The Big Unanswered Question: How Do We Keep Violent Children Safe Within Adoptive Families?


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Today The Open Nest start off our Sore Points week on CPV (Child to Parent Violence). Amanda addresses the question so many are afraid to answer, how do we keep violent children safe?

Amongst all the current hoo-ha and hooray! around the Adoption Support Fund launched in May, there is a big piece missing for me (aside from the very big and seemingly underplayed issue of future funding). Judging by my Twitter feed and the calls to our charity for peer advice, I’m not the only one. I know in the much bigger picture we are perhaps in a minority group of parents that are trying to keep very angry and violent children safe. Perhaps not.

The big question is how can we be effectively supported by the ASF to avoid family breakdown when anger and violence becomes part of everyday life?

There are many issues that the very nature of modern adoption brings about. Often children who are permanently removed from their families are born to parents either living in poverty, substance addicted or coping with mental health issues within neglectful or abusive pasts and/or current situations.

Very few babies are relinquished. Some children may even have been ‘wrongfully’ removed due to poor assessment and lack of support and resources to parents or wider family. Lots of children know from being present at the time that their parents defensively fought the system, that their birth family may have hated the people that eventually removed them.

Getting to the real heart of a child’s life story is often frustratingly difficult with social work teams, birth families, foster parents and adoptive parents rarely able to join all the dots together or find the jigsaw pieces of history lost in the chaos of the past.

end result of this becomes (sometimes without warning) manifest in adoptive homes. Depending on the child’s previous history a number of issues may arise that require specialist support to parents. These can include crippling lack of trust, anxiety disorders, learning disability, eating disorders, attention seeking behaviour, school phobia, foetal alcohol syndrome, inappropriate sexual behaviour, anger, self harm, risky behaviour, developmental delay and violence.

Therapeutic support and advice for these issues can be very helpful and if it is alongside solid multi agency support for parents and professionals to care therapeutically, it can in good instances, create a team around a child, for real, not just in theory.

If a child has a combination of the above issues the chances are you will be told they are ‘complex’ and many services will struggle to come up with a meaningful plan despite numerous assessments. A training course, a course of short term therapy or a therapeutic short break is unlikely to touch the sides.

Unmet needs and poor life history can cause a child to feel very angry and frustrated. This can magnify as hormonal changes and the expected transition towards adulthood begins.

Our experience was not one of some occasional kicking or hitting out. By violence we mean proper scary, injury causing, potential death kind of violence on a regular basis. Hospital visits, scars, permanent damage to property and psyche.

As a peer led support charity we receive honest and non edited calls almost every week from parents scared and exhausted, at a loss as what to do about living with serious violence in their family. Not once has a parent said to us that they wish the child or young person to be removed. Some are facing the stark choice of living with dangerous violence or signing a Section 20 order which means that their child is going back into the ‘care’ of the local authority.

Having faced this terrible dilemma personally it is hard to describe the horror of such a system. Watching a much loved family member struggle over many years, doing everything in your power to keep them safe and then having to imagine them back in care is a complete nightmare. How a system supposedly with children at its heart can allow two families to fail a child is beyond me and makes me cynical about both social justice and the real existence of adoption support that is truly for adoptees.

It is also brain melting to see that expensive therapeutic foster care or residential accommodation may be commissioned upon removal of your child (up to £3000 a week) but even a fraction of that money would have meant your family could have bought in the support needed to continue.

There is a lot of money to be made in ‘healing’ a traumatised child. Viewing an adoptees behaviour and anger as the problem upon which to fixate and fix. What if that fixation was focused on the behaviour of the systems adoptees are created through? Radical adoption reform would put life story and identity at its centre. It would find a humane way to deal with the circumstances and inevitable anger and grief of parents who fail to care for their child as well as the grief and anger of a child permanently removed from its roots and expected to cope with often shoddy identity reinvention. Adopters would have every possible bit of a child’s history at their finger tips and guaranteed long term support to manage that history and links to birth family wherever possible.

However, current reforms that are at the roots based on and fuelled by an agenda of recruitment, will now continue further under the Conservative government. I’m guessing we are less likely to get humane responses to families and will see more and more products to supposedly ‘heal’ children and train ‘unknowing’ adopters from a ripe new government funded adoption support industry.

There are now all kinds of courses parents can go on that can train them to give therapeutic responses to anger. If you’re in the group we are talking about you will know how much they fall short at the “what do I do if he is coming at me with a knife” or “how do I stop her jumping out of the top floor window” type of questions.

What we strongly recommend is that parents learn non violent safe hold techniques. Using these techniques is common practice in residential care, which is often where many violent children end up having failed in fostering or adoption. The general feeling however is that us mere parents should not be trusted with such knowledge. The irony of the inevitable safeguarding question  “what if the child gets hurt” is not lost on those of us in the know.

Before arriving with us our foster son was once ‘pinned down’ 11 times in a week at his children’s home. This was face down on the floor where he could smell that other children had pissed on the carpet. Humiliation.

Loved ones are far more likely to use safe hold in a therapeutic way than residential staff.

Non violent safe hold is a therapeutic standing hold used as a last resort when somebody is at risk of serious injury. It is taught by respected national company Securicare and is delivered within the family home to all relevant carers.  Along with the physical techniques comes a thorough personal care plan and risk assessment for the child which is available for parents to give to other professionals in the child’s life.

We called for permission to learn safe hold techniques over several years. Our psychologist even recommended we have it. In the time it took social care to listen my daughter had hurt herself and others on a regular basis. She became frightened of her own strength and believed nobody was in control or could keep her safe. She was right. This played into her anxiety until we were in a cycle of utter despair. The only local authority response was that she could be removed from me and placed into a secure children’s home miles away from home. (Presumably at this expensive home she would be pinned down when she became violent).

The result of our lack of control was that after years of violence my daughter ran away one day and was raped. The ultimate violence against her. At that point I needed safe hold as I felt like I wanted to kill somebody.

After this incident myself and her support people were ‘ordered’ to learn safe hold. Nobody was to care for her apart from me until we had all had it according to the brand new risk assessment, an assessment we had been calling for over many years. Again the ridiculous irony of this strict instruction from above would have been funny if it were not so tragic.

Once we had learnt safe hold there was a massive sense of relief that a level of safety and control could be maintained at home. My daughter responded really well to it and it allowed her to express her justifiable anger in a safe way. The guilt and shame she felt over her violence subsided and her development improved in all areas. I know that without this training she would now be in secure accommodation, one of the sad statistics. I just wish we had learnt it when she was much younger. So much heartache would have been avoided and we would be further down the line in her development.

There will always be risk where holding a violent person is concerned. In my opinion and based upon experience, if your child struggles to control themselves and is at risk of hurting themselves or others it is a responsibility and a kindness to intervene properly. It can be life changing and is worth the risk.

We are finding it really difficult to find local authorities or support agencies to sign up to funding therapeutic holding as part of adoption support. We suspect they live in fear of being held responsible if somebody gets hurt. I’m not sure why this sense of responsibility is not present when people are actually getting hurt without any intervention.

We all know that in reality adopters use untrained techniques to control violence which involve holding and restraining. They have no choice. Even school teachers (and members of the public) are allowed to use ‘reasonable force’ when faced with serious aggression.

We are campaigning to raise awareness of the need for therapeutic safe hold to be funded by local authorities. The cost is relatively small compared to other interventions. The cost is a fraction of the cost of residential care, and nothing compared to the human cost of failing to keep a child at home for a second time.

In the meantime we will raise funds for families to have the training if their child is at real risk of being removed due to violence. We also remind parents that as adopters they have every right to learn these techniques without permission from the authorities.

We are happy to talk through our experiences of training and also recommend that parents contact Securicare for advice Tel: 01904 492442

To contact The Open Nest please email

3 thoughts on “The Big Unanswered Question: How Do We Keep Violent Children Safe Within Adoptive Families?

  1. MummyDibling

    Thank you for writing this. It is very honest and open and highlights many issues in adoption, some of which we have encountered already.

  2. Ingrid

    Jusitified anger , meanigful life story and safe holding ,written in a heartfelt piece of narrative that am sure captures it for many families who live on the edge daily… great !

  3. Alison

    As an adoptive parent I am challenged daily by the different behaviour manifestations of my child being in fight , flight or freeze. The fighting can be directed at family members or articles in the house, furniture , walls etc kicking, hitting , spitting and occasionally on a bad day having a knife brandished at me. The ‘flight’ might manifest as refusal to eat meals at the table and taking the food elsewhere, climbing out of windows when grounded, running away from things literally and metaphorically. The freeze behaviour tends to be less easy to categorise but I suspect that the ‘ what do I care?’ comments and attitudes fall into this category when quite clearly she does care but cannot say it.
    To be given the option of therapeutic help would be very beneficial in dealing with extremes of behaviours and potentially life saving.


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