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Centre for Justice Innovation research into how to effectively work with perpetrators of domestic abuse by focussing on Family Drug and Alcohol Courts.

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The Family Drug & Alcohol Courts perspective

A new project from the Centre for Justice Innovation (CJI) aims to contribute to our understanding of how to effectively work with perpetrators of domestic abuse by focussing on Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs), a non-adversarial, trauma-informed alternative to standard care proceedings which works with many domestic abuse perpetrators. Parents within FDAC proceedings receive therapeutic support from a multidisciplinary team and have regular review hearings with a dedicated judge.

As readers will know, domestic abuse is one of the key drivers of child protection involvement in the UK. However, the CJI team points out, there is a real lack of evidence around effective ways to with domestic abuse perpetrators. Recent research has highlighted the importance of substance misuse and experience of trauma amongst perpetrators suggests that interventions which take these three issues together may be more effective than many of the current strategies.

The research report compares the lessons learned from a systematic review of the evidence around the links between abuse, trauma and perpetration of abuse with the way that these three issues are understood and responded to by FDAC teams and judges. 

Rapid evidence assessment

Several consistent themes emerged from the rapid evidence assessment which the authors, Sheena WebbHannah Jeffery, and Carolyn Lipp, say could provide a promising basis for service development and enhancing the effectiveness of perpetrator interventions. These were:

  • There is a need for evidence-informed, individualised practice and a shift away from a ‘one-sizefits-all’ approach to domestic abuse interventions.
  • Substance misuse, trauma and domestic abuse are closely intertwined and interact in complex ways that warrant further exploration.
  • There is a need for integrated treatment to address substance use, trauma and domestic abuse.
  • Domestic abuse perpetrator programmes should be provided within a trauma-informed and motivational framework.
  • The range of interventions available within perpetrator programmes should be expanded to address the clinical needs highlighted in the literature.
  • Services working with domestic abuse perpetrators should recognise their role as fathers and take into account their family context.

Qualitative research

Qualitative analysis of interviews with practitioners and judges found that FDAC services take a multifaceted view of the factors driving domestic abuse and adopt a holistic and joined up approach to addressing perpetration of domestic abuse. Intervention plans are tailored to the needs of individual families and can be revised throughout the FDAC process in response to progress and emerging disclosures. FDAC teams work with parents in a trauma-informed way and parents are given the chance to develop therapeutic relationships with staff throughout the proceedings. The qualitative research identified the following key findings:

  • Domestic abuse is highly prevalent in FDAC
  • Domestic abuse in FDAC is driven by a complex range of factors
  • FDAC teams address domestic abuse through a tailored set of interventions
  • FDAC teams use a dynamic approach to risk assessment and safety planning
  • FDAC is seen as an effective intervention for domestic abuse

Conclusions & Recommendations

The research team argues that the current evidence base clearly indicates the need for a direction change regarding perpetrator interventions. They recommend that services need to take a multidimensional and dynamic approach to assessing perpetrators so that a clear formulation of the pattern of abuse, the drivers of the abuse and the associated treatment needs can be identified.

They also recommend that interventions should be responsive to these needs and should include integrated evidence-based programmes that recognise the importance of substance misuse and trauma-related psychological factors. A whole-family, motivational and trauma-informed framework could enhance engagement of perpetrators while also assessing and responding to the needs of victim-survivors.

The key finding from the study is that despite the lack of empirical evidence to date, the perspectives of FDAC practitioners suggest that the FDAC approach is currently addressing domestic abuse perpetration through its multidimensional, joined up approach.

The obvious implication is that other organisations (such as the probation service) working with the perpetrators of domestic abuse should consider similar approaches.

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