What do we mean by family breakdown?

By the time I was 17, I was done. I just wanted to get out and not feel like I was living in a constant war-zone

Nathan, A Brother

If you are dealing with conflict within your family and it feels like relationships are reaching breaking point, then the chances are that you know exactly what family breakdown means.

‘Family’ means different things to different people.

Some of the more common breakdowns are:

  • Adult or near-adult survivors of sexual and violent crime and their parents
  • Siblings who are no longer communicating whilst living in the same house
  • Other children in the family feeling neglected or unimportant by their parents
  • Spouses or partners who are struggling maintain a relationship as well as trying to cope with joint caring for a child perhaps because they disagree with the way each other does it
  • Divorced or separated parents who are unable to co-parent or where one or other feels that they are bearing the entire caring burden alone
  • Wider family disagreements when other relatives of the survivor do not agree with or understand the complexity of care required
  • Spouses or partners coping after sexual or violent assault
  • Step-parent / child relationships which may be fragile to start with

Why list these common breakdowns?

If a family is able to identify conflict and communication difficulties before they become critical, then there is more chance of issues and disagreements being resolved before they lead to a more catastrophic breakdown. It’s also easy to assume that breakdowns always involve the survivor of violent or sexual crimes but it is often other relationships that suffer.

Sometimes seeing things written down in black and white is the starting point to resolving the issue…

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The impact of family breakdown on victims of crime

The rates of homelessness, sexual exploitation and number of people in prison who have suffered trauma or violence in their past is a damning reflection of a society that fails victims of crime.

Information in this report details the impact that abuse and domestic violence has on survivors of sexual or serious violent crime.

The reality is that some of these vulnerable people were neglected or abused by the very people that should have protected them – their families. But this is certainly not true of all families and particularly, not all family members.

Restitute believes that by supporting 3rd party victims of crime. we can reduce the level of family breakdown and in turn, improve the outcomes for people who have survived sexual or serious violent crimes.

Keeping your loved one within the family, however challenging that might be, offers a better chance of a positive long-term outcome. Inevitably, if your loved one is involved in substance misuse, is violent or aggressive, unable to contribute financially or offering other challenging behaviours then getting additional support will help. As tempting as it is to ask your family member to leave and to ‘stand on their own two feet’ if they are already involved in drugs, have significant mental health issues or are violent, the outcome is unlikely to be successful.

When things were really bad – we’d ‘tag team.’ My sister came to live with me for six months and that gave my parents the space to calm down and stop feeling like they could never have her back in the house again. It also gave her a chance to change some of the habits she’d become used to. She could manipulate my Mum brilliantly but she wasn’t ever going to get away with doing that to me!

Brook, A sister

What to do

  • Plan for the future

  • Building resilience, getting good psychological support, encouraging empowerment and raising self-esteem will help reduce the risk of developing challenging behaviours.
  • Start planning early (age 14) if appropriate about the needs of your loved one as they become an adult. Think about education, housing, employment and finances. If there is a likely need for supported accommodation, then a Key Worker or another support worker will need to address this and it can take years to sort it out.
  • If you don’t have a keyworker, contact social services and ask for a carer’s assessment (or to have your current one updated).
  • Maintain strong family attachments, wider family friends and positive friendships with meaningful activities.
  • Look at the other information contained within the Tough Stuff pages to reduce the risk of such behaviours becoming an issue and thus causing family breakdown.
  • Identify problems before they become a major issue

  • Accept that caring for someone long-term is stressful and difficult and that it’s almost impossible for it not to have an impact. Even if everyone is coping well at the moment, work to keep it that way by ensuring that you’re getting all the help you are entitled to. Make sure other family members are as well.
  • Take a look at the information in the Help and Support section that is relevant to your situation, particularly the Rest and Respite and Finance sections. Money and tiredness cause rows. Also, look through the other information in the rest of the Tough Stuff section – so you are at least aware of some of the issues you might have to deal with.
  • If specific issues are causing conflict – try to find a way of resolving them. agreeing a compromise or working out a different solution. If things get harder, then they are likely to come back again and again.
  • If you need outside support – then see if you can get it. Social Care Services tend to react fairly promptly to phrases such as ‘behaviour that challenges,’ ‘young carers (any child under the age of 18 in the house counts as a Young Carer) risk of homelessness and family break down.
  • If the breakdown is between 3rd party victims of crime

  • Caring is inevitably likely to land on one person more than others, perhaps due to work or other commitments. That doesn’t mean that the other people in the house are unaffected by the stress of living with someone who is struggling with their mental health or with other aspects of surviving a serious crime. Equally – caring 24/7 is mentally exhausting and carrying all the worry and anxiety because others in the family are working is likely to lead to a build-up of tension, resentment and anxiety. Try to share the load.
  • If two people are arguing a lot and it’s upsetting you – tell them! Constantly mediating, apologising or trying to smooth over the cracks makes more stress for you. They may not realise how much it is upsetting you and the solution ultimately lies with them.
  • Make time for other children, even if they are at the age when they can mainly fend for themselves. They are likely to be traumatised by what happened to their sibling and will perhaps have seen and heard things around the home that are also quite frightening. As teenagers head towards adulthood, they gain ‘insight’ – a greater awareness of what’s going on around them and how that is likely to impact their future and that of their sibling. At some point it will occur to them that if anything happens to you – the responsibility for their sibling might fall on them… and that isn’t a great thought for a 15-year-old to be dealing with alone.
  • Try as best you can to agree a ‘united front’ with relatives outside the immediate family. Sometimes, it can feel like you don’t want to say anything at all – the questions, the intrusion and then having to worry about their feelings or listen to their opinions is just another layer of stress that doesn’t help at all. Pretending everything is ok probably isn’t a great idea in the long-term but equally sharing every little detail and disaster is disempowering to the victim of crime. Our information about empowerment could be useful in this situation.
  • Relationship difficulties between adults after sexual assault

Relationships with partners or spouses are complex and require dedication, compromise and understanding even in the very best of times. Even the most committed and rock-solid relationships are shaken by traumatic events and recognising that challenge is key to survival. For 3rd party victims of crime, supporting a survivor of sexual or serious violent crime requires enormous effort at a time when your own thoughts and feelings may be deeply upsetting. The actions and reactions of the survivor of crime towards their most intimate loved one can be baffling and hurtful, adding further trauma that is very often ignored or not recognised.

  • Get a really good understanding that rape and sexual assault are about power – not sex
  • Seek outside support for your own thoughts and feelings, always remembering that control and empowement of the survivor is essential to recovery
  • The information from Rape Crisis about supporting a loved one and getting the right support for yourself is a good starting point.

Circle of Support

Relatives, friends and other interested parties are often concerned about your loved one. However it can be completely exhausting constantly updating people or dealing with their anxieties and it can end up with all the worries, anxiety and stress landing on the 3rd party victim of crime.

How it works:

  1. Identify where you sit in the circle of care
  2. Understand your position
  3. Every person within the circle directs their care and support IN towards the victim of crime
  4. The same people direct their worries or anxieties OUT towards those less affected.

Of course, this is slightly simplistic and there are inevitably times when people need different levels of support and people within each circle very often support each other. But if one particular friend or relative is causing distress… try showing them this diagram!

Vulnerable people

  • If a vulnerable loved one is planning to leave and it doesn’t feel safe

  • Try to identify the reasons that they want to leave and see if you can address them. Sometimes people want to leave because they believe they are a burden or that they are taking too much from you. Whilst that might be true – the impact of them leaving won’t reduce your worry or their risk and you need them to know that.
  • If there is a conflict between family members and you feel like ‘piggy in the middle’ encourage the non-victim of crime to attempt to resolve the issue and make sure they are aware of the risks the conflict is putting on everyone.
  • Look for (or encourage your loved one to find) a safe alternative. Is there a sibling, a grandparent or a reliable family friend who can accommodate them for a short period?
  • Make sure that they know that you’d rather they didn’t leave (even if you are feeling like it might be a blessed relief!).
  • Ensure that any support from outside the home is aware of the conflict and the potential risk. Ask if they can mediate, provide additional support, offer respite or any other solution that will keep your loved one at home.
  • Contact the adult social services and make them aware that a vulnerable adult is at risk. Ask for additional support for them and you.
  • If a child (under the age of 18) is threatening to leave then contact children’s services and ask for help. You will continue to have parental responsibility and liability for ensuring that child’s safety.
  • Be aware that if someone is legally an adult, then they have the right to ask all agencies to refuse to share information with you. Sometimes they do this in a fit of fury but then forget or don’t realise that they can change their mind. Just because agencies cannot share information with you, there is nothing to stop you sharing information with them. Make sure anyone involved with your loved one is kept informed and is aware that you are still concerned, interested and keen to be involved in their life.
  • Tell them that the door is ALWAYS open and that they can come back. (You can address the underlying issues for the breakdown once that looks like a possibility.) Time and space can help.
  • Keep all telephone numbers the same. Use every messenging app to send regular messages to maintain contact. They may change their phone number but are unlikely to change every single social media account. Use a family friend or relative to pass messages on if you are ‘blocked.’
  • If it’s got to the stage that you need someone to leave

  • Make sure you are getting all the support you are entitled to, in terms of benefits and respite. If your caring challenges have become more demanding since you last had a carer’s assessment or contact with social services (adult or children depending on the age of the survivor of crime), then update them using the words ‘challenging behaviour, family breakdown and risk of homelessness. If there are children under the age of 18 in the house, then mention this too. Contrary to popular belief, unless there is extreme risk to children, social services are keen to keep families together wherever possible.
  • If your loved one hasn’t received the care element for Criminal Injuries Compensation (or hasn’t applied at all) there may be financial help available to provide additional care if you aren’t receiving it from the local authority.
  • If relationships have become so fraught that someone leaving is the only solution, try to make this a planned, organised and safe move. Council emergency housing is not the place for anyone with any kind of vulnerability. If they have to go ‘right now’ is there a family member or a trusted friend who can house them for a while until something more permanent can be organised?
  • If the main reason someone has to leave is because of criminal behaviour – be aware that the police will arrest your loved one and remove them. This may seem like a good solution but if your loved one is dealing with significant mental health issues and this is the main reason for the criminal behaviour, they will still end up with a criminal record, even if this was the last thing you wanted.
  • Be aware that the police cannot detain someone under the Mental Health Act whilst that person is in your home. They can only do it if they are in a public place. Only an approved social worker can authorise detention from within your home.
  • Are there any creative solutions that might work? A holiday? A residential college? A work placement with accommodation? Anything that doesn’t leave your loved one more vulnerable?
  • If someone is struggling with their mental health which has deteriorated, phone an ambulance. People don’t have to be detained to receive inpatient hospital treatment, they can receive treatment on an informal basis
  • Is there a crisis bed available that your loved one can access to give everyone some breathing space?
  • If the vulnerable person is under the age of 18 – throwing them out IS NOT an option unless you want to risk prosecution. If you need to do this, phone social services and ask to speak to the emergency duty social worker.
  • Is the right person being made to leave? That’s something only you will know but it’s worth considering.