by Rob Keane
Since February, Doncaster Children’s Services Trust, with the Police and the charity Foundation, has been working intensively with fathers and mothers who have abused their partners through violence or controlling behaviour.
The parents are encouraged onto the ‘Growing Futures’ programme following police custody, or by the Trust’s unique team of specialist case workers.
Just a few months in, the programme is turning family lives around, with parents finding the strength to transform their behaviour, thanks to interventions by the trust and its partners.
We work from the stance, and really believe, that people can change.
Before I joined the trust last year, I spent eight years working alongside Doncaster Drug and Alcohol Services, supporting clients to start afresh through education and employment.
To help clients improve their lives, you have to build up relationships, and find out about their personality. The key is to have high aspirations for them, while recognising and managing risk.
There is always a ‘revolving door’ where clients relapse, but you can’t take it personally.
The Growing Futures model is a ‘whole family approach’ to tackling domestic abuse. I thought this sounded like a great opportunity. I wanted to help children in Doncaster to live better, safer, more fulfilled lives, and I knew I could engage with ‘difficult to reach’ clients, like perpetrators.
When you’re working with perpetrators, it’s important to get to know them, like anyone else you work with. I take them for a cuppa, and I listen. We don’t always talk about the abuse, we just chat, so that I get an insight into that person. By showing respect and not making judgements, you have a better chance of eliciting change.
I found a place in town where you can hire bikes for free. Going for a bike ride together is a great way of opening up conversations.
I work with other agencies to get clients back into employment or training, or to access the rehabilitation therapies they need. In this role, there is the freedom to do whatever it takes to improve the lives of the people we are trying to help, in all areas of their lives.
I use ‘motivational interviewing’ a lot in my practice.
It allows the client to identify areas of their life that need to change through discussion, and not prescribe to them what they need to do. Letting them come up with their own ideas about how they can progress means they take ownership of them, and are more likely to follow it through.
You have to believe that people can change. I’ve seen that in this programme. It’s just eight weeks long, but gives clients building blocks they can put into practice when they’ve completed the course.
It’s not a ‘soft’ option, and we challenge their behaviour and core beliefs at a very personal level.
Most of the perpetrators I’ve worked with have come to the realisation that their behaviour has been totally inappropriate, and become extremely regretful and remorseful about the abuse.
One man who had previously blamed his behaviour on drink and drugs, realised that he needed to take control. He had witnessed abuse between his parents when he was growing up, and this had become normal to him.
At first, he thought this programme wouldn’t help and that it would be a waste of time. But by the end of the course, he had totally changed his beliefs.
He learned how to control his temper better and developed a much more positive outlook. We worked together on setting goals and carrying them through. For example, giving up drug use, and controlling his alcohol consumption.
After a few weeks, even his family reported that he’d changed, and he recommended the programme to three of his friends who were in abusive relationships.
Any domestic abuse service that doesn’t work with perpetrators isn’t going to be as effective.
Perpetrators are really the source of the problem. If you’re not turning that tap off – if you’re only working with partners and children – it’s much less likely to stop. Growing Futures is a really innovative new model and I hope it will be emulated.
Rob Keane works with perpetrators at Growing Futures. Growing Futures is a £3.1m Department for Education-funded project led by Doncaster Children’s Services Trust with partners to reduce domestic abuse and its effects on Doncaster’s children and young people. The project is being evaluated by external researchers.