Child and adolescent-to-parent violence

Child and adolescent-to-parent violence and abuse (CAPVA) is a frequently hidden issue which often arises in families caring for an individual with FASD. It is a complex issue which continues to be misunderstood and minimised outside of the family home. 

If you are experiencing CAPVA please be assured that it is not due to poor parenting – it can be because the young person in your care is struggling to regulate and/or make sense of their emotions. This can result in a need to dominate, coerce, and gain control over their parents/caregivers. 

Displays of aggression and violence by children/adolescents towards adults that are intended to threaten and intimidate and put family safety at risk can include: 

  • Making threats 
  • Exhibiting uncontrolled rage (this is dysregulated behaviour where there is a risk of harm to others) 
  • Verbal abuse -yelling, screaming swearing, name calling, making intimidating comments  
  • Physical - hitting, kicking, punching, biting, throwing objects or using objects as a weapon to intimidate or harm, breaking family property, hurting pets, pushing, blocking. 
  • Playing mind games – manipulating, controlling, gaslighting, threatening to run away, self-harming, confabulating. 
  • Sexual – touching, exposing themselves, sexual innuendos.  
  • Financial – stealing, using credit cards, coercing money from caregivers. 

People experiencing CAPVA report that they are always in a state of hyper-vigilance and feel like they are walking on eggshells waiting for the next explosion. Some of the common mental health effects of family violence are PTSD, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, hopelessness and fear of the future. 

Original article on CAPVA by Professor Anita Gibbs, University of Otago

Published 24 January 2024

Professor Gibbs is a registered social worker who has taught social work, sociology and criminology courses for 20 years at the University of Otago. Her research interests include Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and complex disabilities, especially identifying best practice in helping families and best evidence for professionals in their interventions with families.

Abstract: Child and adolescent-to-parent violence and abuse (CAPVA) refers to abusive and violent behaviours by children towards their parents or primary caregivers. The abuse and harmful behaviours can include a full range of physical, emotional, verbal, financial, and material actions over prolonged periods of time, from childhood to young adulthood. Parents and caregivers of children with neuro-developmental conditions are vulnerable to CAPVA, and little research has been undertaken exploring the experiences of caregivers of children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

In Aotearoa New Zealand, 56 caregivers were interviewed using semi-structured interviews, and over half identified significant levels and impacts of CAPVA, including dealing with physical violence and frequent emotional abuse. Health and stress issues were present in all caregivers interviewed. Caregivers also identified how systemic ignorance and a lack of understanding from caring professionals led to parent blaming, a sense of shame and isolation. Yet caregivers also showed resilience and implemented strategies of de-escalation and distraction.

More specialised practice is needed in this emerging field of family violence and in how to support families with children who have FASD.

Click here to read the full article. 

CAPVA Webinars

NoFASD Australia have produced a webinar series called Child and adolescent to parent/carer violence and abuse presented by University of Otago Professor Anita Gibbs (see above).

These webinars look at the issue of CPV and the impact that it has on family members, how professionals respond and strategies that may help to reduce the family distress. 

Click here to go to the first webinar, and here for the second.


Where to go to for help 

It's essential to keep yourself safe in order to be there for your child in the future.

If you are in immediate danger ring 111. If unable to speak, press 55. Let them know that your child has a neuro-disability.

Shine Family Violence Agency is a National organisation offering a free helpline, training, and consultancy throughout New Zealand. Call 0508 744 633 for 24/7 help and counselling. 

If you are in crisis or feeling suicidal, please reach out to Lifeline Aotearoa Inc on 0800 543 354.