Case Study: North Derbyshire Domestic Abuse Outreach Services Children and Young Peopleís Outreach Service
A 14 year old male was referred by his school. The concerns were:
- Violent outbursts and aggressive, defiant behaviour towards staff and pupils.
- He was being excluded from lessons on a regular basis.
- He was involved in anti social behaviour out of school, had been hanging around on street corners with 'wrong crowd' - had warnings from the police.
- He would not engage in any organised activities out of school.
- He would not accept any responsibility for his behaviour and the consequences.
- He had a very difficult relationship with his mum who said she 'just didn't know what to do with him anymore'.
The young person had lived with domestic abuse for a number of years in the past (from his mumís former partner) but this had been about six years previously.
He was very defensive when we first met and was not sure as to why he had been referred to me, he said emphatically that he was 'over it' and 'itís not affected me' and made it clear he did not want to or need talk about the domestic abuse he had witnessed.
I explained my role and that it was child led support and as such he would always be in control and empowered to choose if and when he wanted to talk about his experiences of domestic abuse.... The elephant that had been sat in his room for years had finally been acknowledged!!!
I knew I would have to use a creative approach to keep him engaged until the time that enough trust had been built for him to feel safe to talk to me. As he left the room he turned and said 'You are coming again aren't you?'!
Following completing an assessment, over the next few meetings I discovered he wanted to change his behaviour, he was sick of getting in trouble at school and wanted a better relationship with his mum, but at that time he did not understand or acknowledge his role in it.
Football was his passion but did not feel 'good enough' or confident enough to attempt a try out for a team to play locally, he felt sure no one would want him.
Over the next few months I arranged free tickets for Chesterfield matches for him and his dad who he was eager to see more of. I arranged for him to take football lessons in the community and then facilitated a meeting with the volunteer leader (who was more than happy to offer his support and we kept in constant contact with each other throughout the early weeks) as I believed the young persons self esteem could be built by his helping others to learn at the same time - an intervention that has been very successful with other young people. He became involved in the volunteer work helping young children learn football skills after school and became a trusted member of the volunteer team. The feedback was that he was punctual, polite, he engaged well with children and adults a like, and followed instructions very well. He was well respected. He expressed to me how much he enjoyed being a role model to the young children although found it strange for children to be calling him 'sir' and listening to what he said and copying what he showed them!
I was also involved in talking to the relevant teachers, year heads and the deputy head who had struggled with his defiant behaviour. I explained why some young people who have witnessed domestic abuse fear making mistakes so much because of what 'making a mistake' has meant for them or their loved one in the past, so it is easier for them to just disengage or disrupt the lesson rather than face the possibility of getting it wrong. The teachers were interested to know how the tiniest difference in their approach towards someone who had experienced domestic abuse could have a massive impact on their behaviour.
Feedback from the school at this time was that his behaviour and attitude were improving and he was being sent out of fewer lessons. His relationship with his mum was improving too.
Then one day he contacted me and said he needed to see me urgently.
We met up and what followed can only be described as a tsunami of emotion pouring out of him as he finally told me of the horrors he had witnessed as a child whilst his mum was being physically abused on a regular basis. He was so frightened that he slept with a baseball bat under his bed! He tried to protect his mum on numerous occasions and as a result had been caught up in the physical abuse leaving him with both physical and mental scars.
This was the first time he had ever had the chance to talk about what had happened and have his feelings validated and heard in a safe place.
It was nonetheless very difficult for him to share his experiences with me as it brought up all the pain for him again. I reiterated again that this had not been his fault or his choice, nor his responsibility as a very young child to protect his mum.
This was a major breakthrough for this young person. We have since been able to look at the journey he has made and what has made the difference (particularly his increased self awareness and ability to take responsibility for his choices) therefore preparing him for 'bumps in the road' to come.
- He has been selected to represent the school at the Derbyshire Youth Forum and he has been a school gate monitor.
- He has successfully tried out with and now plays for a local football team.
- He has joined the Sea Cadets.
- He has changed his group of friends.
- He is no longer involved in Anti Social Behaviour.
- His relationship with his mum has very much improved due to the fact that they are now able, for the first time, to talk about their experiences of domestic abuse together. Mums words to me were: 'He is a different child, he's wonderful. His behaviour and attitude towards me has really changed'
- No more angry outbursts at school.
- His education has improved as the number of lessons he is being excluded from has reduced dramatically.
- His now has the ability to recognise that he has choices and responsibilities and the impact of those on his life.
- His self esteem has been raised
- His confidence has grown.
- His self belief has readjusted.
- His self awareness and understanding regarding his feelings has grown.
- He recognises without doubt that the domestic abuse he witnessed was not his fault and he no longer wants it to affect his life
School have been very pleased at the outcome. I referred him to a male mentor recently who I believe for the first time offered a positive male role model. That seems to be working well.
As a direct result of the impact the children's outreach work has had on this young person (and others within school) the school have just funded an educator program through 'extended schools' to enable us to raise the awareness of domestic abuse and offer support to all year 9 and year 10 children in the school.
This has been a long process for this young person: currently about 10 months of intervention. A lot of walls had to be dismantled sometimes brick by brick, but it has been a humbling experience to see his bravery and growth.
I once described him as a big black cloud full of thunder and rage, and today he is a big white cloud with the sun shining through him. His whole demeanour and attitude has changed.
I asked him once what has made the difference he said... 'Knowing for the first time there was someone there just for me who understands'.
Deborah Green, Children and Young Peopleís Domestic Abuse Outreach Worker