COUNCIL Sutton LBC
AWARD LGC Awards 2006
When it comes to helping children who have been witnesses or victims of domestic violence, Sutton LBC has found a multi-agency approach is crucial.
The winner of this year's LGC Innovation award, Sutton is the first and only UK council to use the Community Group Treatment Programme model, which originated in Canada about 18 years ago. The 12-week scheme is delivered to children aged four to 16 with the involvement of many local agencies such as mental health services, health visitors, social services, school nurses, the probation service and voluntary organisations.
Stronger Families Project co-ordinator Linda Fynn, says partnership has been the key. She says: 'With the multi-agency approach everyone is involved and domestic violence becomes everyone's problem rather than no one's problem.'
She adds that involving people from different agencies also makes them more aware of the issues. 'That's why we have seen an increase in referrals, for example from education; more teachers phone up about children they are worried about.'
According to the council, on average, three to five pupils in every classroom live in a violent home, which has an adverse on their achievement. And working collaboratively helps staff to motivate students into new patterns of thought and behaviour.
The programme is delivered to about 80 children per year and costs£363 per child. Participants are divided into age-specific groups which work on issues such as understanding abuse, reducing self blame, safety planning and managing appropriate and inappropriate expressions of emotion.
A vital component of the scheme is teaching children how to make safe choices for personal protection. It also gives them opportunities to deal with their feelings constructively, through discussions around power and control in relationships.
Mothers are encouraged to attend a parallel programme, which usually starts one week before their children attend the first session. 'Some mums don't know how the violence has affected their child, which can be painful,' explains Ms Fynn. 'Following the programme one week in advance gives them time to process what is going on and help them be strong enough to support their children.'
Sutton's approach has been endorsed as an example of best practice by both the Women's Aid Federation of England and the London Domestic Violence Forum. The borough has also been acknowledged in a mayoral consultation on the capital's domestic violence strategy last July as having the experience and expertise to enable the programme to be extended across all 33 London boroughs.
'All mums and kids say they don't want the programme to end,' Ms Fynn says. 'Once they overcome the fear of being in the group, they feel supported and listened to.'