March 18, 2020

The PIPA Project –

Positive Interventions for Perpetrators of Adolescent Violence in the home

Date: 3 March 2020              Location: Capitol Theatre, Melbourne


The Centre for Innovative Justice and ANROWS have launched their report on Positive Interventions for Perpetrators of Adolescent Violence in the home – also known as the PIPA Project.

Over the last two years, the PIPA Project has looked at how the legal system responds to adolescents who use violence in the home, across three Australian states – Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia. It has also examined how these legal responses impact on young people and their families.

The research made use of multiple methods – including a literature review, stakeholder engagement, interviews and focus groups with practitioners and reviews of 385 legal case files.

The report defines adolescent violence in the home (also known as AVITH) as ‘a pattern of violent or abusive behaviour used by an adolescent within their family’. Legal systems typically struggle to respond to such cases, as these systems are designed to respond to adult ‘perpetrators’ of family violence.

However, adolescents who use violence at home are not equivalent to perpetrators of other forms of family violence (such as intimate partner violence). These adolescents experience significant mitigating vulnerabilities, including:

  • their young age
  • being victim/survivors of family violence themselves
  • a history of trauma (including intergenerational trauma)
  • disability diagnoses (Autism Spectrum Disorder is particularly common)
  • issues with alcohol and other drugs
  • issues with mental health

Presentation Overview

The PIPA project report was officially launched by the Hon. Gabrielle Williams, Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Minister for Women and Minister for Youth.

Minister Williams recognised that to date there have been limited service options for families experiencing problems with adolescent violence.

She welcomed the PIPA Project report as a step towards building an evidence base of what works – so that we not only build an understanding of the nature of AVITH, but also improve service responses and outcomes for these families.

The report’s lead author Elena Campbell also stressed this idea in her summary of the report. She emphasised that despite promising research and increasing attention on family violence issues, it is essential that we continually improve in keeping these families safe and supported.

It is not enough to set and forget…we must always be looking for solutions

Elena Campbell, Head author of the PIPA project

Reflecting particularly on the Victorian legal response to this issue, the PIPA project revealed a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach. Particular concerns included:

  • Legal mechanisms failing to take the age of the child into account – including their capacity to understand and comply with court orders
  • Children being excluded from their homes due to violence, which often places them at increased risk
  • A lack of early intervention services – the police are often the first and last resort for AVITH
  • Families feeling reluctant to seek help due to the fear of children being punished or excluded
  • Children facing court orders even if their behaviour does not appear to meet the legal definition of family violence

Panel Discussion

The panel featured Elena Campbell (Head author), Judge Amanda Chambers (President of the Children’s Court of Victoria), Heather Nancarrow (CEO of ANROWS) and Jo Howard (Family Violence Consultant and author).

Key points from the discussion included:

  • There is a need for more therapeutic, early intervention services that take a whole of family approach to AVITH
  • There is currently an over-reliance on statutory systems to respond to this issue, including child protection systems
  • We need to ensure legal responses differentiate between adolescents and adults, and that these different responses should be embedded in the justice system
  • We should not be relying on the justice system as the sole response to those effected by AVITH – other supports need to be given to families at earlier intervention points
  • Our current system is inflexible and has difficulty in understanding the multiple roles of adolescents in relation to violence in the home. Although they are using violence at home many may  also be victim/survivors of family violence as well
  • Children using violence against their carers can persist into adulthood – this is a common and difficult dynamic to address
  • Engagement of adolescents can be very difficult and is a persistent issue in this space

Reflections from this session

Karalyn Davies, Adolescent Violence in the Home (AVITH) Project Officer, CFECFW 

It was great to be at today’s launch of the much anticipated PIPA Project – the key messages in this piece of work will help to steer our thinking in a direction that holds the needs of young people front and centre.

Elena Campbell highlighted research showing that our service system is currently applying a blunt and overly punitive response to deal with the issue of adolescent violence in the home.

Current legal frameworks for family violence do not consider the capacity of the child, nor their safety when they are excluded from the home due to violence. Incredibly, we are relying on the criminal justice system to initiate therapeutic supports, when what we should be doing is finding more nuanced and collaborative ways of intervening earlier and ensuring whole-of-family responses.

Judge Mandy Chambers emphasised the importance of differentiating our service response to adolescents, and not simply treating them as “small adults”. To me this means that we need to ensure specialist programs are tested and fit for purpose. Good quality program evaluation will help to ensure that we are continuing to build the evidence of what works for young people and families.

Resources for Review

Continue the conversation on social media using the hashtag #reframingadolescentviolence.

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