Forging Violence-Free Futures

24th of April, 2017

People often ask us, “how do we stop family violence?” If only we had an easy answer.

But one thing we do believe is vital to changing our bleak and alarming levels of family violence is breaking the intergenerational cycle, which often sees children and young people who have been exposed to family violence going on to perpetuate those unhealthy relationship behaviours themselves.

Interrupting that cycle requires effective intervention with children and young people. Aviva has been providing specialist children’s services for many years, but young people – from adolescents through to late teenagers – have not been as well supported in the family violence sector; that is particularly true for boys and young men.

Adolescence represents a critical period in which the effects of family violence can have a profound and long-lasting impact on young people’s futures as they form a sense of self, build platonic and intimate relationships, and explore personal boundaries. It therefore also represents a critical period to support young people and help ensure that they are well prepared for the future in the complex area of human relationships.

Thanks to the generous support of the Wayne Francis Charitable Trust, Aviva has been able to recently begin to offer one-one-one support to young people. This supplements the education and awareness-building we have being offering since 2015 via our in-school Healthy Relationship programme. The result is the specialist Aviva Youth Service.

Darragh Fahy has led the development of the Youth Service since November 2016. Darragh was previously employed in Aviva’s ReachOut service for men. It was during that time that he saw the need for support for younger people who were using family violence and being named on Police reports, but who were not being offered any support; the youngest boy named on a Police report and eligible for contact was just 11. With support from Aviva, Darragh began to attempt to engage young men in their pre-teens, early teens and late teens in an attempt to break the intergenerational cycle of violence.

After also becoming involved in the Healthy Relationship programme, Darragh was keen to help develop a more unified and focussed response to young people. Darragh works with two other full-time youth workers, and he and one of his colleagues work closely with the Integrated Safety Response team, supporting young people named on Police reports. Also in the team are two part-time workers who offer Aviva’s Healthy Relationship programme in selected intermediate and secondary schools.

The Healthy Relationships programme, which was first piloted in 2015 with support from the Dublin St Charitable Trust and Youthtown, is going from strength-to-strength says Darragh. “We’ve had the time and resources to build on it and develop it, and we are able to get evaluations from students and teachers after each session – there is really positive feedback.” Schools that have welcomed the programme are finding that it is worth making the space in the timetable for it. Apart from supporting the young people, it is raising awareness and knowledge of family violence amongst teachers of what is actually happening in the lives of some of their students. It is also creating an environment for young people to talk about a subject that is often hidden away.

“We are supporting school teachers and counsellors to deal with issues arising from sessions, and we’ve found that by going into schools we are getting lots of disclosures (of family violence). Now that we have dedicated Youth Workers we can better support those kids. Young people are also another way into the family, and enable us to link up with other family members.”

The programme is now becoming a victim of its own success - demand is outstripping ability to deliver due to limited and short-term resources. In the first six months of 2017 the 25-hour per week team will deliver the programme to 10 classes in four schools.

Since the establishment of a Youth Services team in November 2016, the Youth Workers have developed a range of resources to support delivery of the wider service in a way that will be relevant to young people; this has included developing a dedicated Facebook page and brochure.

“We use different methods to connect with younger people, such as text” says Darragh (because young people will often not answer calls from people they don’t know). “Establishing an initial connection with them out of the office environment is very important. Meeting in a café, or at their home, puts them at ease, and then we can work with them from there onwards. We have a programme of resources for different issues and so we draw on those resources to create a programme for individual needs” says Darragh.

Young people can self-refer, or they can be referred by another organisation. Unlike other Aviva services, Youth Service clients are equally split between male and female, and approximately 80 young people have been in touch with the service since it began.