A face from the past

Mike Guilfoyle
Monday, 3 July 2017

I recently read an article on current best practice in the delivery of domestic abuse programmes for men under supervision in the Probation Journal. I remembered my supervisory contact with Roland (not his real name) who was assessed at the pre-sentence report stage as a suitable candidate for an IDAP programme following his conviction for assaulting his partner. (IDAP was a nationally-accredited community-based group work programme designed to reduce re-offending by adult male domestic violence offenders).

Arrangements had been made for Roland to engage in one-to-one pre-group work with myself. A three-way meeting had been convened so that one of the group work facilitators could meet with the perpetrator and the supervising probation officer to further explore the demands and challenges such group work presented.

Just prior to the meeting taking place, much to my chagrin, Roland left a message explaining that he would be unable to attend and did not offer much by way of explanation. In the circumstances, my group work colleague had arranged separate meetings for other potential IDAP referrals and it was clear that short of a compelling reason, his place on the next group work programme was in some jeopardy.

At our next meeting, I sensed Roland's ambivalence to participating in such a programme (the missed appointment was satisfactorily explained). His waning commitment to the community sentence needed to be better explored and assessed against the safety and well-being of his partner and their children.

The role of the women safety officer (WSO) was to ensure that such concerns were adequately addressed and integrated within the wider safety planning that shaped the approach to domestic violence offenders and also afforded some recognised protective measures to safeguard partners in such relationships. I spoke to the WSO and picked up that there remained some pertinent concerns that would need to be addressed if the order was not to be returned to court for possible breach action and broached these with Roland over this period.  I opted to undertake a home visit and on arrival, Roland was fulsomely hospitable.

It became apparent that some deeply embedded cultural resistance to stepping outside his role as the family breadwinner and acknowledging that he could not see himself as a 'an abusive husband' and 'neglectful father' to his children (other family members were not present during this home visit) and for a while he became quite anguished during our meeting.

Before I left the address, Roland asked if it was 'Ok' to share with me that as a child he had experienced what he termed 'hard treatment' from his own father and had become inured to the regular beatings that he received. I sat with him longer than anticipated as this moment of painful self-disclosure merited time to absorb and contain and we then drank a distinctly bracing non-intoxicating drink whose after taste remained with me for some while!

Another three-way meeting was arranged at the behest of my group work colleague. I thought it would be unrealistic to imagine that he could sustain his commitment to the group without wanting to convey any doubtful misgivings. But Roland did, to my relief, eventually complete the group work programme, but regrettably the post -group three-way meeting was this time cancelled at short notice by my colleague. Yet, even this motivational setback was insufficient to dull the real sense of personal achievement, harm reduction and developmental learning that had taken place over this supervisory period. Although there remained ongoing domestic pressures, the order was successfully concluded without any recorded further incidents or offending.

At the time, due to workload pressures, I had not given much further thought to Roland as once the community sentence had expired there was limited scope for any potential further voluntary involvement (although safety planning for partners remained more open-ended).

It was when I was listening to the recent news of the fire at Grenfell Tower, that I again reflected on my past home visit and wondered with a heavy heart, as I remembered walking towards the nearby Underground Station catching sight of Roland waving from his window, whether he was one of those whose families were so tragically lost on that fateful day.  

Mike Guilfoyle is a retired probation officer.

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