This week’s ACT Budget included a much-needed extension of funding for a program that has shown real results in changing controlling and coercive behaviour that is at the core of domestic and family violence.
Room4Change is a program for men who want to stop using violence and controlling behaviours, delivered by Domestic Violence Crisis Service with funding that had been due to expire in 2019. Mirjana Wilson, CEO of DVCS, was very happy to hear that the program will be fully funded by the ACT Government for another four years.
The program provides a non-judgemental space, in a voluntary program, for men to talk with trained counsellors in a men’s group. During the program, they come to understand the harm that their controlling and coercive behaviour causes. There is also a residential component, providing safety and time out for their family while the men are making changes and finding new ways to respond to disagreements within family relationships. Men can spend nine to twelve months participating in the program.
DVCS also work with the women and children involved, providing case management that wraps around the whole family. They ensure that the female partner knows what might be coming up next in the program and talk through how he might respond or feel challenged by that, and can adjust to how he might react differently compared to his past responses. More than 64 children have also been supported through the men’s involvement in Room4Change.
The way the program is delivered by DVCS is key to its success so far. “It’s a holistic program, not just a group for men to attend,” Ms Wilson said.
“We’re coming at it from a depth of experience about the impact on women and children (of domestic and family violence). It’s about attention to safety and risk management – knowing the red flags. We are holding the experiences of the women and children,” Ms Wilson said.
This whole-of-family approach means that men are willing to participate because they know that “our family is being supported and worked with”, said Ms Wilson. She said that women receiving case management and support from DVCS while their partners were in Room4Change “felt believed, felt valued, they felt safe to disclose” their experiences. For the men, the most common response was that it “opened their eyes to the harm they’ve been causing”, Ms Wilson said.
The evaluation of the program is also different to the way other behaviour change programs have been evaluated. Dr Jason Payne, a senior lecturer in criminology at the Australian National University, has completed an interim report on the program so far, and is expected to publish a full evaluation at the end of 2019. Results so far show that the men’s attitudes have changed.
“Evaluation is not about recidivism. Women and children are at the centre of this work. It’s about managing their safety. We want to see attitudinal change,” Ms Wilson said.
This is because it is the underlying attitudes that ultimately drive behaviours.
But it is not just the participants in the Room4Change program who need to make changes to attitudes and behaviours. Some men have returned to the program to ask for help when they encountered beliefs in their community that were at odds with what they had learned during the program. For example, men have said that friends or family members made comments that reinforced their previous beliefs that their violence or controlling behaviour had been an acceptable response to the woman’s behaviour.
This is why Ms Wilson said it is important that the entire community is working to change how we see domestic and family violence, such as through the primary prevention resources provided by Our Watch, or through Respectful Relationships education.