Child-Initiated Family Abuse (CIFA)
: Parents’ Perspectives

  • Fiona Creevy

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The aims of this research were to advance understanding of child-initiated family abuse (hereinafter CIFA), and to identify ways in which CIFA can be prevented or better responded to through policy, practice, and self-help strategies. To achieve these aims, a mixed method approach - in two phases - was undertaken. Phase one - a questionnaire survey - was administered online to parents who were currently experiencing CIFA from a child and/or young person (hereinafter CYP) under the age of 18 years and living in the family home. Phase two – face-to-face interviews – were conducted with parents who had completed phase one and wished to take part in further research. A total of 123 parents completed phase one and 10 parents took part in phase two.

Phase one findings showed that CIFA consists of frequent and often severe incidents exhibited towards all family members that include verbal, physical, financial, and emotional abuse, and damage to property. CYP begin to exhibit CIFA between the ages of 2-4 years with the peak age (when it is most severe) at aged 15 years. The CYP’s mental health and inability to regulate their emotions and express their needs were perceived to be causes of CIFA which were exacerbated by difficulties in school.

Phase two interviewees discussed daily situations in which all family members were affected by CIFA. Parents described in detail CIFA incidents involving several types of abuse and lasting for over an hour. Therapeutic parenting was mentioned favourably though parents had learnt to adapt their parenting style to the individual needs of the CYP. Parents struggled to access services and requested early interventions. Suggestions from parents on what support/interventions they would like to see are included in the findings.

This research produced a definition of CIFA from the parents’ perspective, constructed a view of CIFA based on their lived experience and provides the reader with detailed, candid accounts of the impact CIFA has on families’ daily lives. The author believes that this research makes a significant contribution to knowledge surrounding CIFA, and that it has implications for future policy and practice in supporting families to prevent, manage and move on from this phenomenon.
Date of Award19 Jan 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLeanne Monchuk (Main Supervisor)

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