Belfast Telegraph

Intervention plan targets violent dads to tackle anger issues

Final day of our exclusive series on the NSPCC's work looks at domestic abuse

BY VICTORIA O'HARA

Thousands of children living in Northern Ireland are witnessing constant or frequent domestic violence in their homes, according to the NSPCC.

Statistics revealed by the charity show that one in 20 children in the UK experiences domestic abuse during childhood.

Over 27,000 incidents of domestic violence were recorded between 2012/13, with the PSNI now attending, on average, 60 domestic-related callouts every day.

Further figures from the Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC) show that between January 2010 and September 2012 there were 4,094 domestic violence cases discussed in the province.

MARAC are regular meetings where information about high-risk domestic abuse victims is shared between local agencies.

In these cases 3,908 of the victims were women, and 5,642 children were living in the households affected.

However, the actual number of children witnessing violence is estimated to be far greater as many are suffering in silence as cases go unreported. The charity says children can be deeply traumatised by witnessing violence between their parents or carers, even if they do not suffer violence directly.

In a bid to help break the cycle of violence the NSPCC spearheads an intervention programme for violent men who have abused or neglected their children, or exposed them to the abuse of their mothers.

The Caring Dads: Safer Children programme protects children by working with abusive fathers by improving parenting.

Gary from Co Antrim, who participated in the 17-week programme, said when he got angry his mind went blank.

"In the house I was punching walls and hitting things and my wife didn't want it around the children," he said.

"She rang the police, who contacted social services, and they referred me on to NSPCC. The programme isn't just about you, it involves the whole family." The two-hour weekly group sessions involve up to eight men and focus on helping men recognise the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that support healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Caroline Holloway, manager of NSPCC's Craigavon Service Centre, said: "Children and young people are highly attuned to what goes on around them, and the link between an abusive home environment and poor outcomes for them in adulthood is well evidenced."

Bronagh Muldoon, manager of NSPCC's Belfast Service Centre, says intervening where there are issues, and enabling families to learn from their experiences and heal, is the ideal scenario.

"Enabling families to stay together safely and happily, and helping parents to create a positive environment for their children, is the ideal."

'I'd never raised my hand before, but I nearly killed her that night'

After hitting his wife Michael* says that the NSPCC's Caring Dads: Safer Children programme helped him to change his life around.

It started a number of years ago when my wife got sick. I was working, paying the bills, trying to look after my family and I just couldn't make ends meet – I just couldn't do it. We ended up losing our house. Then, through no fault of my own, I lost my job.

My wife went back to work and I was at home looking after the kids. I felt like I couldn't do anything. I'd been drinking a bit before then, but at that stage it really escalated – I started drinking every single night.

The incident that brought me to Caring Dads was a one-off, but it was really serious. I'd never raised a hand to my wife before, but that night I lost it.

I was drinking and I just exploded. I just couldn't take it any more – I hit her. I nearly killed her.

I was arrested and spent the Saturday to the Monday in jail. I was in court and bailed on the Monday, but I wasn't allowed contact with my wife, wasn't allowed contact with my kids, and had nowhere to go.

My mum said I could stay with her, but I had no phone, no clothes, no money – absolutely nothing. It was the first time, from the day they were born, that I was away from my kids.

I thought my world was over. I couldn't even describe how bad I felt. I didn't feel like a man, or a daddy, or a husband.

My first introduction to social services wasn't great, but eventually we ended up with someone we really felt we could trust and who really cared about us.

We stopped being scared that we were going to have our kids taken off us, and realised that they could help. It was through her I ended up coming to NSPCC's Caring Dads: Safer Children programme. I was apprehensive, and to be honest wasn't mad keen on group therapy – I fought it from the start.

When things started getting pointed out to me, it started to make sense. It makes you think about domestic abuse like a child again – see it from their point of view. There are people out there abusing and thinking that their children don't know what's going on. They mightn't be there seeing it, but they can probably hear – or at the very least are aware of it – so it's left to their imaginations, which is probably worse again.

When it comes to domestic abuse it seems to me that the police can't stop it, the church – on any side – can't stop it, social services can't stop it; they can only control it to some degree. The only person that can stop it is you. I've learned to walk away.

I want to set standards of behaviour that they should follow, and I'm definitely seeing that happen. My son is now starting to walk away from trouble, and that makes me very proud.

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