‘We believe people can change’
Since February 2016, 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 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.
What does it take to change an abuser’s behaviour?
We hear from Rob Keane, who joined the Trust to work with perpetrators earlier this year.
“At the Trust, we work from the stance that people can change – that’s what we really believe.
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’ when clients relapse, but you can’t take it personally.
The Trust created the Growing Futures model as 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.
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.
It’s important to get to know perpetrators, 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.
My most used technique is ‘motivational interviewing.’ Allowing the client to identify areas of their life that need to change through discussion, not prescribing to them what they need to do, but letting them come up with their own ideas about how they can progress. Then they take ownership, 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. You see a total change of beliefs and behaviour.
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 saw abuse in my house and thought it was normal. But that’s the old me.’
A former abuser’s story:
*Dave, a Doncaster man who had previously blamed his behaviour on drink and drugs, realised that he needed to take control, since completing the course.
I was scared that my violence was getting worse.
When I was a kid I saw abuse in my house, between my mam and dad. I kind of grew up with it. It was just normal. Or I thought it was.
I thought this programme wasn’t going to help. Thought it was just going to be a waste of time. But I got a lot from it. It actually really helped me. I think now, instead of acting straight away. I learned how to control my temper better. Now I can set goals and carry things through. That’s not me anymore, that’s all in the past. That’s the old me. I haven’t got drunk or used drugs since New Year. I feel loads better.
My family see that I’ve changed. They’ve told me I am different now. I feel more positive about things now.
I have told three of my mates already about the programme. They are in abusive relationships. I have told them how good the course was. I’ve told them they should give it a try. It could help them as much as it’s helped me.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
If you think a child is in immediate danger. Don’t delay – call the police on 999 straight away. Visit www.doncasterdomesticabuse.co.uk for local support services, for anyone of any age affected by, or worried about, domestic abuse.