Over the past month, the Family Peace Initiative underwent a huge transformation, switching all of our services to an online format. I will briefly share a bit of what has been learned as we jumped into the water, headfirst, believing we must do this to provide needed services and ultimately protect victims during this pandemic. With courts shutting down and many services shuttering, we knew we might be the ONLY service with an opportunity to keep contact with those who batter. Ultimately, we have arrived on the other side of a transformation that would have never occurred without the existence of the coronavirus. Here are some of our findings and general thoughts. I hope you find them helpful.
1) Domestic violence is dangerous...period. Any change to an intervention approach, no matter how positive, is bound to have the potential of increasing risk in certain circumstances. Years ago, when the topic of changing laws to mandatory arrest were being debated, some well-meaning professionals raised arguments that it would endanger some victims, and there would be backlash. Others argued that while that would happen, we must move forward to create more protection for the majority of victims. Laws were passed, and both things happened. When it comes to making changes in serving those who batter, we were again faced with this same dilemma. Moving to tele-video was likely going to create some additional risks for some victims, and we wanted to do everything we could to reduce those risks. However, given the circumstances, such a switch also had the potential to create greater safety for many. Our findings from discussing this with the partners and victims of our participants: providing tele-video BIP groups is important for their safety, overall. The gratitude expressed by victims and partners overwhelmingly validates this.
However, given the circumstances, such a switch also had the potential to create greater safety for many.
2) Relationships are the deal: We have long believed in the power of the relationship. We guessed that our heavy focus on relationships and connection would be an asset in this transition to virtual groups. It could be that individual facilitators and programs that do not focus heavily on relationships and connection will not have the same positive transition to virtual services. Our findings: Facilitators who can foster powerful, connected relationships with their participants can do amazing groups, live or through tele-video. Those facilitators who struggle to connect will struggle in whatever format they use.
3) Adjustments had to happen: Our facilitators are now mastering the format, have developed new ways to present the material online, and have acclimated to the different challenges in facilitating online. Our finding: The FPI Curriculum fits well with both live and teleconferencing groups. I was worried about that initially.
4) Participants continue to be thankful to maintain connection. It is magic to see a group support each other from the comfort of their own home, cars, garages, porches and closets. Our finding: This connection with participants is critical in the current isolated environment.
A few months ago, we believed tele-video groups could not effectively be done safely. One month ago, we believed that to not try it created too much risk.
5) Finally, we have a lot to learn and it is best for all of us to not pretend that any of us have all the answers. As a profession, we must be willing to grow--even though there are known risks. Well-meaning professionals can put victims in danger even while arguing for victim safety. A few months ago, we believed tele-video groups could not effectively be done safely. One month ago, we believed that to not try it created too much risk: discontinuing our groups would decrease the support and engagement with those who batter and endanger victims. We need to give each other grace and applaud each other in finding better ways to provide tele-video services. Our finding: experience during this last month has validated tele-video groups can be effective as an alternative when face-to-face groups are not a viable option.
Please note: Our findings are based on the use of the Family Peace Initiative’s Professional Facilitator’s Guide, which is our trauma-focused curriculum to intervene with those who batter. In addition, the facilitators implementing our tele-video groups are highly trained in our approach. These are important variables related to our findings. We caution generalizing our findings to other BIP curriculum or approaches.