News & Blog
In these post pandemic times, it would be remiss to underestimate the lifeline that social media platforms can be, when physical proximity is not an option. The impact of the pandemic, especially for those living alone or clinically vulnerable would have been even more catastrophic in terms of mental health without these web-based platforms we use to share and connect.
Connection is important, simply put, as humans we need it. Connecting with others on a physical and emotional level can improve our health and overall well-being. For relatives and friends living apart it allows instant updates on important milestones like births, weddings, anniversaries and deaths. It allows us to gain new perspectives and insight from people we might never ordinarily meet and to become more aware of global issues in a way that was not possible before. It allows us to become aware of opportunities and link in with others to advance our careers, attend education. So social media with its ability to connect people across great geographical or cultural distance is surely a good thing, right?
Well, while there are definite benefits, there are problems too. In relation to teenagers there is a tendency to treat the online and offline world as seamless. What happens in one world is transferred to the other. Teenagers can no longer leave their problems at the proverbial or in this case literal door. Bullying and unwanted attention regularly cross over the threshold between school and home. At a time when maturing brains are most wired to take risks, strangers creep silently and invisibly through WIFI routers into teenage bedrooms.
Of further concern is the idea that social media can exacerbate mental health issues, this is particularly so for issues like self-harm or anorexia. Part of the way in which this happens is via what is termed as algorithmic radicalisation. Social media platforms are designed to keep eyes on screen so what you look at directly influences the types of material you are shown. For example, if a young person searches ‘shape-wear’ or healthy eating, they’ll be shown more and more media content of the same kind to encourage continued use. The same will happen if a young person is curious about self-harm, if they search around this, they will then see more images relating to this ‘interest’. It’s not difficult to see how repeated exposure to content around body image or self-harm could contribute to a young person developing a ‘radicalised’ position on such issues.
Social media, however, is here to stay and it is also beneficial in some important ways. So, if prohibition is not the answer, what is? How do we help the young people in our care take what is good from social media and the online world and circumvent that which will do them harm?
Educating young people about online harm is important and forms part of our work in the Dating Detox (see Session 6), but it’s not the only approach. Teaching young people to have good self esteem and healthy boundaries is also vital to protecting them from harm. Helping young people to set boundaries around themselves is an important part of helping them to protect themselves physically and emotionally. This is an important skill both on and offline. The internet and social media are neither inherently good nor bad, they are tools however, that can be used by those that wish to exploit others.
Unfortunately, those most vulnerable to exploitation are young people who have grown up in a family of origin where sense of self is eroded, choices are not allowed, and boundaries have been violated. While the blame should always squarely and firmly lie with the perpetrators, we can help young people strengthen their defences. Encouraging young people to speak up when something is not ok with them, modelling to young people that you will listen when they say no to things or when something makes them feel uncomfortable. All these things help them to build trust in themselves and encourage and a sense of identity and self that is strong enough to know when something does not feel right. By creating a relationship in which the young person feels respected by you and trusts that you value their rights as an individual you also increase the possibility, they will speak to you about things that are troubling them, knowing that you will seek to advocate for their choices as much as safety will allow. If you’re interested in finding out more and have access to Dating Detox you can find more about boundary setting in Session 3 of the toolkit.
Respect has been involved in responding to Child and Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (CAPVA) for over a decade now. We piloted the Respect Young People’s Programme (RYPP) at the end of 2012 with 7 services in the North of England, and I wanted to celebrate this with a series of blogs reflecting on our learnings, celebrating our partner services, and speaking to one of the first families to complete the RYPP. In this first instalment, I’ll be reflecting on what we’ve learned over a decade of delivering the RYPP.
The most important learning for me has been the amazing capacity of young people to turn their lives around. I have been in awe of how young people, even when faced with difficulties that many adults would find overwhelming, are able to draw on their own sense of what is right and build the resilience to address what is happening in their lives. Having seen homes that were marred by constant conflict become happy and stable environments is a lasting joy for myself and something that is shared by many of the professionals working with families. It emphasises how vital it is that we do not waste the opportunities we have to identify and respond to CAPVA.
During the pilots (2012-2016) of the RYPP we were subject to an evaluation funded by the Big Lottery and undertaken by Dartington Social Research Unit. The tool they used to measure change in the young people accessing the RYPP was the ubiquitous Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQs). The result was strong, statistically significant evidence of the effect of the RYPP on young people’s behaviour and well-being. There is more about this on the website LINK but what stood out for me was the magnitude of the difficulties faced by so many of the young people.
Seventy percent of the children accessing the RYPP were in the high or very high difficulties band of the SDQ. This means that they are in the 10% of the population of young people with the highest difficulties. Although the conduct problems typified by CAPVA are the reason for young people accessing the RYPP it is essential to remember that this is a group of young people who are struggling in many of aspects of their lives. Our response needs to be mindful of this, and we must demonstrate tenacity and compassion if we’re going to successfully connect with these young people.
While support for families experiencing CAPVA has improved over this decade it remains far from adequate. Too many parents and their children do not have access to a service, too many are offered parenting programmes when this is not what they need, and many have to find the money to pay for support. There is hope, however, thanks to an increasing number of (often voluntary sector) services opening, and we have seen growing support from the Home Office in terms of funding for responses to CAPVA. There is a growing recognition that CAPVA is something that needs a specific response and one that removes the stigma experienced by parents and young people. Black and minoritised young people and their families experience additional barriers to accessing services and there is more to be done to ensure responses are culturally competent.
We have learnt a lot about neurodiversity since we started this work. We now know that around 30% of the young people accessing the RYPP are neurodivergent, and we’ve worked hard to respond better to these young people and their families. We’re particularly grateful to Dr Vicky Baker and the City of York Educational Psychology team who did a great job in helping us think through what that response might look like. Since then, we’ve used their recommendations to ensure neurodivergent young people are best supported to engage with the programme.
I’m about to retire from my role with Respect, which has no doubt prompted this look back, but I’d also like to look forward to the next ten years. I hope that:
- professionals working on CAPVA come together to lobby and campaign for a shared goal of improving both the extent and quality of CAPVA services.
- the spectrum of knowledge and skill needed to work with families experiencing CAPVA is recognised and valued. Improving workforce development and the support for practitioners is essential.
- we know more about the cost (economic and social) of CAPVA to both young people, their families, the community and its agencies.
- the inspectorates who look at services for education, health, family services and justice understand CAPVA and its impact, and that this understanding is reflected in their reports.
In September 2021, YMCA Trinity Group’s “Family Respect Project” was commissioned by Cambridgeshire PCC to deliver Respect’s Young People’s Programme (RYPP), which supports families experiencing child/adolescent to parent violence/abuse (CAPVA). The project has been part of an ongoing study aiming to identify whether the programme is effective in reducing police call outs to CAPVA incidents.
An initial analysis of the project showed the first signs of success, with 14 of the 15 original sample families identifying a 100% reduction in police call outs, and a 92% reduction for the remaining families. Of course, a reduction in police call outs does not in itself equate to evidence of behaviour change, but the study also identified changes in other patterns of behaviour for the young people who had engaged with the programme. It went on to identify a 100% reduction in reported missing incidents for 3 young people known to Operation Make Safe, the Met Police response to exploitation. 12 months on from programme completion there have been no CAPVA related police call outs or missing incidents reported for any of these families.
Since then, an additional 15 families have been included in the research with findings similar to the previous sample. In 6 out of 7 cases within the second cohort there was a 100% reduction in missing incidents 6 months after programme completion.
The remaining family was facing a more complicated situation, with substantial concerns that the young person was facing criminal exploitation. Police call outs did reduce but did not completely cease, but the young person’s missing incidents have completely ceased since the programme ended. These outcomes suggest an increase in the young person’s safety, and perhaps a link between the programme and reduced levels of exploitation from organised criminal gangs.
The reduction in police call outs has so far saved Cambridgeshire Constabulary in excess of £96,000, which has also contributed to wider savings of an additional £300,000+ for the criminal justice system.
This project will run until the end of March 2023 and measures a range of outcomes that we’ll continue to report on.
We know that young people are experiencing the highest rates of domestic abuse amongst any age group. Teachers and professionals working with young people are increasingly concerned about young men being influenced by misogynistic messaging in online spaces. Recent Ofsted research found that there is widespread sexual harassment within schools with children saying they often don’t see the point of challenging or reporting harmful behaviour. Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector said: “This review shocked me…This is a cultural issue; it’s about attitudes and behaviours becoming normalised”.
A whole education approach to safe relationships is needed and this includes support for parents, governors, and the whole school community. Messages are undermined if students are learning about healthy relationships in a classroom, but sexual harassment or sexist bullying is going unchallenged in the corridors and on social media.
Challenging a culture that tolerates and promotes violence and abuse
We can help young people to mobilise and influence each other positively. One approach that has been evaluated and shown to be effective is training young people to intervene as prosocial bystanders when they witness behaviours related to sexual and teenage relationship abuse.
Jackson Katz was one of the first advocates of the Bystander approach and developed the Mentors in Violence Prevention programme which has been rolled out in schools in the US and in Scotland. He describes the way the programme can create culture change: “It’s about as a man, making it clear you don’t tolerate sexism or misogyny – and if you hear that from your friend, you’re going to make it clear that you’re not cool with it, and he’s violating the norms and values of you and the group he is a part of”.
Supporting young people to access the help they need
Education and prevention work should aim to change cultures within schools and communities for young people and encourage young people to come forward for help and advice. We know that currently, young people are most likely to disclose abuse to a friend or peer before they talk to an adult. Some young people only talk to their friends about their relationship concerns and are not being identified or referred to the specialist services they need. Peer education programmes can help ensure young people feel confident to respond appropriately when their friends make a disclosure.
An example of this is Safe Lives’ “Your best friend” project which aims to equip young people to identify red flags in their friends’ relationships and build confidence to raise concerns as well as identifying clear routes to a trusted adult.
What about young people using harmful behaviours in their relationships?
Misogynistic messages from social media “dating coaches” like Andrew Tate, as well as easy access to violent pornography, mean some young people may believe abusive behaviour is permitted or even celebrated amongst some groups.
Where young people are using harmful behaviours, they are, understandably, reluctant or afraid to ask for help. Education and prevention work in schools must include signposting information for young people using abusive behaviours in their partner relationships and family relationships as well as creating a culture where asking for help with relationships is promoted and normalised.
“Schools and colleges have a key role to play. They can maintain the right culture in their corridors, and they can provide RSHE that reflects reality and equips young people with the information they need” Amanda Spielman, Ofsted report, 2021.
How Respect can help
In many areas there are no clear pathways to age- appropriate behaviour change programmes and schools may not know how to find out the information they need. Respect now has a directory of services which you can view here. At the Respect Young People’s Service, we’ve developed a programme aimed at prevention and early intervention for young people in their own relationships called “The Dating Detox”, and we also offer training in our programme designed to support young people harming adults at home (Respect Young People’s Programme).
 Crime survey England and Wales, 2015.
 Ofsted review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges, June 2021.