Dr Geraldine O’Hare from the Probation Board Northern Ireland (PBNI) speaks to us about their programme, designed to help men stop abusive behaviour in intimate relationships.
Domestic abuse in Northern Ireland (NI) is very high and increasing. Not only has there been an increase in partner to partner domestic abuse but between parents and children. Consequently, there has been increased focus on addressing domestic abuse. In 2005 the Northern Ireland Executive introduced the ‘Tackling Violence at Home: A Strategy for Addressing Domestic Violence and Abuse in Northern Ireland’ report. The report set out the government’s commitment to establish a long-term approach for the prevention of domestic abuse. One area identified for action was the lack of interventions for alleged perpetrators who are willing to address their abusive behaviour.
To address this problem, the PBNI developed the Promoting Positive Relationships Programme (PPRP). The aim of PPRP is to provide men alleged to be abusive towards their partners with the opportunity to engage in an intervention programme aimed at developing knowledge and skills in which to develop healthy, non-abusive relationships.
As Geraldine O’Hare describes, it is necessary that the resulting programme – as PPRP seems to be – is one that is preventative. After all, with domestic abuse, you can’t afford to be too late as that could be physically, emotionally damaging or even fatal.
A Non-Adjudicated Domestic Violence Programme
PPRP is an integrated group work intervention developed for adult males who have demonstrated the potential to be abusive in intimate relationships. Using inter-agency working and practitioner leadership, all agencies involved with the family are invited to meet to discuss any risk issues and progress on PPRP.
This programme particularly focuses on providing the participants with a range of cognitive and behavioural skills and tools that supports and promotes the use of positive behaviours in their intimate relationships. The sessions also can be individualised to engage participants in different ways from visual activities to kinaesthetic activities such as role-play or drawing. The programme can run a maximum 24 sessions with each sessions being two hours long. Each group features between 6 and 10 attendees, with groups running in all five Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland.
Over the programme, the practitioners run a strengths-based approach focussed on five core modules:
- Foundation: to better understand and re-mould the attendees’ thoughts, feelings and beliefs around body signals and masculinity.
- Understanding Healthy Relationships: employing third party perspectives and personal reflection, the attendees get a thorough understanding of what constitutes abusive behaviour, its impacts on victims, families and children. The attendees are further educated on how to develop non-abusive, healthy relationships.
- Skills: this module endows the attendees with skills necessary to avoid abusive behaviour such as positive self-talk, taking time out in arguments, emotional managements, mindfulness, active listening etc.
- Parenting: this module focuses on teaching positive parenting and co-parenting, helping to understand the impact of domestic abuse on children and aiding the attendees in forming effective parenting plans.
- Future Planning: the attendees build future plans that demonstrates their understanding of abusive behaviour and the strategies they can employ to reduce the risk of such behaviour.
An essential component of this programme is the role of the Partner Support Worker (PSW). Usually provided by Women’s Aid, the PSW supports the partner/ex-partner of the man attending the intervention. They ensure the safety of the victim whether women or children and aim to help them put in place ways to prevent further abusive behaviour.
For the duration of the programme, the referring social workers and Women’s Aid are involved in weekly practitioner meetings to discuss individual participant progress. The meetings focus on attendance, engagement and any potential risk factors that could impact the attendee’s partner/ex-partner or children.
Eligibility for PPRP
As the aim of the programme is to address domestic abuse at the very earliest stage and simultaneously prevent avoidable entry into the criminal justice system, most potential attendees are people usually not known to the police, probation or social services. They are usually identified through domestic violence registers and/or child protection service.
The programme is a voluntary engagement programme, thus, it is important that the attendees are ready and willing to change their behaviour. To be eligible for the programme, all participants must be:
- Aged 18 or over and have command of the English language
- Willing to acknowledge abusive behaviour within an intimate heterosexual relationship
- Willing to attend weekly sessions for a minimum of 24 sessions and agree to the terms of participation.
The impact of the PPRP
As Geraldine reports, there has been a significant decrease in people coming to courts after this programme, there has also been less domestic violence, less A&E visits and many of the attendees’ children now regularly attend unlike before the programme.
The work done by Women’s Aid with the partners/ex-partners has particularly been praised as it has helped many of these women navigate and remove themselves from abusive situations. As Geraldine points out, many of these women don’t come with the aim of their partner’s incarceration but to motivate their partners to stop the abusive behaviour. The PPRP achieves this aim by removing this behaviour from their partners, in substitute they leave an understanding of respectful, loving, family focused behaviour.
The programme has been such a success that delegates of the Welsh government have visited the programme with an eye towards establishing similar approach to domestic violence in Wales. The users have also been very happy with the programmes; the attendees have attributed the significant improvement in behaviour to the programme. As a result, they have had more voluntary participation requests from men who want their help.
For more information about the Promoting Positive Relationships Programme, please refer to their website.
This case-study was compiled by Michael Farinu in 2019 and updated by Jason Watt in 2021.