Whether you are a partner, friend, family member or professional this post will give practical advice to support someone completing a DV-ACT vulnerability or domestic abuse prevention (perpetrator) programme.
Attending a domestic abuse programme can be an intense and difficult time. Programmes often involve talking about and reflecting on past incidents of abuse and violence which can be really hard. That is why all the DV-ACT programmes include a focus on building up support from social groups, reaching out for help and engaging in self-care.
This post will give you practical advice on how to help you support your partner/friend/family member/client in their quest to make positive changes in their life away from violence and abuse.
General advice for supporters
No matter what programme someone is completing with DV-ACT (or elsewhere) it is always important to listen to them without judgement. Domestic abuse often happens behind closed doors and talking about experiences that may have been hidden for many years can feel almost impossible for some. Many may feel they will be judged and that what has happened is shameful, so it is important to present your support as someone who will listen to them when they are ready to talk, without pressure.
The following may help you to do this:
Educate yourself on the programme they are attending - google the programme or explore this or other programme websites. See what the aims of the programme are and what will happen in sessions.
Give after-session care - ask them when their sessions are and see if you can arrange self-care activities to do with them afterwards, like going for a run or bike ride, going to the cinema or meeting up for a coffee. This can be as simple as sending a message and checking in with them, seeing how they are and if they want to talk. Remember not to pressure them, if they don't want to talk that's fine you can help just by being there.
Offer practical help - programmes are much more likely to succeed if people can attend sessions without practical barriers such as childcare, access to wifi and technology, transport or finance. Ask them if they have practical problems and see if you can help.
Don't offer what you can't give - don't promise things that are impractical or you will be unlikely to be able to keep up. It is much better to offer support once a week and be reliable than offer daily support that you are then unable to give.
Encourage them to keep going - if they say they feel like giving up encourage them to take one step at a time, change is possible and we all have the power to change our lives for the better! Remind them of the programme's benefits and how it will help them.
Supporting a mother attending the DV-ACT vulnerability programme
This programme is designed for mothers in care proceedings or who have children in child protection measures. Those attending the programme may also be struggling with many other things they have to do like attend meetings, court hearings or other programmes and assessments. Good ways to help mothers in this position are:
Provide a safe space - this programme includes completing a safety plan and working out where they can turn for help. Ask if you can help, could you provide somewhere that they or their children could go to in an emergency? Could you hold important documents for them? Do they have a safe word that they can use in a call to alert you that they need emergency services?
Help them become less isolated - those who have had an abusive partner are often isolated from their friends and family by the abuser. Help them to build up their social network again and reconnect with friends and family.
Boost their self-esteem - abusive partners often destroy partners' self-esteem and the way they see themselves. Think about how you can help them with this, encourage them to do more of the things they are good at to boost their confidence and let them know what you think is great about them.
Encourage self-care - self-care is really important for this programme, they may have spent a long time managing their partner's abusive behaviour or been subject to his control so there was little time to care for themselves. Now is the time to focus on themselves again and what makes them feel happy and relaxed. Look up self-care activities and you will find loads! If they are struggling with this offer to do something with them.
Encourage professional support - if they are struggling with anxiety and depression encourage them to talk to professionals, their social worker, dr or mental health support.
To find out more about this programme visit our post - what happens next
Supporting a parent attending a domestic abuse prevention programme
These programmes (often called DAPPs or perpetrator programmes) are for those that have used domestic abuse or violence within a current or former relationship. They are very demanding, lengthy and include challenging past and present behaviour. To support someone through these programmes we recommend:
Listen without judgement - it can be hard to admit you have done wrong and especially hard to admit this to family and friends. Someone in this position might feel they can't tell anyone about what has happened and they may feel ashamed of their actions. If you can, let them know that although you can't support their actions and what they have done is wrong you still love them as a friend/family. They may have done monstrous things but they are not a monster.
Don't provide excuses - these programmes focus on changing abusive behaviour not denying them! It is not helpful to deny or dismiss his behaviour towards his partner but to acknowledge this while still providing support.
Support them in their journey of change - sessions are very challenging and it may be helpful to offer support particularly after sessions. This doesn't mean talking over what happened in the session (unless they want to do that) but it can mean encouraging activities going for a run together, having dinner or meeting up and doing something.
Encourage positive self-talk - a key part of the programme is for attendees to look at the beliefs behind their behaviour and how they can change them. Encourage them with positive thoughts and beliefs and help them to challenge thoughts of despair, anger or bitterness.
Remember it is not in your responsibility (or within your ability) to change them yourself, leave that to the programme!
To find out more about this programme visit our post - the DV-ACT 1:1 domestic abuse prevention programme
Supporting someone whose ex/partner is attending a domestic abuse prevention programme
When someone has a current or ex-partner attending a perpetrator programme support is usually offered to them by the programme. At DV-ACT this includes online support, video or voice calls, providing information and signposting to any further services that may be helpful. The support is voluntary, free of charge, confidential and available for the time the ex/partner is on the programme. This service is there to ensure that their views, fears and concerns about ongoing abuse are listened to and acted upon.
For ex-partners, this can be an anxious time, especially if child contact will progress depending upon their ex's attendance on the programme. It may also bring up bad memories of the abuse they have suffered and a fear of what could happen next. If you are supporting someone in this position you can help them by:
Checking in with them regularly and letting them know you are there for them.
Provide a safe space if they need it. This can mean talking with them about their safety plan and seeing if you can help, like providing somewhere for them to go in an emergency, keeping documents safe or agreeing to contact the emergency services if needed.
Encourage them to access support whether this is mental health support, counselling or engaging with a domestic abuse service this may be a time when extra support can help.
Encourage self-care activities and if possible suggest some that you can do together.
To find out more about the linked support service contact us.
It is important when referring clients for programmes of work that you are aware of the timescales to complete and what practical help they will need to attend programme sessions. Changing behaviour that is often entrenched for many years takes time and motivation, for that reason domestic abuse programmes are lengthy and challenging with short untested programmes that do not address domestic abuse dynamics unlikely to address the deeper issues that relate to risk.
The DV-ACT vulnerability programme takes 11 weeks to complete and the full DAPP 18, so you need to consider referring and/or completing assessments as early as possible to keep any intervention within the child/ren's timescales. While it may be possible to provide double sessions this is not ideal and parents need the time between sessions to process and embed the learning.
It is not appropriate for sessions to take place with children present or in a place where the client may be overheard, therefore arranging childcare in advance of sessions or providing a safe place for clients to complete the sessions can help remove any practical barriers to attendance.
Another important consideration is how to manage the risks of the case in the meantime. No programme can guarantee a reduction in risk so we would recommend that no changes are made to risk management measures (such as child contact or residency) until the programme is complete and you have received a full final report. All DV-ACT programmes include a final report that will review the risks in the case and give recommendations for ongoing risk management including a view on the safety of child contact or residency.
It is important that safety planning is carried out with all families that are living with domestic abuse, which should have the children's safety and protection as the primary concern. Detailed guidance for social workers on how to complete safety planning with families can be found in our post How to complete safety planning with families and for cases where coercive control is a concern, visit Coercive Control: Management and Safety Planning Guidance for Social Workers.
Helplines are available in the UK as follows:
National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327
Respect phoneline for perpetrators of domestic abuse - 0808 8024040
Childline - 0800 1111
Call the UK police non-emergency number, 101, if you need support or advice from the police and it's not an emergency. Always call 999 in an emergency.
DV-ACT Programmes are a division of DV-ACT Ltd. DV-ACT comprises a team of domestic abuse experts, available throughout the UK, who provide assessments, consultancy training and treatment programmes to local authorities and the family courts.