Programming Responses for Intimate Partner Violence

DISCUSSION

This report reviewed and summarized justice-linked programming across Canada. The specific focus of this review was services in court-based, clinical, and community settings and directed it at the majority population of perpetrators of IPV. Results are informative in terms of both commonalities and considerable differences in system organization and content. A few of the major themes of similarity and difference are discussed.

Intervention Service

One of the most striking findings of this review is the extent of variation in justice-linked intervention response to DV offenders across, as well as within, Canada’s provinces and territories. The most commonly available program is some version of a psychoeducational, cognitive-behavioural, or narrative group program that includes 8 to 12 participants and lasts between 16 and 20 weeks (32 to 40 hours). A few jurisdictions are offering a shorter program, 10 to 12 weeks (20 to 24 hour), most often targeted to low risk offenders. There is only one service in Canada that mandates a program that is less than 20 hours in duration, the 5-week Second Chance program option in Nova Scotia for low risk offenders. There is also only one province, Ontario, where funding has been specifically set for a minimum group size of 15. In terms of program content, regardless of group size, length or modality, programs are likely to cover some combination of the following concepts: understanding abuse, impact of abuse on victims, emotional regulation skills, and problem-solving. Most programs also include information on the effect of IPV on children.

Canada’s programs appear to fall almost equally into three main treatment modalities: psychoeducation, cognitive-behaviour, and narrative. There is no obvious relationship between length of program and modality, or between level of risk and modality, though there is a trend for psychoeducational programs to be more often targeted at lower-risk offenders. Interestingly, intervention modality varies as much within provinces as it does between provinces. Although this may be interpreted to suggest that the capacity of individual offenders to choose or be matched to a modality of their choosing; in reality it reflects approaches by different agencies working in different parts of the region. Seldom would it be possible for offenders to choose to receive intervention in alternate modalities.

Although group intervention remains the predominant modality for justice-linked intervention, a substantial minority of programs (including most programs using a narrative modality) are offering individual sessions in addition to group work. Most often, individual sessions are offered prior to group service and serve a motivational and/or assessment function. The exception to this are agencies devoted to serving Indigenous populations which often take a holistic, family-based approach and tend to offer a range of services to address domestic violence including group work, individual sessions, family and couples therapy.

Finally, it is important to note that most jurisdictions have some level of differential prosecution through DV courts in response to offenders at varying levels of risk on standardized risk assessments. Intervention programs, on the other hand, are mostly non-differentiated. In most regions, offenders assessed as being at low, moderate or high risk for reoffending, and offenders accessing service as a result of a justice mandate, community referral, or self-referral attend the same program and receive the same services. In regions with DV courts, differentiated services are more likely. In such regions, the most common model is for there to be two services: a) a shorter specialized program which is fairly well integrated with the courts and is restricted to low risk offenders and, b) a longer, often community-based intervention that serves moderate and high risk offenders referred by probation along with community, child protection and self-referred clients. Only a minority of jurisdictions and agencies across Canada offer intervention groups exclusive to moderate and high risk offenders (see British Columbia for an example of this model of service).

Accountability to Victims

A foundational component of justice-linked response to IPV is a dual focus on promoting perpetrator accountability and providing services and supports for victims and offenders of family violence. Provincial and Territorial Action Plans in Canada, where they exist, all include a commitment to respond to perpetrators and support victims. Consistent with this commitment, most justice-linked intervention responses across Canada include some provision for victim support. However, the inclusion of victim contact, referral, or support as part of justice-linked intervention programs for perpetrators is not universal. In some provinces/territories, victim contact is a required component of all justice-linked IPV intervention services. For example, in the NWT, victim support is built in as a core aspect of all services. In other provinces, agencies providing intervention to court-mandated offenders rely on probation, police, victim services or a court manager for victim support. Only a minority of programs across the country provide therapeutic support (i.e., services beyond information sharing, safety planning, and referral) to victims of men’s abuse. Agencies most likely to provide therapeutic support to both male perpetrators and female victims are those dedicated to serving Indigenous peoples.

Parenting

Research has clearly established that children are negatively impacted by exposure to IPV and there is a high overlap between men’s perpetration of violence against children’s mothers and their direct physical and emotional abuse of children. Recognizing this overlap, a number of IPV action plans are beginning to include statements about the importance of parenting interventions to prevent potential intergenerational cycles of violence. Whether justice-linked interventions for IPV should or should not include intervention to address challenges in parenting is open for debate. However, what is clear from the current review is that, with very few exceptions, programs addressing IPV are offering limited parenting intervention. In many of the psychoeducational and CBT-based intervention programs, one or two group sessions are devoted to raising men’s awareness of the effects of exposure to IPV on children and to discussing the importance of fathers as role models for their children. These two sessions likely provide valuable motivation to men attending groups and also may help to increase awareness about the impact of IPV; however, they are insufficient for addressing post-separation issues or for changing men’s problematic parenting (e.g., hostile attribution, low levels of emotional responsiveness). The exceptions are a few agencies across Canada offer the Caring Dads program and a few others that offer the option of family-based intervention for IPV offenders.

System Integration

Justice-linked intervention programs are, by definition, embedded in a broader system response to IPV. A number of aspects of this broader system were examined including issues of referral, funding, victim accountability, risk assessment and the level of integration between justice and community services. As might be expected given differences in history and development of services across Canada, there are many differences in the overall systems of justice-linked intervention. These differences can often be linked with domestic violence action plan priorities. For example, when victim support is emphasized in action plans, more services are available for victims. When parenting intersections are highlighted, more linked services are available to address offender’s joint involvement in the criminal justice and child protection systems.

Another factor stands out in consideration of results of this review is the extent to which integration is a concern for service providers. There appears to be widespread recognition of the value of sharing information and collaborating across justice and community-based intervention services. However, actual level of integration varies considerably. In jurisdictions with strong justice-intervention program links, men are referred into specific intervention programs, with clear (though not always successful) lines of communication between the intervention programs and justice services. At the other end of the spectrum are systems in which offenders and/or probation officers have to “shop around” for the best service available. A deeper consideration of the advantages, disadvantages and implications of these differences in connection is warranted.

Evaluation

There is a reasonably large body of research on justice-linked response to IPV in Canada. The most extensive research appears to be on DV courts and court processes, though studies also explore specific intervention programs. Much of the research done on programs and services in Canada is published as “gray literature” though sometimes results are also published in peer reviewed journals. A comprehensive review of existing Canadian evaluations may be warranted as a foundation for continued development of empirically-based best practice standards for justice-linked intervention for IPV perpetrators.

Limitations

This project was ambitious in its attempt to access, review, and describe policy and practice in justice-linked responses to IPV across Canada. Although we were able to discuss our evolving findings with key informants from every province and territory, it is quite possible that aspects of policy or practice were missed. Moreover, as we noted earlier, we did not attempt a systematic review of services for minority (i.e., women, LGBTQ, cultural, linguistic) offenders, and there are likely a number of innovative services to these populations that were not reviewed.

CONCLUSIONS

The current project offered the opportunity to examine justice-linked intervention services for IPV across Canada. It is informative in terms of both the commonalities and differences in IPV response across the country and will provide an excellent springboard for broader discussions of Canada’s IPV policy and programming.

Resources

Making the Links in Family Violence Cases: Collaboration among the Family, Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems, Department of Justice

The Case for a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women, Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses, October 2013.

Making the Links in Family Violence Cases: Collaboration among the Family, Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems, Volume II, Annexes to the Report of the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ad Hoc Working Group on Family Violence

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