New family violence intervention programmes designed | HMA

New family violence intervention programmes designed

A goal for many years has been to design a robust and updated programme for family violence interventions that fit the requirements of the Domestic Violence Act (1995). An earlier newsletter (January 2011) reported the bringing together of a group of key thinkers from around the country prior to Christmas 2010 where ideas around content, process and philosophical underpinnings were discussed. We have worked over the past five months to take those ideas and develop two intervention programmes (one open and one closed).

The challenge in any programme design is to achieve a balance between dealing with entrenched patterns of behaviour and discovering the beliefs and reinforcing patterns that underpin behaviour, managing ongoing (acute) safety concerns and providing alternatives that promote respect and safety of others.

The programme has an underlying emphasis on inviting participants to take personal responsibility for their behaviour and encouraging them to increase their levels of accountability to their whânau/family and wider kinship group. The programme is situated within a structural model that views violence by men towards women as an outcome of patriarchy which has a long history of subjugation of women. It is ultimately about abuse of power within the relationship so the premise of the programme is on inviting respectful and non-violent interactions. However, it adds to this structural view and can best be described as a second generation family violence programme, in that it includes current evidence about what is effective in terms of reducing offending behaviour. It is a synthesis of psychological models found to be effective in programmes run in the criminal justice system and builds upon existing models of practice within the domestic violence arena, i.e. Duluth. The core skills utilised include strength-based / solution focused questioning, cost-benefit analyses, relapse prevention planning, and the use of cognitive-behavioural theory as it relates to the development of safety planning.

The programme builds upon a psycho-educational framework but is more therapeutic in its delivery. This means that the programme requires that the work is undertaken at sufficient depth to ensure that changes are embedded properly in order to promote long-term maintenance of change.

The programme is based on the following four principles:
• Family violence is a crime and violation of the rights of those victimised
• Thorough assessment is fundamental to successful interventions
• Reducing a re-occurrence of family violence requires raising client self-awareness of their abusive practices and how these operate along with skill enhancement
• Best practice will be enhanced through programme facilitators regularly reflecting on their own professional practice.

We consider it important that anyone expecting to work professionally with family violence work to enhance self-efficacy, be familiar with motivational interviewing approaches in their ongoing work. Therefore this programme assumes that facilitators will utilise motivational interviewing skills when presenting programme material. Motivational enhancement is the process of continually working to ensure that participants are open to new ideas and able to integrate these ideas into their behaviour. Motivational enhancement is integrated into the design of the session materials.

The programme integrates the principles of adult learning and therefore includes a range of teaching mediums and styles to enhance desirable outcomes for participants. The programme is therefore responsive to the diversity of men attending who will be mixed in terms of educational attainment, ethnicity, social class and sexual preference.

A critical question in programme design is how to ensure that participants make the most of the limited time and resources available to facilitation staff. One of the major challenges in group work with men who use abusive practices, or in any group for that matter, is to design processes that maintain energy and focus while undertaking the task at hand. Many groups are easily side-tracked, particularly when group members have little experience of maintaining their own focus and view the group programme as not relevant to their situation, or at worst an imposition into their daily lives. One of the most common traps for new facilitators is to focus on individuals within the group, rather than relying upon the group itself to provide the energy and information required. This ultimately leads to group facilitators undertaking individual work with an audience. The downside of this particular approach to working in groups is that while the person who is the focus of attention may well be engaged in the work, other group members are not. They can become bored, distracted and disruptive in the group. We can minimise this by designing programmes that work over four levels of group interaction.

• Level 1. Interaction with an individual
• Level 2. Interaction in a subgroup
• Level 3. Interaction with the whole group
• Level 4. Interaction with a person outside the group

However, using the four levels of interaction is only part of the structuring required for the running of a group. From a solution-based perspective we can identify three distinct phases of the change process. These apply as equally to individual work as they do to group work. If as a facilitator you take care to work with these phases then you are more able to match your work with where participants are at in their change process. The three phases are:

• Talking about the talking
• Doing the talking
• Reflecting upon the talking

“Talking about the talking” is about creating the space for the conversation in the first place. If we have not cleared a pathway or engaged the person in the conversation, then we cannot progress to any depth when it comes to actually exploring the presenting issue at hand. This stage, during any session, is about finding relevance for the respondent who might ask, “How does this issue, the focus of the session, the session content, relate to me in my life?” “How better off might I be if I make sense of this issue and develop skill sets to use in this situation?” We have found during programmes that repeatedly referring to an individual’s abusive practices map, as the touchstone for the factors or formulation around abusive behaviour, is a wonderful tool to keep reinforcing relevance. In terms of motivational approaches, this stage is the most significant for change. Engaging the participant well translates into depth of work, which in turn leads to better outcomes.

“Doing the talking” refers to that stage when we know we are in meaningful conversation with another person. This is the most active part of the process because this stage allows us to unpack and deconstruct patterns of thinking, emotional regulation and behaviour. From this it becomes possible to assist the person to develop solutions from their lived experience. Doing the talking comprises three interrelated activities: Presentation of new ideas (encounter), Practice (integration), and Performance (application). By actively engaging in this process, group members can both develop pro-social skill sets and experience collaboration.

“Reflecting upon the talking” is the third stage and is where we translate the talking into meaningful action. Unless the talking translates into action outside of the session, we have missed an important aspect of the process. Thus, an important question to ask in practice is, “How has the talking we’ve been doing, and the things you are now seeing more clearly, led to your handling the risk of hurting others differently?”

Throughout each session there is clear direction around the key processes that support the session outcomes. Details of the purpose and objectives of each session, the time allocated for session tasks, a session summary, facilitator resources required, workbook resources provided, and the learning outcomes are also included for each session.

We are very excited to be at this stage of programme design, given the events of the past nine months in Christchurch. For more information regarding the programme, contact Ken McMaster at

Published on Tuesday, June 7th, 2011, under Family violence, Programme design & development

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