The AVA Community Groups Project involves establishing community group programmes in London and across the UK. The programme is for children, young people, and their mothers who have experienced domestic violence and provides a community based setting for them to share and talk about their experiences. The programme is unique in working with children and their mothers concurrently and in a child-focussed way.
The NICE guidance on domestic violence and abuse (PH50) recommends providing specialist domestic violence and abuse services for children and young people (Recommendation 11). Services should address the emotional, psychological and physical harms arising from a child or young person being affected by domestic violence and abuse, as well as their safety. The guidance also recommends interventions that aim to strengthen the relationship between the child or young person and their non-abusive parent or carers.
Aims and objectives
AVA is a second-tier organization engaged in supporting frontline agencies and communities, delivering services that aim to reduce and prevent violence against women and girls, and supporting women and girls who have experienced violence. The Community Groups Project is part of AVA's children and young people strategy, which aims to improve the safety and enhance psychosocial outcomes for children and young people who have experienced domestic violence.
The seven guiding principles of the groups are to:
- Provide opportunities for children to tell their stories and be heard, believed and validated.
- Ensure that children know how to protect themselves emotionally and physically by developing and practicing safety plans.
- Convey the message that all types of abuse are unacceptable.
- Convey the message that children are not responsible for what happened between their parents.
- Explore the expressions of anger and other feelings and provide health strategies to manage feelings.
- Explore and practice effective problem solving skills.
- Provide a positive environment where activities are esteem-building, child-centred and fun.
Reasons for implementing your project
Historically, recognition of the needs of children living with domestic violence in the UK has been largely confined to refuge services. Research in the UK suggests that the majority of children who have lived with domestic violence would prefer to talk to other children with similar experiences. For most children outside of the refuge system this is sadly not an option due to the severe lack of community-based programmes for children who have witnessed domestic violence.
The Community Group Programme (CGP) was originally a Canadian model and was subsequently piloted and successfully evaluated in the London Borough of Sutton. The evaluation found that after attending the programme far fewer children indicated that they would try to intervene in abuse episodes; condone any kind of violence in relationships or feel they were the cause of abuse or violence. Children also developed problem-solving skills to help them resolve conflicts.
Following the success of the programme in Sutton, the CGP was identified for wider implementation in the Mayor of London's second domestic violence strategy. The strategy highlighted the need for more services to support children who have been exposed to domestic violence. It noted that most services were currently provided within refuges and there was the potential for community based services to reach many more children.
In 2009, AVA secured funding for three years from Comic Relief to roll-out the programme across London. See: Children's perspectives of domestic violence by Mullender et al (Sage Publications, 2002).
How did you implement the project
Since 2009, AVA has been training professionals in coordinating and facilitating groups, as well as providing continued post-training support to professionals in the form of networking events, email and telephone support consultations. We have trained over 1,000 practitioners nationally and in 2012/13, 17 London Boroughs and 9 regions were running groups.
Each programme runs over a twelve-week period for children aged 4 - 21 (divided into age-specific groups).
Core issues addressed are:
- Validation of the children's experiences.
- Understanding abuse.
- Reducing self blame.
- Safety planning.
- Managing appropriate and inappropriate expressions of emotion.
The programme offers a concurrent component for mothers to also attend a group. Mothers are supported to understand how the violence has impacted on the child and how best to help them through the healing process.
The following challenges have been reported by coordinators managing the CGP in their local area:
- Lack of funding
- High staff turn over and lack of institutional memory
- Availability of trained staff to facilitate the groups
- Time pressures for group facilitators and coordinators.
Some of these difficulties have been overcome by:
- The personal commitment and perseverance of group coordinators and facilitators.
- Seeking out a number of different funding sources.
- Multi-agency and multi-professional working.
- Broadening the range of professionals trained as facilitators and creating a 'pool of facilitators' to spread the burden.
- Clearly communicating the value of the groups to senior managers.
Funding has now come to an end but AVA can still be commissioned to provide training, materials and support for agencies to deliver the CGP. The CGP is particularly important in light of the NICE recommendation that specialist domestic violence and abuse services should be provided for children and young people (NICE PH50, recommendation 11).
The guidance recommends addressing the emotional, psychological and physical harms arising from a child or young person being affected by domestic violence and abuse, as well as their safety. The CGP involves working with children and their mothers concurrently. This aligns with the NICE guidance which recognises that interventions that aim to strengthen the relationship between the child or young person and their non-abusive carer can be delivered in parallel.
The London roll-out was evaluated by Middlesex University.
Interviews and focus groups:
The comments below relate to the guiding principles of the group:
Explore expressions of anger and other feelings and developing health strategies to manage feeling: "It helped me, like, with anger. Because before I would usually punch my brother in the face and tease him but now I don't. I would probably, like, think before punching but I wouldn't, I would just get angry and call him an idiot or something". (Geno, age 13).
Provide a positive environment where activities are esteem-building, child-centred and fun: "It's fun and you learn, and you'll be interested and you'll be happy because you'll be taking a box home and get a certificate and you get to have fun and hide from the parents". (Cherry, age 12).
Provide opportunities for children to tell their stories and be heard, believed and validated: "Yeah, like, after a while - at first you didn't want to say anything, and then after a while, you're like, when other people are talking about it, you're like oh well maybe I should say something, so then like, and after the first thing you, like, feel comfortable, like, just talking about it". (Jill, age 12).
Another theme in children's accounts related to their relationship with their mothers.'I never used to talk to my mum and then Helen, Mark and Paul encouraged me to talk to my mum and now I'm talking to my mum a whole lot more and it's getting better'. (Lena, age 12)
The small sample size meant that it was difficult to draw firm conclusions from the data. However, trends indicated a generally positive impact across knowledge, attitudes and practice. For example, child participants were less likely to say that children should try and stop parents fighting (63% vs. 22%). When assessing children's quality of life pre and post group they exhibited a trend towards feeling more positive about themselves and their lives. For example, 92% of children said they seldom or never felt sad (compared to 34% at pre-group stage). Although there was a low response rate, all mothers and children completing the experience of service questionnaire felt listened to and helped.
The evaluation estimated the full economic cost per group at £9,123.25, and per child at £1,303.25. It suggested the groups offered value for money when taking into account the cost to society of not providing targeted early interventions for young people.
Key learning points
Collaboration and commitment across partner agencies has been the absolute key to success in operating and sustaining the CGP. The benefits of such a multi agency approach are huge, as not only do staff increase their knowledge and skills in this area of work, so too do they make it transferable to other work settings. In addition, staff taking part from specific agencies, bring the expertise from their primary work environment and utilise that in group to assist children who are encountering difficulties in other aspects of their lives.
We know from Victoria Climbié, Baby P and other child protection cases, the dangers of failure to work together in practice and this is particularly true in relation to children living with domestic violence. Providing a coordinated community programme reliant upon multi agency collaboration has the potential to improve services to children and women experiencing domestic violence and to maximise their continual safety and well-being.
What are the benefits of an inter-agency collaborative model?
- Increased awareness across agencies of impact and key issues.
- Increased individual expertise.
- Transferable skills.
- Enhances gendered approach.
- Cost effective.
- Shared responsibility for domestic violence across agencies.
Possible partner agencies include:
- Health visiting.
- School nursing.
- Social services.
- Voluntary sector.
- Probation service.
In 2009, AVA secured funding for three years from Comic Relief to roll-out the programme across London.