Doing outreach work with children - A discussion of work done at Nottinghamshire Domestic Violence Forum
How to teach a sensitive topic: 'Motivational techniques and positive language and statements not only demonstrate respectful role modelling but actually are effective in generating group engagement and positive outcomes.'
If you were asked: 'Why does domestic violence happen?', what would you say?
If you were asked: 'Is it ok for a man to hit his partner if she was having fun with another man?', what would you answer?
If a child disclosed that they were living with domestic violence, what would you do?
It is very important for children and young people to know that there are no excuses for domestic violence, that it is purposeful abuse, that it's OK to talk to someone and that there are support services that could help.
Nottinghamshire Domestic Violence Forum has been delivering domestic violence awareness project for children and young people since 2001, largely in partnership with Women's Aid organisations.
Most of this work is done in Primary Schools with Year 5 and Year 6 classes (9 to 11 year olds). We deliver to all Year groups in Secondary Schools and also run projects in youth clubs, youth offending schemes, Black Asian Minority Ethnic & Refugee groups, Lesbian, Gay Bisexual & Transgender groups and disabled young people's groups.
The main information to cover in any project, no matter how big or small the project, is to provide the young people with a good understanding about what domestic violence is, the effect it can have on children and young people, challenging the excuses used to justify domestic violence and information about support services.
The standard project for a Primary School Year 5 class consists of four 2-hours sessions. We call the project 'The Healthy Relationships Project'. The class will get involved in exercises to examine children's stories of living with domestic violence, how it affected them, who they told and what happened as a result of this disclosure. They also explore gender inequality and stereotypes, the links between abusive beliefs and abusive behaviour, and learn about respectful relationships. They then channel their learning into creative work, for example poster making and creative writing (lyrics, poems and stories).
We receive very positive feedback from children and young people who take part in these projects. Some children disclose that they have previously lived with domestic violence. Children who are living with domestic violence are encouraged to talk to someone in private and not to disclose in the large group. On average 3 children in a class of 30 are likely to be living with domestic violence. On average we get 3 children in a class of 30 disclosing having lived with domestic violence in the past but that they are now are free of it.
Projects we deliver to young people in their teens will also often involve some creative work. We have worked with young people on a video drama called 'Fly on the Wall', produced information packs about domestic violence for young people which are now being disseminated nationally. We have, with young people, done graffiti work, designed transfers for stock cars with messages to challenge domestic violence and promote healthy relationships, a fashion show, and involved young people in consultation for poster designs and website designs. The Respect Not Fear website (www.repsectnotfear.co.uk) is for young people about relationships. In its first year, it received over 12,000 visits.
Occasionally facilitators will come across challenging situations with young people. Facilitators therefore acquire skills for responding to disclosures and being attentive to the sensitivity of issues this subject can bring up for individuals, managing a range of behavioural issues, challenging direct abusive behaviour and discrimination such as sexism, racism and homophobia. Making clear the boundaries and guidelines for a group agreement is essential for helping groups run as smoothly as they can. Facilitators also require a CRB check (Criminal Records Bureau).
Motivational techniques and positive language and statements not only demonstrate respectful role modelling but actually are effective in generating group engagement and positive outcomes.
Perhaps the most important aspect of these projects is to challenge the social acceptability of domestic violence. Not only do 1 in 3 men believe that women sometimes deserved to be hit, but the excusing and minimisation of domestic violence still exists throughout social and legal establishments. All too often, drink, drugs and money pressures get used as excuses. We need to continue to find ways to challenge this thinking, and for the children we are working with, to help them understand this too.
We find that at the start of a project that on average 75% of children and young people believe domestic violence to be justified, in that someone must have done something to deserve being physically or emotionally abused. This percentage is in line with wider social attitudes amongst adults. But by the end of the project there is a dramatic shift in attitude where only 10% still think this and 90% say they believe domestic violence is never justified. This is another way we can measure the effectiveness of these projects.
Children and young people who have taken part in these projects have been inspirational. Most have had an appetite to get to know more, have taken the issue seriously and recognise that they are taking in important skills and knowledge for their future. Some have found help, safety and support as a result of the project. Some boys have shifted their beliefs away from derogatory attitudes about women to more respectful beliefs, which hopefully will keep them from engaging in violence against women.
Comments from children and young people about projects they've been involved in:
"The facilitator was polite when he asked people to not mess about. I liked that"
Year 11 male pupil
"I've learnt a lot about domestic violence and know where I can go if I need help"
Year 5 female pupil
"I liked learning about gender stereotypes and learnt the word 'discrimination'. We should not be punished for being girls, but history has been unfair to women and girls and I want to change that"
Year 8 female pupil
"It was the best project we did all year"
Year 9 pupil
"I learnt lots about domestic violence and about how to make an information pack. I feel I have achieved a lot and may help others too"
Young man from the information pack project
"I liked having the chance to talk about these things and be able to say it's wrong. In my country I wouldn't have been allowed to say these things"
Young male asylum seeker
"Two women wrote to me to tell me that they had moved and their children were no longer coming to our school. But they thanked me for putting on the Domestic Violence Awareness Project for the children to take part in because it was the information that the children brought home which helped the women and children move away from the abusers into Women's Aid Refuge and then a new safe home"
Primary School Head Teacher