Best practice for family violence intervention

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Sit around with a group of family violence practitioners (not those perpetrating violence) and ask them to describe what best practice looks like and you will get a range of responses. Best practice is often from our own experience and therefore is inherently biased. I learnt this early on in my career when I worked in the addictions field. The field is populated with great people, many ex-addicts, whose road to recovery was as unique as they were. When you asked them what worked for them, and then subsequently what they brought to the table with others, there was often a close match. We are often keen to help others in the ways that we were helped.

I therefore make no apologies for my views being biased towards evidenced based best practice and the sooner we all declare that, the better.  As many of you will know I have been working in the criminal justice field for the past 35 years (now that is a scary thought) so I have been very interested in how we use models to deal with issues of family violence. Few would argue that family violence is a gendered issue – men statistically outnumber women as perpetrators. Its historical dimensions are well documented, as are the biological and social aspects.

So what does best practice look like? In my view it comes down to the following:

  • Do no harm – safety first
  • Listen carefully to the victim and what they want as an outcome from partners attending programmes
  • Match risk level to intervention dosage
  • Understand the core beliefs/schema (many gendered but not all) that underpin behaviour and learn to defuse from both intensity of thinking and emotion
  • Overlearn skills for managing distress and acute risk moments
  • Nest intervention within accountability to those close by – front up to what has happened
  • Have skilled workers who are well supported in the work and reasonably paid for their efforts

Having been involved with the New Zealand Department of Corrections over the past year in designing a new family violence intervention programme, we have been able to infuse these key ideas listed above into the design, with the expectation that programmes will deliver the key ingredients to create lasting safety for women and children.

One of the areas that I think has much greater potential and goes to the heart of safety within families where violence is an issue, is around understanding what the victim wants as an outcome of intervention. All of us in the field know well that women make decisions to stay or leave relationships based upon whether men attend intervention. In my experience women are more likely to stay when a man attends a programme with the hope that life will be safer. In my view it is incumbent upon us as programme providers to ensure that participants are doing the hard yards by developing skills to manage being in relationship with others. If we let men leave programs with no change or having not engaged, then we are in fact exacerbating risk, not minimising it. This, in my view, is an unethical position for us to take.

These are my thoughts on the matter. Look forward to hearing yours.

Published on Monday, June 9th, 2014, under Family violence, What Ken thinks

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