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“A reduction of violent and abusive behaviours”, an Evaluation of the Building Respectful Families Programme

One of the constant features in recent reports about child and adolescent to parent violence and abuse has been the problem that there are few evaluations of the effectiveness of the support offered to families by the various programmes available. However, whether because of the rising interest meaning there is more funding available to pay for evaluation research, or because of the length of time many programmes have now been running contributing to more meaningful data, we are now starting to see increasing numbers of reports beyond the annual returns submitted to funders. The team at Safe! have recently commissioned such research, and I am pleased to share their report here, in a blog authored by Alice Brown, Service Manager for the Building Respectful Families programme.

Building Respectful Families (BRF) is a service run by SAFE! Support for Young People Affected by Crime, an independent charity based in the Thames Valley.  BRF works with families experiencing Child and Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (CAPVA) and has been operating in Oxfordshire since 2015.  At the end of 2019, just before the pandemic, we were incredibly lucky to be generously funded through the National Lottery and Children in Need, to increase capacity and deliver support more widely across the Thames Valley region.  Funding allowed us to increase the much-needed individual 121 support for caregivers and their children experiencing CAPVA, alongside our existing group work offer.  Due to COVID, support was adapted and became hybrid in nature. Practitioners met families wherever they could safely, in-person, but we moved a substantial proportion of our support to online platforms. 

With National Lottery funding, we commissioned an independent researcher to undertake a two-year evaluation looking at how useful the BRF provision is for families experiencing CAPVA.  Through a mixed-methods approach, the researcher analysed data around demographics, pre- and post-assessment results and conducted and analysed in-depth interviews with families and practitioners.     

Recently I was asked, what have we learnt most from this process.  

Firstlymessages from the families included in the research are encouraging and show that BRF is useful in helping to reduce violent behaviours from children and young people towards their caregivers.   Our research report indicated some of the most reported behaviours from children toward their caregivers before support were pushes/shoves, kicks/slaps/punches and throwing things.  Evaluations showed a reduction in these behaviours in most cases; 63% of parents reported a reduction in kicks/slaps/punches, 55% of parents reported a reduction inpushes/shoves and throwing things.  This report shows that the BRF intervention does result in a reduction of violent and abusive behaviours from child to care-giver.  Interestingly, results suggest that other behaviours (verbal abuse) might take longer to change, which may be a reminder as to how complex CAPVA is and that families require long-term support; there is no ‘quick-fix’.  Sometimes, it is the start of a journey: We do have ups and downs but our home does feel calmer. We’re no longer walking on eggshells with each other” (Parent) 

Secondly, for families who felt BRF was the right service for them; the data from the research shows the intervention is not only reducing violence but helping families to begin to repair relationships and communicate respectfully.  Every individual in each family impacted by CAPVA will have their own needs and the context of every family’s story of CAPVA are unique.  There is a place for divergent approaches to support, indeed this empowers families by offering choice and we have been alerted to the benefits of taking a hybrid approach (meeting in-person and/or online); which is a positive thing to have come from the pandemic.  For many parents, the powerful impact of being part of an in-person group was able to be replicated online, indeed, this has meant groups are more accessible for many families who may otherwise not have been able to access support at all.  These groups achieved an 84% retention rate over the two-year period.  Messages from the parents who were interviewed in the study showed that group attendance provided them with psychological support; they reported feeling less alone and more confident to use the skills they had learnt.  However, for the cohort of young people who accessed BRF, most found it beneficial to meet in-person, on an individual basis with an allocated worker, so they could speak openly about what was happening, suggesting a group work approach for this cohort of young people could be less useful than for their caregivers.

We have seen referrals rise into BRF as the impact of COVID, challenges with attending school and financial pressures have all created something of a ‘perfect storm’ for many families with complexity running through each family’s story.  Even as an organisation which prides itself on a whole-family approach for CAPVA; capturing young people’s voices within our research was a huge challenge.   If we do not find ways to hear their narratives, we may only have half of the story and, potentially, only half the solutions.   We must find innovative ways to capture young people’s lived experiences of CAPVA, so that we might better understand and support families.  This requires time and funding.  

The BRF service seeks to support children and young people alongside their caregivers, but we acknowledge the vital role that many other individuals, teams, and organisations are providing through the support and interventions they provide.  These are delivered in diverse ways and we hope that through sharing our research report, we can share our learning and secure funding for families into the future so that we may continue to work for the collective benefit of families. 

The full report can be read here: An Evaluation of the Building Respectful Families Service

Many thanks to Alice and the team at BRF for sharing the very encouraging findings. And very best wishes as you explore ways to capture the missing information and to develop the service further!

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