Caledonian System Evaluation: Analysis of a programme for tackling domestic abuse in Scotland

Evaluation of the Caledonian System: a programme to tackle domestic abuse in Scotland.

4. Perceived impacts on women and children

Key findings

  • The monitoring data provides only a partial picture of changes in the risk faced by women over time. However, there was a strong belief among women interviewed for the evaluation that the Women's Service, and the fact that it works together with the Men's Programme as a system, had both contributed significantly to making them safer.
  • Key elements of the System that women identified as enhancing their safety were: the advice and support they received around safety planning; support and encouragement to contact the police about breaches of no-contact orders; and being better able to keep track of men's behaviour because of their involvement with the Men's Programme.
  • Staff and stakeholders also highlighted the ability of the System to provide women with a broader perspective on their partners' behaviour which could help them make more informed choices about the future of their relationships. For women with particularly controlling partners, being able to coordinate appointments with Men's Workers also helped Women's Workers support women safely (by enabling them to see women while their partners were with their Case Managers).
  • Even when it was thought that the man's behaviour had not changed, these aspects of the System were viewed as enhancing women's safety.
  • Other perceived benefits (from the Women's Service in particular) included: improved self-confidence; improved physical health; reductions in substance use; reductions in women's own criminal behaviour; and positive impacts on income and work.
  • Women identified a range of positive benefits for children, from increased safety, to changes in problem behaviour, to increased emotional and mental wellbeing. Where children had received support directly from Caledonian Children's or Women's Workers, this was viewed very positively by women. However, there was some evidence of a gap in services available to work directly with children around domestic abuse.
  • Men and women reported the ways in which they felt the Caledonian System had made them better parents: by improving their confidence (women), and by increasing their understanding of the impact of partner abuse on children and equipping them with skills to better control their reactions to their children and (ex) partners (men).

4.1 Introduction

This chapter examines the impact of the Caledonian System on women and children. It draws particularly on the accounts of women interviewed for the evaluation, supplemented by views from men (particularly on any changes to their own parenting), staff, and monitoring data where possible.

As discussed earlier in this report, the available data cannot be used to robustly quantify the impact of the Caledonian System on women and children (particularly given the lack of a control group). The focus of this chapter is therefore primarily on perceived impacts and on exploring the ways in which different elements of the Caledonian System - Men's Programme, Women's Service and Children's Service - may impact on the lives of women and children affected by domestic abuse. It should be read together with Chapter 5, on perceived impacts on men, since the Men's Programme is also a key mechanism by which the Caledonian System aims to improve the lives of women and children.

4.2 Perceived impacts on safety

Ensuring women and children's physical safety is the central priority of the Caledonian System. All three elements of the System - and the way in which they work together - are intended to manage risk of harm to women and children more effectively. The man's programme seeks to change men's behaviour to reduce their future risk. The Women's Service provides support and advice to women together with safety planning, risk assessment and advocacy. And the Children's Service works with other agencies to ensure a plan is in place to reduce the impact of domestic abuse on children's lives. At the same time, regular client liaison meetings (at least every three weeks) between the Women's and Men's Workers aim to facilitate information sharing and joint decision making, with women and children's safety at the heart of this.

The women's monitoring data includes a field at Pre-group, Group and Maintenance stage for Women's Workers to record their professional assessment of the level of risk faced by the woman at that stage. This is based not only on the risk presented by their (ex) partner but also the women's circumstances (for example, homelessness or pregnancy which increase risk) and support network. Although there is some evidence from this data of women moving from 'heightened' risk at Pre-group to 'stable' at Group or Maintenance stage (Table 4.1), the very high proportion of women for whom this information is not available at Group or Maintenance stage means it provides a very partial picture of changes in the risk faced by women over time. Similarly, although the monitoring data includes a field for whether or not women feel they 'know more ways to plan for my own safety' at the end of Maintenance stage, as this is only completed for a very small proportion of the women supported by Caledonian (46 out of the 598 women recorded as initially accepting the programme in the data to mid-April 2016), its usefulness as an outcome measure is limited (although the vast majority of those for whom this data was recorded did feel they knew more about safety planning).

Table 4.1: Changes in assessment of risk to women over time: assessment of risk to women at Group and Maintenance Stage, by assessment of risk at Pre-Group

Assessment at Pre-group stage
Critical 1
Heightened % Stable %
Assessment at Group
Critical - 2% 1%
Heightened - 30% 5%
Stable - 16% 38%
Unknown/missing - 53% 58%
Assessment at Maintenance
Critical - 1% 0%
Heightened - 13% 1%
Stable - 16% 25%
Unknown/missing - 71% 74%
Base (number with this assessment at pre-group ) 14 101 228

Notes to table:
1 Given the very small number of cases recorded as 'critical' at pre-group, these figures are not shown.

However, there was a strong belief across the women interviewed for this study that the Caledonian System had helped them and their children feel safer. Even when women also referenced external and individual factors - particularly the impact of no-contact court orders and separating from or moving away from their partner - as contributing to their feeling safer, they believed the Caledonian System had also contributed significantly. The Women's Service and the fact that it works together with the Men's Programme as a 'system' were both seen as important. In particular, women attributed feeling safer to:

  • Safety planning: Women described receiving detailed and wide-ranging advice and support around safety planning from their Women's Worker, covering how to handle specific situations (like meeting their partner in public or what to do if they breach a no-contact order), how to keep their home secure, and issues around phones and who to contact in case of safety issues. Women's Workers also provided practical support - for example, getting locks changed, providing panic alarms, and helping them move to safer accommodation. Stakeholders interviewed for this study were also extremely positive about the safety planning provided by Caledonian Women's Workers, describing it as the ' gold standard'.
  • Support and encouragement to report breaches of no-contact orders, when previously women might have been concerned this would appear an over-reaction:

She [Women's Worker] never forced me to do it, but she would encourage me to do it in such a way that, telling me what's right and what's wrong. And I think women need that, because it, I know that he phoned and I should say he's phoned me, [but] I feel like it's childish, when it is not because it's a part of domestic abuse. But a lot of women don't know that.

(Women's Service participant 8)

  • Being better able to keep track of men's behaviour: women's sense of safety was enhanced both by a general sense that men were more closely monitored while they were on the Men's Programme than they otherwise would be, and by being kept informed about specific concerns arising during the time their (ex) partner was on the Men's Programme.

I then knew to be careful in my surroundings, like "he didn't have a good day today, he's really angry." (…) Avoiding situations, which kept me safer, I knew what kind of mood he was in.

(Women's Service participant 13)

Although women interviewed for the evaluation did not generally identify men's behaviour change as a result of the Men's Programme as a factor in their feeling safer, the fact that women and men were seen as part of the same system was seen as important. For example, one woman, who continued to experience safety issues due to her ex-partners ' erratic' behaviour, nonetheless said she felt safer than she did previously as a result of: extensive safety planning discussions with her Women's Worker; a belief that her ex-partner knew any breach of his no-contact order would be reported via her Women's Worker (which she felt had made him more compliant); and the fact that she was kept informed if Caledonian staff had any reason to think he might pose an increased risk. This woman's experience confirms the view, also expressed by Caledonian staff, that even if the Men's Programme does not lead to lasting behaviour change for the man, the Caledonian System can still lead to significant positive change for women (although to the extent that this depends on the man being actively managed by the Men's Programme, it is not clear whether or not some of these positive impacts on safety outlast the programme).

Staff also highlighted examples where they believed the 'systems approach' of Caledonian had kept women and children safer. Being able to provide women with information about men's behaviour on the Men's Programme could help women to make 'informed choices' about their relationship - a view confirmed by a stakeholder interviewee, who suggested that hearing Caledonian workers' views on how willing the man is to change gave women a broader perspective on men's behaviour. At the same time, being able to coordinate with the man's service was described by staff as vital, when women had particularly controlling partners, to making it possible to support them safely in the first place:

When she was getting the information from us about him not changing and things like that, I think that helped her make informed choices. I don't think any of the other services … she would have got that, only the system approach to the Caledonian.

(Women's Worker)

It wasn't safe for me to text her or organise anything, appointments … The Men's Worker would phone me when he came so I knew it was safe to see her, and he would phone me when he left so I needed to go away.

(Women's Worker)

However, the wider Criminal Justice System was not always viewed by participants and staff as operating effectively to keep women and children safe. For example, one woman reported that her ex-partner had reoffended multiple times since being on Caledonian and questioned how many times he might be able to reoffend before he was incarcerated:

His worker called him back to court, but he just got put back on the programme again. So I was like kind of, at that point I was questioning, well wait a minute, how many times can they reoffend before the judge will go, "well wait a minute, you got on this programme, you've offended again and again?"

(Women's Service participant 12)

It is also perhaps worth noting that, in spite of evidence from the views of both women and staff that the 'systems approach' of Caledonian can contribute to keeping women safer, there was some variation in the ability of Men's Workers across Hubs to comment on what, if any, impact Caledonian was having for women or children in their area. This may be worth exploring further with Hubs - given the overall focus on keeping women safe, what level of understanding should Men's workers be expected to have about the impact of the System for women and children? And if there are variations in levels of understanding, why is this? Does it reflect differences in local working practices, team structures, or something else?

4.3 Wider perceived impacts on women

Domestic abuse can have devastating impacts on women, extending well beyond any immediate physical harm. The Caledonian Women's Service is designed not only to enhance their physical safety, but also to help improve women's mental and emotional wellbeing (although physical safety is also related to psychological wellbeing - as the Women's Manual notes, "a woman who finds it difficult to function in her life because of the psychological effects of the abuse she has experienced is far more likely to continue or return to a violent relationship").

Women interviewed for this evaluation identified a wide range of broader positive impacts they believed had resulted from their involvement with the Caledonian System, including:

  • Improved self-confidence. The support and encouragement Women's Workers had provided to women was described as having a ' life changing' impact on their self-esteem and confidence. In addition to the general benefit of having someone to talk to, women also described the impact of discussions aimed at helping them to recognise and understand the nature of the abuse they had experienced.

That's just, what they tell you, "it's not your fault, you didn't deserve that." And you get yourself into thinking that, it's not your fault and you just take control because you've not got that in the back of your head … It's more about him, and nothing that I did deserved what happened to me basically.

(Women's Service participant 19)

Staff reported that their ability to help women understand the abuse they have experienced was also supported by the 'systems approach' of Caledonian - the very fact that the man was on the man's programme meant it was harder for women to deny or rationalise the abuse they had experienced.

  • Improved physical health. In addition to impacts on self-confidence and associated benefits for mental wellbeing, women also cited improvements in physical health conditions exacerbated by stress. In part, these improvements were attributed to changes in relationship status, but the support and advice they had received from Women's Workers was also seen as key. This had included support to attend GP appointments and help with diet planning. There was also a general perception that women were better able to look after both their physical and mental health as a result of the support they had received from the Women's Service:

Engaging with doctors' appointments when I've got something that I need to correct because my attitude before was "well who cares, it doesn't really matter, I don't care, because my life's only going to last so long anyway …." Terrible attitude, and that's completely changed. I can see a real future now.

(Women's Service participant 7)

Where women believed that the Men's Programme had improved their partner's behaviour, this was also seen as helping to reduce women's own stress levels.

  • Reductions in substance use. One woman felt that the relationship she had built up with her Woman's worker had been a key factor in working through her problems with alcohol, even though she also had a dedicated alcohol worker who provided more specific advice.
  • Reductions in women's own criminal behaviour. Another woman attributed her decision to stop engaging in petty theft to the support she had received from her Woman's worker, who had given her a sense of ' pride and worth and "I don't need to do that"'.
  • Impacts on income and work, resulting both from specific support from Women's Workers (for example, helping a woman appeal a decision to remove benefits) and the more general impact of the changes to their self-esteem resulting from involvement with the Women's Service, which had led to them being in a position to make a career change.

Staff highlighted what they viewed as the key differences between the Caledonian System and other services working with women who have experienced domestic abuse, including: seeing women in their homes, keeping their cases open for at least two years, and an ethos of holding the man accountable rather than seeing women as solely responsible for children's safety. There was a perception that being able to offer all of these elements together, in addition to working in close collaboration with the Men's Programme, made the Caledonian System uniquely well-equipped to meet women's needs.

4.4 Perceived impacts on children and parenting

Although children themselves were not interviewed as part of this evaluation (see discussion of the reasons for this in section 1.5.4, above), interviews with women, men, staff and stakeholders explored their perceptions of the impact of the Caledonian System on children affected by domestic abuse. In addition to improving children's safety (which women themselves attributed primarily to the safety planning advice they had received), interviewees reported a range of further positive impacts on children's behaviour and on their mental health and wellbeing.

Women described the ways in which they believed experience of domestic abuse had manifested in violence and other forms of problem behaviour by their children (particularly boys). In some cases, children were receiving direct support from Caledonian Children's or Women's Workers to address these issues which was reported to have been extremely helpful:

It's absolutely perfect, they're fantastic for each other. (…) He listens for her, which I've never seen him do for anybody else. (…) He's calmed down a lot … I can speak to him now and he'll listen rather than blurt out first, because normally he used to shout at you or curse or he wouldn't sit and speak to you, he would blow before sitting down and speaking to you, but now if I use the words that [Children's Worker] uses, he will sit down and he will listen.

(Women's Service participant 5)

In addition to specific problem behaviour, women also described the ongoing impact of abuse on their children's emotional and mental wellbeing. Interviewees identified various ways in which they believed the Caledonian System was helping to address this, including:

  • Providing children with someone to talk to. This was viewed as 'invaluable' by one stakeholder (who worked in an area where there was direct work with children). In terms of whether or not Children's Workers need to work with children directly, it is worth noting that one Children's Worker reported finding that she was the only person many children had discussed their experience of domestic abuse with. Stakeholders also commented that other domestic violence services do not always provide a service to help children talk about their experiences and identify the support they need. Moreover, women's interviews highlighted cases where women felt that it had taken too long to find a service able to work directly with their child, even with support from the Women's or Children's Worker. And in some cases, women specifically indicated a desire for the Children's Worker to work directly with their children.

This may indicate a gap in some areas around services that work directly with children affected by domestic abuse - something the Caledonian System may need to review when considering the future role of the Children's Worker.

  • Raising awareness of abuse among other services. Both women and staff gave examples where Caledonian Children's Workers had attended meetings at children's schools, for example. In addition to helping explain children's situations (which could be helpful where women themselves were uncomfortable or lacked the confidence to do so), they could also provide advice about how to support them - for example, advising a school to check how a child's weekend had been when they had regular (sometimes difficult) contact meetings with their father at the weekend.
  • Improving the parenting skills of men and women. For women, the role of their Women's Workers in re-building their confidence as mothers was viewed as key in this respect. Related to this was a belief that 'the programme has helped them by helping me', by making women feel safer and more confident in general. For men, increasing their understanding of the impact of partner abuse on children, equipping them with skills to better control their reactions in general, and improving their relationship with their partner or ex-partner were all seen as contributing to them being better parents.

It's making me a better person round about my kids and learning to enjoy life with the kids (…) The kids are certainly appreciating it, you can see it in them. (…) I'm certainly a lot more relaxed and I know when things are winding me up, I know when to walk away and come back, take a breather as the Caledonian calls it. Certainly it's got more relaxed atmosphere in my own house as well with me and my wife.

(Men's Programme participant L)

However, women interviewed did not always believe that their (ex) partner's parenting had improved at all. Although staff suggested that the fathering module was one of the components of the Men's Programme that often had the biggest impact when men were willing and able to engage with it, women wanted to see a greater focus on fathering skills (something which may, in part, reflect a lack of knowledge among women of exactly what is covered in the Men's Programme - discussed below, 4.5). Indeed, in spite of the positive impacts on children reported above, there was a perception among women that both the Caledonian System and the wider system that works with families affected by abuse should have more of a focus on the impact of abuse on children:

I feel that it's always getting everything done for the woman and never the child. (…) Even in the court cases it's like "you done this to do the woman, you done this to the woman". But, what about that child that was present? (…) So, maybe like a group session about how the man affects a child, something like that. There might be, but I've never heard that they have done it.

(Women's Service participant 4)

4.5 Suggestions for development or improvement

Overall, women themselves felt the Women's Service worked well and had relatively few suggestions for improving it. Their main suggestions were:

  • To build in group work elements for women as well as men, either with other Caledonian women specifically, or through facilitating access to something like the 'Survive and Thrive' course for abuse survivors.
  • To build in more emotional or psychological support for women. While the support provided by Women's Workers was greatly appreciated, it was suggested that they tend to focus more on practical advice and that in some cases women would have appreciated more advice around emotional or psychological issues (around moving on from abusive relationships in particular).

This latter suggestion was also supported by comments from some Women's Workers, who suggested that more input from psychology services would be helpful as both Men's and Women's Workers deal with a lot of personality disorders and psychological issues.

Women also had suggestions about improvements to the wider Caledonian System, including:

  • Incorporating a stronger focus on/more support for children. As noted above, there was a perception that it had taken too long in some cases to get professional support to help children deal with the impact of abuse. There was a desire both for more direct input from the Children's Worker and for the Men's Programme to focus more on fathering. However, given that there is in fact a whole module around 'Children and fathers', this latter comment may be more a reflection of the next point.
  • More information for women about what is happening on the Men's Programme. Where women had been informed about what was happening with their partner on the Men's Programme, this was viewed as extremely helpful (see 4.2, above). However, women's comments suggest that, in some cases, they feel this could happen more regularly or more systematically:

It would be good for the women to have, not an in-depth or giving us any personal information, but an overview of what they're working on in group so we can expect when that escalation happens. (…) even if it is just a sheet of paper with the sub headings of what they're doing, I think that's really important. (…) just let us know what they're working on so we can expect if there is any backlash from it.

(Women's Service participant 1)


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