solutions, hopeful futures. A nested ecological theoretical model (Cottrell & Monk, 2004) captured the myriad of influences found to contribute to youth-to-parent abuse. Four levels contribute to the model: Ontogenetic (individual characteristics), Macrosystem (media images), Exosystem (social services, schools, peers), and the Microsystem (family influences). The findings supported that a complex interrelatedness between the four levels influenced the youths’ behavior. The findings of this project illuminate the need for an integrated holistic approach when providing support to parents who suffer youth-to-parent abuse. Implications for future research highlight the need for research that investigates individual characteristics of the youth such as early aggression, mental health issues, and substance abuse. Further investigation into how negative school experiences affect youth and what role power dynamics play on the family warrant exploration. An integrated approach to youth-to-parent abuse is suggested where a familysystems modal of intervention addresses individual needs separately and family’s need simultaneously. The Restorative Justice process was successful from some of the parents’ perspective because the needs of the youth (offender) and the victims (mothers) were addressed.
Nova Scotia , Treatment , Children , Violence , Problem youth , Problem children , Restorative justice , Abused parents , Abuse , Family violence