Domestic abuse programme not in crisis despite concerns at court

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For almost a decade perpetrators of domestic abuse have been shown the error of their ways by the Caledonian Programme.

The integrated approach to dealing with abusers, which has origins stretching back to the 1980s, was first developed in 2004, became operational in 2011 and is now followed throughout the country as a recognised way to rehabilitate offenders.

Basically the Caledonian System combines a court-ordered programme for men aimed at changing their behaviour with support services for the women and children affected by their crimes.

Rory Macrae, national co-ordinator of the Caledonian system, said: “Domestic abuse is about power and control, and causes untold misery to victims and their children.

“The programme helps men realise they can change the way they think and the feelings they experience which lead to the abusive behaviour in the first place. By doing this men are challenged to accept responsibility for their behaviour and, crucially, change it.”

If an offender is assessed as a suitable candidate for the programme it is used in conjunction with a community payback order, often as an alternative to a custodial sentence, and normally takes two years to complete.

The Caledonian Programme is now commonplace in the workings of Falkirk Sheriff Court, but questions were raised over its performance during a recent remand court when Sheriff John Mundy asked why a particular offender had not been progressing with his Caledonian order.

The response from social workers, stated in open court, was it was due to staffing issues.

This may account for the recent job vacancies for social workers advertised back in June.

An advert for the 37 hours per week, £30,848 to £33,799 posts stated successful candidates would be required to deliver group work programmes for the Forth Valley Accredited Programmes Team and this included the Caledonian Men’s Programme.

The positions were based in Falkirk, but successful candidates would be required to move throughout the Forth Valley area.

The Falkirk Herald contacted Forth Valley Accredited Programmes Team manager David Timpany this week to find out if the programme was indeed struggling to cope due to lack of staff.

Mr Timpany stated there were no such issues at this time and added: “There are no groups and no men who have not been provided for.”

As for the statement made at Falkirk Sheriff Court he said he would need to know more about the individual case to see why the social worker in question said what they did to the Sheriff.

Whatever the situation over staffing levels is, it is obviously hoped the Caledonian Programme can continue to operate in this area.

According to recent Police Scotland figures, there were 53,920 incidents of domestic abuse reported in Scotland between April 1, 2016, and February 28, 2017, and 41,977 of those incidents involved female victims.

This is compared to 2015-16 when 58,104 incidents of domestic abuse were reported.

Figures for the Forth Valley area were revealed at a scrutiny meeting of Falkirk Council in January and show a rise in the number of domestic abuse incidents – 1104 between April 1 and September 30, 2016, compared to 986 over the same period in 2015 for an increase of 12 per cent.

That is why the Caledonian Programme is so important, because it is designed to stop repeat offending.

Delivered in this area by Forth Valley Accredited Programmes Team, Sacro Groupwork Services and Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire Criminal Justice Social Work Services, the programme consists of a course of work lasting two years with men who are deemed suitable. It comprises of preparation and motivation sessions, a group-work programme of twenty-five sessions and post group work.

The Caledonian men’s programme uses a person centred approach coupled with cognitive behavioural techniques in order to encourage men to recognise their abuse and take responsibility for themselves and their relationship with their ex/partners and children.

Working alongside the men’s service, the women’s service provides safety planning, information, advice and emotional support to partners and ex-partners, while the children’s service ensures the needs of the children whose parents are involved with the Caledonian Programme are met and their rights upheld.

Working in this manner, the Caledonian system is an effective way of reducing the risk of harm from the man and increasing the safety of women and children.

Last November an independent evaluation of the Caledonian system found it made women feel safer when their partners took part in the programme and this resulted in the Scottish Government committing an extra £360,000 to expand services and improve staff training.

Justice Secretary and Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson stated at the time the Caledonian programme was delivering a vital service, one he hoped would continue.

He said: “It is vital we provide programmes like the Caledonian system to challenge abusive behaviour in relationships effectively, prevent further abuse and change violent behavioural patterns.

“We must keep reviewing how we support victims of abuse and deliver successful ways to stop perpetrators.”