• Claire Verney

Interventions for perpetrators of domestic abuse

Research indicates that only 1% of perpetrators receive an intervention in the UK to address their abusive behaviour. In this post we look at the different options available to move cases forward while keeping the focus on child protection.


Intervene to stop dominoes
Interventions for perpetrators

Domestic abuse practice in the UK is usually focused on supporting victim/survivors and their children and while this is important many victims feel this unfairly puts the burden on them to make all the changes without the abusive partner facing any consequences. Research also shows us that high-risk perpetrators are often repeat offenders with some having up to six different victims. It makes sense then that instead of focusing solely on the victim we also work with the abusive parent and press them to make changes and hold them responsible for their behaviour. So what interventions are available?


Domestic abuse prevention programme


The most common intervention for domestic abuse cases in the community are domestic abuse prevention programmes (DAPP's). A DAPP is a behavioural change programme and is built specifically for perpetrators of domestic abuse. They are the only intervention that research has demonstrated has some success at stopping domestic violence. Therapy sessions, couples counselling, anger management or parenting programmes that do not address domestic abuse dynamics are not recommended for abusive parents and are unlikely to address the deeper issues that relate to the risk posed by a perpetrator of domestic abuse.


DAPP's are challenging courses aimed at changing behaviour and usually take place in a group work setting. Another important element of DAPP's are that they should also include a linked partner support service that will give support and information to ex/partners of those attending the programme. Session topics would usually include:

  • techniques for de-escalation

  • understanding the cycle of violence and abuse

  • emotional abuse

  • building empathy

  • examining past and current abusive behaviour

  • attitudes to women

  • respectful relationships

  • sexual respect

  • understanding the effects of abuse on children

  • exploring parenting

As these programmes are designed to challenge and change abusive behaviour participants must admit that they have used abusive behaviour and have sufficient motivation to make the changes needed. Community DAPPs will usually require a suitability assessment first and will only accept those perpetrators that take responsibility for at least some of their behaviour and show some willingness to work on them. Groupwork programmes are often only suitable for those that 'fit' in a group which means that there may be no provision for those that need a translator, same-sex or female perpetrators, registered sex offenders or those with learning difficulties or have mental health needs.


Perpetrators that are suitable for a DAPP but cannot attend a group programme may be able to attend a DAPP delivered on a one to one basis. These programmes will usually include the same topics as mentioned above but have the opportunity to focus on specific areas of concern. One to one programmes can also be delivered remotely and DV-ACT's programme includes an online learning environment to reinforce the learning within the sessions and promote lasting change.


These programmes should always have child protection as the primary concern and they cannot guarantee a reduction in risk. Therefore, it is not recommended that any changes be made to child contact arrangements until a programme is completed and a positive final report is provided. Ideally, the final report should be completed by an expert risk assessor who can confirm whether sufficient change has taken place that can indicate safe child contact going forwards.


Motivational Programme

DV-ACT has developed a motivational programme for those perpetrators that are willing to complete work but do not show the level of acceptance of their abusive behaviour needed for a DAPP. This programme works with the parent on a one to one basis with the aim of moving them to a place where they are able to accept more of their abusive behaviour and increase their motivation to change.


The programme is tailored to the needs of the case and will cover the following:


  • Identifying the source of resistance

  • Motivational work

  • Understanding the cycle of violence and abuse

  • Gains and losses from changing behaviour

  • Understanding the impact of domestic abuse on children

  • Understanding the Local Authority's/courts concerns

  • Viewing DAPP material to prepare for a full programme

  • Cultural challenges

Designed specifically for fathers who have children in child protection measures this programme of work is not a programme that can reduce the risks to the victim and children but aims to get those who are in a state of entrenched denial to the point at which they can attend a full DAPP and work on their behaviour.


Risk assessment


For those that are not suitable for a DAPP, there are limited options left. One possibility is to have an expert risk assessment that could give an in-depth view of the risks and look at what risk management measures can be put in place. Suitability for treatment can be explored within the assessment and options can be given about how the case can move forward.


A DV-ACT risk assessment is completed with interviews with both the perpetrator and victim and as a minimum includes:


  • developmental indicators, including exposure to parental conflict in childhood;

  • history of abusive behaviour;

  • static and dynamic risk indicators including other important factors such as mental health problems, substance misuse, criminality;

  • an assessment of the severity of the risk and the imminence;

  • history of domestic abuse and the likely impact on the child/ren;

  • likelihood of further exposure of the child/ren to domestic violence;

  • parent’s understanding of the impact of the domestic abuse on child/ren;

  • the prognosis for treatment;

  • a risk management plan.

An expert risk assessment is usually completed by an independent expert witness who can also attend court hearings where needed. While a risk assessment does not aim to work with the perpetrator and does not include treatment sessions it can give the courts/local authorities a clearer picture of the risks in the case, how the risks can be managed and more specifically how children can be safeguarded against further domestic abuse in the home.


Bespoke safety planning work

For those perpetrators that show no motivation to change and no acceptance of their behaviour DV-ACT specialists can deliver bespoke safety planning work. This work would take place only after a full risk assessment and would seek to mitigate the risk of harm to children who are living with an abusive parent as much as possible.



This would include a unique safety plan and safety rules, techniques for de-escalation, parenting work and a focus on safeguarding children. Any other topics concerning domestic abuse that would address the local authorities' concerns can also be covered by DV-ACT's bespoke work.


Can interventions reduce the risk to victims?


There is often a misunderstanding by many professionals and the courts, that perpetrator programmes alone can be used to manage risk. This is incorrect and programmes should be thought of only as an opportunity for a perpetrator to demonstrate that they can take steps towards positive changes and take responsibility for their behaviour. These changes will only be possible if the perpetrator approaches the work openly with goodwill and honest motivation to change.


Completion of a programme does not necessarily reduce the risk towards victims and child/ren and can even increase the risks in the case, particularly if professionals and the courts consider that the risks are being managed by a programme and so de-escalate the case without first making sure the intervention has been effective. It is for this reason that programmes have suitability assessments to ensure that the perpetrator referred wants to attend a programme for the right reasons.


When considering an intervention a final report is crucial. Many programmes provide final reports that lack objectivity, cannot be used in court and are unable to comment on the level of risk or give risk management recommendations. DV-ACT programmes include full final reports that are completed by an expert risk assessor independent from the worker delivering the intervention. As minimum DV-ACT final reports for a DAPP includes:

  • interviews with the client/s and with programme staff;

  • consideration of any new developments in the case;

  • details of the client’s engagement with the programme material;

  • a view on whether the client’s risk or vulnerability has been reduced;

  • further recommendations for risk management.


Where do DV-ACTION programmes fit in?


DV-ACT has created DV-ACTION programmes to work with those perpetrators who do not fit into the generic mould covered by other community programmes. Decades of experience working with perpetrators of domestic abuse means that we can deliver bespoke specialist work.


This is how we are different:

  • A child-centred approach - Regardless of the type of programme, victim or perpetrator, the safety of the child is always the main consideration and at the heart of everything we do.

  • Designed to make changes - Our programmes aim to move clients to a point where they can make effective changes.

  • Tailored to the case - All of our programmes are completed on a 1:1 basis so that the specific needs of the client can be met.

  • Virtual blended learning - Rather than the ad-hoc efforts delivered during the pandemic, our programmes are professional purpose-built online courses. 1:1 sessions with an expert treatment worker take place via video calling and online materials are available to reinforce the learning at home.​

  • Active learning styles - Programme materials are tailored to match the learning styles of the client.

  • Expert final reports - All of our programmes include final reports completed by expert assessors that can be used in court if necessary.


More information


For more information on this Programme visit our new dedicated website at dvactprogrammes.org. Printable information sheets and brochures are also available on the website at https://www.dvactprogrammes.org/downloadable-information.


If you are a parent and want to refer yourself for a DV-ACT programme please complete this form. If you are a solicitor or social worker and want to know if a client is suitable you can complete this form.


You can also sign up for our email updates or contact us to be kept informed about this innovative new service.


Resources


For more information on perpetrator programmes you can visit the following sites:


A Call To Action A Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Strategy for England And Wales - http://driveproject.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Call-to-Action-Final.pdf

Respect - http://respect.uk.net/

The Drive Project - http://driveproject.org.uk/about/research-evaluation/

Mirabal Report - https://www.nr-foundation.org.uk/downloads/Project_Mirabal-Final_report.pdf


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.


About us


DV-ACT are a team of domestic abuse experts, available throughout the UK, who provide assessments, programmes, consultancy and training to local authorities and the family courts. Our experts have decades of experience working directly with domestic abuse perpetrators and victims, as specialist assessors and as expert witnesses in the family courts.


​DV-ACT was formed with the aim of using our expertise to help safeguard children from abuse, this is at the heart of everything that we do. To read more about us please visit our post - Who are DV-ACT?