Programming Responses for Intimate Partner Violence

BRITISH COLUMBIA

Context

Legislation: Family Law Act, 2013

Provincial Action Plan: British Columbia’s Provincial Domestic Violence Plan (2014 - 2017)

Domestic Violence Court: Available in some communities.

Provincial Domestic Violence Plan

In February 2014, the B.C. government released its three-year Provincial Domestic Violence Plan (the plan). The $5.5 million plan delivers on government’s commitment to make B.C. a safer place for women, children and families who are affected by domestic violence.

The plan is the result of government, public, and anti-violence stakeholder consultations and includes the creation of additional domestic violence units, programs for Aboriginal families, direct services for perpetrators, and improved access to services and social housing for survivors in rural, remote communities.

The plan addresses the very serious issue of domestic violence in Aboriginal communities by investing in culturally appropriate approaches. It is also inclusive of approaches that address the unique needs of immigrant and refugee women, and women with disabilities.

On August 5, 2015, the Provincial Office of Domestic Violence (PODV) released its First Annual Report, which reflected the work completed between April 1, 2014-March 31, 2015 and included initiatives/activities that continue into Years 2 and 3.

Work on the commitments for Years 2 and 3, as outlined in the plan, are well underway. The four focus areas for the investment of $5.5 million are:

  • Direct services for women, children and men ($1 million)
  • Direct services for Aboriginal children, youth and families ($2 million)
  • Direct services for perpetrators of domestic violence ($1 million)
  • Direct services for rural/remote communities ($1.5 million)

PODV will release its Second Annual Report in summer 2016 to reflect the work completed in 2015/16.

The Provincial Domestic Violence Plan and First Annual report.

Domestic Violence Courts

Domestic violence courts exist in some communities in British Columbia. There are currently three distinct Domestic Violence Court models in the province, which differ in their goals and approach.

Established in 2009, the Domestic Violence Court in Duncan is a judge-led initiative that takes a collaborative and therapeutic approach to justice by bringing together various community services and government agencies. The primary objective of the court is to stop violence in relationships and keep families safe. All domestic violence offences, except the most serious offences, and Criminal Code section 810 applications can be scheduled in this court. Representatives from various service providers and community agencies attend the court to meet with victims and accused persons.

The Domestic Violence Court in Nanaimo was established in 2013 through a collaborative effort of the local Community Coordination for Domestic Safety (CCDS) Committee, whose membership includes representatives from government agencies and community service providers. All domestic violence related offences for adult accused persons, except for murder offences, and Criminal Code section 810 applications can be scheduled in this court. Similar to the Duncan Court, community service providers play a significant role in providing supports to victims and accused persons.

Domestic Violence Docket Courts have been established in Kelowna and Penticton and are primarily designed to increase efficiency and case management of domestic violence cases that have a high level of trial uncertainty so that resources in other courts can be used for cases with higher trial certainty. A Provincial Court Practice Direction sets out the types of cases to be scheduled in the docket courts and provides specific case management and scheduling requirements. Generally, the cases scheduled in docket courts are limited to less serious domestic violence offences. Cases can only be scheduled in the docket courts for trials or continuation dates unless ordered otherwise by the court. Only one Crown witness is required for each case for the initial trial date, unless otherwise set by the court.

See the Ministry of Justice’s Specialized Courts Strategy (2016) and Framework for Domestic Violence Courts in British Columbia (2014) for additional information.

Risk Assessment

A number of different risk assessment tools are used throughout the province.

The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General has developed standardized training for all frontline police on conducting evidence-based, risk-focused domestic violence investigations. Police are trained to use the BC Summary of Domestic Violence Risk Factors (SDVRF), a tool which identifies risk factors in the broad categories of relationship history, complainant’s perception of risk, suspect history, and access to weapons. Some police, including more specialized units, use more advanced tools for structured domestic violence risk assessment, including B-SAFER.

Community Corrections commonly uses SARA and the Community Risk Needs Assessment tool, which guide case management and assist probation officers in defining an appropriate level of supervision and intervention strategies.

The Ministry of Justice, Family Justice Services Division utilizes a standard initial needs screening which includes two questions for history and immediate risk of family violence. Clients that proceed to meet with a Family Justice Counsellor complete a more comprehensive risk assessment tool that was developed specifically for use within their system (Family Justice Services Assessment Form).

Court-Mandated Treatment Programs

The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General funds court-mandated programs.

Structure

Court-mandated treatment is provided in two parts, collectively known as the Relationship Violence Prevention Program. The first part, Respectful Relationships (RR) is delivered by Corrections Branch staff to medium and high-risk offenders (as assessed by corrections). The second segment, Relationship Violence Program (RVP), is contracted out to Stroh Health Services in 45 communities throughout the province for moderate and high-risk offenders upon completion of Respectful Relationships. Information regarding the offender’s progress is shared with corrections throughout participation in RVP and a final report is submitted at program completion. Attendance is reported after every group, as well as any concerns regarding escalation of risk.

Additionally, RR is co- facilitated in designated Aboriginal communities by Probation Officers and Aboriginal Justice Workers (AJW) with a specific focus on culturally appropriate facilitation. Since 2005, 130 AJWs have been trained in RR. AJWs utilize that training by co-facilitating offender programs with probation officers and provide a cultural focus to the program. AJWs also facilitate domestic violence programs in their communities providing services to women, men, young people and couples.

The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General has also contracted with a number of agencies in the Lower Mainland to deliver the RVP Cultural Edition to men in a range of languages including Punjabi, Farsi, Cantonese and Mandarin in either a group or individual format.

The Relationship Violence Prevention Program (RVPP) was evaluated in 2008 by BC Corrections. Specifically, results found a 50% reduction in spousal-assault related recidivism and a 60% reduction in general recidivism for men who completed RVPP in the community as compared to a comparison group of men who just received community supervision. Effects persisted over a two-year follow-up period, with lessor recidivism among men who complete both components of the program.

Respectful Relationships and Relationship Violence Program are offered in a number of jurisdictions throughout Canada in a standardized format. A description of these programs is provided in Box 1.

Box 1

Respectful Relationships

Format:
10-week closed group, 2 hours per week delivered by trained Corrections Branch staff. 8 – 10 individuals per session.

Therapeutic modality:
Psycho-educational, cognitive behavioural model.

Program Elements: Understanding abusive behaviour; the impacts of violence on victims and children, strategies to manage emotions and behaviour; problem-solving skills

Section Two: Relationship Violence Program

Format:
17-week closed group. 8 – 10 members.

Therapeutic modality:
Cognitive behavioural program that utilizes goal-oriented teaching methods.

Program elements: What creates conflict; personal awareness; influence of family and friends; challenging thinking; identifying and managing emotions; jealousy; sex and intimacy; review and integration; communication skills; problems solving; resolving conflict; fatherhood; and relapse prevention.

Parenting/Impact of child witnessing

A session on fatherhood is included in the Relationship Violence Program. This session covers the following topics: children learn what they live; the abuse of children wheel; the nurturing wheel; parenting guidelines; 5 good reasons to stop spanking; how to deal with your child’s difficult behaviour; positive discipline; and using a time-out.

Accountability to Victims

Victim contact is often the role of victim services, Corrections, and Bail Supervisors, however some service providers incorporate contact with victims into their program. The purpose of this contact is generally to explain the program, to aid in risk assessment, and to ensure that the victim has access to safety planning and resources. Some community-based services provide parallel groups and individual support for victims.

Community-Based Perpetrator Treatment Services

The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General is currently undertaking work on the development of intervention programs for perpetrators of domestic violence prior to involvement in the criminal justice system, including the enhancement and evaluation of culturally appropriate programs for Aboriginal communities. In April 2015, $1 million was made available to support this work as part of the Provincial Domestic Violence Plan.

Currently, community-based perpetrator treatment service providers and private practitioners provide treatment for men who are not court mandated in locations throughout the province. These programs are typically funded through the agency’s fundraising efforts, small grants, or client user fees.

While there is no direct link between these community-based programs and the Courts, some participants involved in the criminal justice system access or are referred to these agencies for service. Information sharing is limited between BC Corrections and the agency providing services and generally shared only with the consent of the participants. The agency provides participants with a letter confirming attendance in the program. They do not provide assessments or letters of support. Programs vary in therapeutic orientation, duration and the information that is covered.

Two of the larger, community-based programs are described below:

Northern Society for Domestic Peace
Domestic Peace Program
Smithers, BC

Funding

The Domestic Peace Program is funded through a BC Gaming Commission grant and the agency’s fundraising.

Structure

The Domestic Peace Program provides services to high-, moderate- and low-risk IPV offenders. The program is considered voluntary, however referrals are made to the program for court mandated offenders by probation. The program does not provide assessments to the court but will confirm attendance following the completion of 12 sessions. The program is available to men for as long as they require.

Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is an ongoing process entrenched in working with the client. Counsellors utilize formal tools such as the "Abuse Inventory" (developed from the SARA and ERA), as well as the B-SAFER and SARA and the Signs of Safety (Andrew Turnell). They also may engage collateral contacts, such as the participant’s current/separated partner, to ensure they have a fulsome picture of the participant’s risk profile.

Treatment

Prior to attending the Domestic Peace Program, participants complete a minimum of 12 hours of individual counselling. Services are founded in a ‘response-based approach’. The therapeutic focus is on choice and volition, positioning themselves as the subject of their actions, both violent and nonviolent and embracing the ability to consistently choose to treat their partners respectfully. (“Approaching the Subject of Violence: A Response-Based Approach to Working with Men who Have Abused Others”, Nick Todd, Gillian Weaver-Dunlop and Cindy Ogden, Violence Against Women 2014, 1117). Participants complete an evaluation at the end of the program. Follow-up is done at 6 months and 1-year post completion.

Accountability to victims

Participants must agree to partner contact in order to be eligible for service. Victims are contacted by the therapist working with the participant to assess concerns and offer support, such as safety planning and links to community services. The agency also provides treatment services to victims, therefore can ‘wrap around’ the family where needed. In cases where the victim is not a client of the agency, victim contact happens at the beginning of program and at program completion.

Integration

The Northern Society for Domestic Peace operates within a collaborative framework. The Community Coordination for Women’s Safety committee membership includes key stakeholders including police, victim services, corrections, and child protection services. The committee focuses on systemic change. The community recently established an Interagency Case Assessment Team (ICAT) to address the needs of high-risk offenders.

Northern John Howard Society
Stop Taking it Out on Your Partner
Prince George, BC

The Northern John Howard Society provides a program in Prince George entitled “Stop Taking it Out on Your Partner” (PG STOP).

Funding

PG STOP has been providing services to voluntary participants for 20 years. It is currently funded through grants and the local United Way.

Structure

While men’s participation in the program is voluntary, the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation and Probation and Parole refer many court mandated offenders to the program. Information is shared with the referral source only with the consent of the participant. Following program completion, participants are provided with a pass or fail. Those who do not successfully complete the program are permitted to repeat it.

Risk Assessment

Services are provided to high- moderate- and low-risk offenders. Risk assessment is not formally completed, however counsellors utilize professional judgment to monitor the changing risk profile of participants.

Treatment

The program draws on a variety of therapeutic treatment modalities, including psychodynamic, humanistic, and cognitive behavioural therapy. The materials are divided into 8 units delivered over 15 weeks in three-hour sessions. Topics include anger management, using anger in a positive way, emotional control, positive self-talk, how the emotional system works, anger and response/reaction, anger log, time out technique, toxic shame, self-esteem, forms of violence, effect of violence on children, communication, active listening, empathy and conflict resolution and ‘letter of responsibility’. Participants are able to see the counsellors individually for follow up when they have completed the program.

Accountability to Victims

Victims are contacted and granted access to a support group for spouses. To ensure continuity, the counsellor that works with the offender will facilitate the partner group.

Evaluation

The Stop Taking it Out on Your Partner program was evaluated in 2013 (Reducing the recurrence of domestic abuse among male intimate partners: a case study of the PG STOP violence program of the Northern John Howard Society of British Columbia, Chiduzie Ezedebaego, UNBC Masters student).

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