Early Intervention of Domestic Abuse - Me+You=4Eva, Unique Voice CIC, Bristol

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Families, Parents and Carers
  • General resources
  • Local area early intervention strategies

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Unique Voice CIC

Local authority/local area:

Bristol City Council


The context and rationale

Me+You=4eva is a domestic abuse early intervention project that is presented to young people through the medium of a drama performance and interactive workshops. It explores the importance of healthy relationships and has been successful in raising expectations, tolerance and self esteem amongst young people aged 8-14 years.

Background

Me+You=4eva is an early intervention project, created to raise the awareness of healthy and happy relationships to young people. It was offered to children aged 8- 14 years in mainstream education. Its aim was to regenerate and reinforce positive attitudes, in the hope that early exposure to potential negative experiences would strengthen opinions towards personal relationships both current and in the future. 

This service consists of a 30 minute performance which explores the types of issues and complications that can occur in young people’s relationships. The material was influenced by expert knowledge from the NSPCC and the University of Bristol combined with the artistic method and style of Unique Voice Community Interest Company (CIC). We believe this combination will really give young people the best guidance, advice and support when encountering relationships. 

The performance opens with two young teenagers, Jessica and Joe meeting online and forming a relationship. What starts off as a teen romance quickly spirals dangerously out of control. The piece explores Jessica's troubled relationship with Joe and her attempts at questioning and excusing his behaviour. This results in various forms of abuse. Physical theatre interludes explore Joe’s controlling behaviour and the effect it has on Jessica’s school, home and personal life which her friend Becky desperately attempts to highlight. 

The performance has proven very powerful in schools. Children as young as eight are able to pinpoint the negative control that Jess experiences and readily express that you mustn’t let others hold you back or change the way you are.

As well as the dialogue in the performance being simple and easy to follow, the children can quickly relate to the story because of the character’s use of Facebook and mobile phone texting. In addition to this, stylised physical movements are used in the performance to show the growing elements of control. For example, Jess is portrayed as a doll and with no physical contact Joe controls how she does her hair, when she smiles etc. This is very effective and the children understand almost instantly what is happening and it rules out the need to have what is happening voiced in the script. This then allows the children to figure out what is happening and form their own opinion whilst watching, as well as encouraging them to look more deeply into noticing less obvious forms of control in relationships. 

Overall, children respond very well to having a live, creative, exciting and interesting performance in front of them. Their transfixed faces show that they are absorbing everything that’s going on, and therefore are unknowingly learning. 

After the performance we run an interactive, drama workshop that’s designed to creatively explore the issues raised and collectively solve the problems featured. 

This runs for 45 minutes and is full of energetic and stimulating activities that encourage children to think openly about the subjects of healthy relationships, control and positive and negative behaviour. 

Aims and objectives

The main aims of the workshops are to: 
• Highlight the understanding of young people’s rights, the choices available to them and having the opportunity to voice their views, perceptions, wishes and opinions.
• Strengthen and build confidence levels on self worth and young people’s tolerance and expectations of relationships. 
• Create a safe platform and environment for young people to disclose or report similar situations in their everyday life. 

The workshop is opened with a discussion so that the leader can assess what ideas the children have formed about the performance. What did they see? What went wrong? What characters changed? How do we know they changed? What signs did we see? As a group we then discuss positive and negative behaviour in the characters, who was controlling who and how they were doing it, meeting online and whether it’s a good idea and finally how did we know what was positive and what was negative. 

Following this discussion and when the leader is sure the children are on the right path with their ideas the activities start. Some examples are: 

• Mirroring exercises – pairs facing each other one being the leader and one following then swapping, this gives them an idea of being in control and also being controlled. 
• Role play – getting into groups and acting out a controlling and negative scenario (typically the children choose a friend being excluded/wanting to watch different programmes on TV) 

The workshop is ended with a sign posting activity where sentences are given to the children and in groups they devise a way in which to remember them (doing actions along with the words, rapping etc.) There is then a final discussion similar to the beginning, where we can really see what the children have learnt and how they feel about what they have experienced. 

This early intervention project started because of the 2008-2011 national frameworks. In Bristol the alarming statistics of domestic violence became the highest priority for the council and so services such as Unique Voice were called in to contribute. 

As a creative company this was an issue we wanted to explore. We originally wrote the performance as a touring theatre piece with the aim to raise awareness of domestic violence. However the council became interested in what we were trying to achieve, recognising that both our aims were the same, and asked us to take it to educational settings. 

The project has since changed and been adapted to the needs of both the children and the council and Unique Voice has now visited almost all the primary schools in Bristol. 

Sir Patrick Stewart, well known performer and anti domestic violence campaigner has helped support our mission to raise awareness, having experienced the issue first hand during his childhood. This high profile figure boosted children’s confidence to come forward if they were experiencing similar events as well as inspiring teachers and parents to commit to a wider involvement. 

As an early intervention project the aim is to inspire the new generation in the hope that this chain of unhealthy, negative attitudes to relationships is stopped. 

The super objective for this project is to strengthen and build confidence levels on self worth and young people’s tolerance and expectations of relationships, as well as creatively exploring their opinions of relationships and how to successfully sustain them.

The practice

After the initial need and demand for the issue to be covered was voiced, Unique Voice began researching relationships in more depth. As an intervention project we avoided the worse case scenarios of domestic abuse victims, particularly adults, and instead concentrated on capturing the spiralling events that could perhaps lead to dangerous and low self esteem in relationships. 

We employed local actors and extensively rehearsed the performance to ensure it was relatable and realistic to the age groups experiencing the project. We trained the team in areas such as child protection, disclosure, domestic abuse, confidence building, drama skills and raising confidence. 
After strategy plans and commissioning meetings were held, we worked extensively with the local authority to ensure professionals and health care specialists watched the performance and provided feedback. This time was also dedicated to building key connections and relationships that would support the nature and intentions of the project. 

Key aims and objectives were set to ensure the development and success of the intervention. This was based on ‘Every Child Matters’ and the local authority’s framework for that area. 

The project was delivered at various stages through the academic year. Typically a standard locality tour consists of 10 primary and 2 secondary schools over a 2 week period. This was usually repeated up to 3 times per locality to accommodate the capacity of that particular area. At each visit the performance was presented followed by interactive workshops. 

As part of the process questionnaires were conducted, both pre-visit and post-visit. These provide the data for the case studies and inform us of the impact. This feedback is vital to the service because we are able to tell if alterations are needed. As well as this, the on duty teacher is asked to fill out two questionnaires which cover: 

1. How they think the service has been conducted and if the key messages were being received.
2. A focus evaluation, where we ask them to concentrate on one child that they think may struggle with the session and evaluate their progress and response. 

After the visit the evaluation process was carried on by the children, observing teachers and the leaders delivering the project. 

This process has been repeated within three different areas of Bristol. 

The project started in January 2011 and toured one area of Bristol that involved visiting 3,000 children. Recently the project was amended for a diverse cultural area of Bristol and is now set to tour for a further 6 months. 

As the project creator and provider, company has worked extensively with, and been funded and supported by Bristol City Council’s Children and Young People’s Extended Services. In addition to this, other agencies attached their aims to the project to promote a bigger awareness raising of domestic abuse. The project linked local campaigns and domestic abuse commissioners/specialists helped developed the piece. They did this by continuously reporting back relevant and current figures, facts and information that could enhance the project’s aims. It was essential the piece was accurate and pitched appropriately according to the level and age of those involved in the intervention and this area of development was supported by NSPCC. 

The process for referral has been strengthened and improved over the last 12 months. This has been due to strong multi agency links and awareness of the project. Its presence in schools has prompted a stronger and clearer referral process. As young people completed self evaluations, their opinions and at times disclosures could be treated promptly, effectively and locally. Through planning the visit, a strong relationship with schools was developed. Before the visit, a lead person was identified at the school who was prepared to be a contact for the young people. This person would be available to discuss any issues after the performance/workshops. This established contact enabled the process to be clear and defined. Extended services also supported the school with any issues by providing additional support and advice on the child’s welfare, protection and next steps. This was fully supported and enhanced by local organisations that specialised in particular relationship linked issues. 

Achievements so far

The impact is measured by a series of different methods. This includes the children reviewing and concluding their opinions on relationships both in pre and post questionnaires, staff evaluating and recommending areas to continue work on and teachers being able to offer continued support. By re-visiting the initial aims of the projects, the outcomes on these expectations can be measured to see on what scale the aims have been achieved. Success is also measured by receiving feedback from the schools that have a strong and knowledgeable experience with the children being visited. In addition linking back to the local authority framework regularly enables us to measure whether the project is contributing to enforcing more positive figures and reports on domestic abuse. 

Aim in focus:

Strengthen and build confidence levels on self worth and young people’s tolerance and expectations of relationships. Creatively explore the opinions of relationships and how to successfully sustain them.

• Participating children concluded non physical forms is a more positive and effective way to prevent a boyfriend/girlfriend hurting them in the future. 
• Participants identified someone they could trust as an effective way of reporting an issue with their boyfriend/girlfriend.
• There was less uncertainty in the ‘after’ results, suggesting those who hadn’t formed an opinion previously on their expectations of a relationship had done so within or after taking part in the project. This demonstrates an active development within their awareness, their confidence and self worth. 

Aim in focus:

To implement safe social networking and highlight the dangers of unsafe communication/interaction online whilst enforcing safe lifestyle choices.

• A selection of participants identified internet safety as their key learning outcome which was designed as an open question, demonstrating it was a key learning area that they had taken from the session.

Aim in focus:

Highlight the understanding of young people’s rights, the choices available to them and have the opportunities to voice their views, perceptions, wishes and opinions.

• The performance inspired and reinforced the participants to know how to solve conflicts within their relationships.
• Participants identified the messages and motivation behind the project by concluding key themes and links as aspects they had learnt and will apply. 
• A wide variety of positive opinions and wishes for the future were formed and enhanced by the project. 
The aim in focus: 
To understand and creatively explore and engage with every day relationships and how to solve issues to experience positive relationships with peers, family members and partners. 
• A level of participant enjoyment in acting demonstrates that the drama aspect helped engage the participants in a sensitive subject matter.
• A visual reinforcement contributed dramatically to the children’s understanding and enjoyment. 
• Participants enjoyed learning about relationships and this suggests the subject could be covered again in a similar fashion. 

Evidence from the young people
The young people that participated in Me+You=4eva were asked to complete a questionnaire prior to the Unique Voice visit and again after they had participated in the sessions. This was designed to get an honest opinion on how the children view relationships and what their expectations are when encountering them. It also acts as a tool to measure if and how their opinions have changed. This data was collected and analyzed to produce case studies and prompt necessary changes for the project based on the level of understanding expressed by the children. 

Of the 3,000 children the project has visited, on average young people reported the following statistics:

“What have you learnt about relationships?" (3 Most Common Post Answers - Secondary
To still be yourself even when you are in a relationship – 56%
Don’t let your boyfriend/girlfriend control you or your life – 28%
To talk about things if there is a problem- 16%

“What have you learnt about relationships?" (3 Most Common Post Answers - Primary)
To still be yourself even when you are in a relationship – 62%
Don’t let your boyfriend/girlfriend control you or your life – 20%
Always listen to your friends – 18%

Comments from the young people that participated are available from the C4EO team at the NFER.

Evidence from school teachers
All Primary and Secondary schools that had Me+You=4eva visit their school completed a school feedback form to try and capture what the staff thought of the project and what benefits or learning outcomes they thought the children received from participating. It asked teachers to provide a mark on what level the aims of the project had been delivered and understood and open questions were used for the schools to leave additional comments. This evidence was not only beneficial to the development of the project but it enabled schools to observe the children they teach in an alternative way to class room based learning. This only received great feedback but we also worked with the schools to ensure follow up activities were in place for them to undertake and sustain. This inspired teachers to use the recommendations and outcomes the project had generated in a long term positive way. 

In one of the south locality tours of Bristol the following results were collected by teachers observing the session and visit in separate schools:

(Scales were measured by 1 being not at all and 5 being absolutely)
• 6 out of 7 teachers felt that Me+You=4eva achieved a scale 5 on - increasing children’s knowledge and understanding of why abusive behaviour might happen within relationships and who it might be happening to on a appropriate level for their age. 
• 7 out of 7 teachers felt that Me+You=4eva achieved a scale 5 on – Increasing children’s knowledge and understanding of the different forms of abuse.
• 7 out of 7 teachers felt that Me+You=4eva achieved a scale 5 on – Helping children to learn that abusive and negative behaviour within relationships is not acceptable and should not be tolerated. 
• 7 out of 7 teachers felt that Me+You=4eva achieved a scale 5 on – Actively contributing to the children’s social development and self-confidence. 

Comments from teachers, professionals, commissioners and supporters of Me+You are available from the C4EO team at the NFER.

Unique Voice has become more aware of local health groups that can be of assistance to the project and our knowledge and awareness of the issues has increased. This has contributed to the company expanding the expertise in the services offered. 

From the evidence collected, we establish and recommended new emerging issues to explore. This can be done on a wider scale. For example, proposing a new issue to be considered for the local authority’s framework or a personal recommendation to a school based on the evidence recorded from their own visit of Me+You. 

Recommended new work for local authorities:

• Continue to look at further conflicts in relationships in the hope the confident messages gained in this project are implemented across other areas of relationships.
• Provide more in depth focus work on internet safety
• Sustain these opinions by exploring the subject continuously through their adolescence.
• Provide activities and projects that actively contribute to confidence and self worth. 
Recommended new work for schools:

• Continue signposting participants to the ‘named person’ in their school, home life and wider support networks so that they recognise the help available to them.
• Ensure active discussions about the dangers of meeting people online
• Continue to develop participants’ confidence and self-worth.

An aim for the next few months is to visit schools with pupils with complex needs to ensure the project is accessible and available to all young children. Time is now being invested into research to understand the best way to pitch the project to suit the needs, aims and abilities of those that attend special schools. 

Replication

Unique Voice has visited over 6,000 children in Bristol alone, proving the project’s sustainability and ability to be replicated on a large scale.

To ensure replication of the project there are particular factors to consider and research. As this project covers such a sensitive subject, it is vital the team undertaking the replication ensure their approach is strengthened by their knowledge, understanding and passion to raise awareness of the issue. 

We have learnt that by providing our team with as many tools as possible has helped shape a diverse and long running project. Keeping the same staff for the whole project was invaluable to us as it meant there was an absolute understanding of every little change and development as time went on. It also helped the project to be more cost effective. Alongside this the actors and workshop leaders need to understand the depth and severity of the messages being taught. Investing in research and staff training has meant Unique Voice can offer staff as much in depth knowledge and respect for the subject as possible. 

One barrier encountered was the school’s involvement, or lack of it. When visiting a school that is very much on board and keen to be involved in the project, it can make an enormous difference. Follow up work has to happen and if the teachers haven’t been involved with the project they may not understand if a child approaches them with a related problem. 

The schools that participated completely and supported us make a huge difference to the project. When the teachers are excited and really interested in getting involved, the children automatically become more curious, and as a result the message is more readily received. 

This barrier can only be tackled on a school by school basis as it is inevitable that some teachers will not be interested. So a very important tip to remember is to stress avidly to your point of contact the huge importance of getting the whole school involved and aware of the project. 

Cultural difference has been another obstacle that has been faced. Unique Voice has worked very closely for a long period of time with Bristol Council’s East neighbourhood, which has a huge multi-cultural population. As a result, there was a need to change the performance and workshop so as to not offend the large variation of cultural backgrounds of the participants. 

Parents could have been furious and offended by us showing two teenagers getting into a seemingly ‘typical relationship’, when some believe that their children should not even be friends with the opposite sex. 

To make the performance and workshop universally acceptable, Unique Voice organised a meeting where many different people from all over the community and council assembled. There were teachers, parents, governors, council members and others from a variety of different agencies. This hugely diverse and knowledgeable group had agreed that the project was so worthwhile it was important to invest time into it so that all of Bristol’s children could benefit. The performance was presented and we went on to discuss and identify what needed to be changed and why. The script and workshop was re-written and then shown again to the same group of people several times. The performance was now based around an ‘inter peer relationship’, nothing is there to suggest that they are not in a girlfriend – boyfriend relationship, but also nothing to suggest that they are. This change was a big challenge and one that couldn’t have been done without the help of the community and council. 

As well as the school becoming involved, the need for multi-agency collaboration is very important. Because of the nature of the project, a relatively small amount of time is spent with the children, so follow-ups are crucial. Mentoring and counselling are examples where other agencies could play a part and become involved after visiting. If these types of services are already set up in schools, Unique Voice highly recommends that they are briefed on the project as disclosures are likely after a visit. 

A risk assessment in terms of physiological and emotional wellbeing was conducted in addition to complying with school risk assessments. It is very likely that a child could come forward with a disclosure and so every precaution was taken to ensure that all staff are prepared for this. All of the actors and workshop leaders have received training in safeguarding children, handling racist behaviour and were, prior to any school visits, given very clear, easy to follow instructions about the process of dealing with disclosures. We also ensure that everybody knows who the lead contact or head of safeguarding is in that school. 

The project is much more cost effective when a larger number of schools decide to have the visit in a more condensed time scale. This can also help with the intensity and quality of the project. For this project to be constantly innovative and up to date there needs to be a continuous re-evaluation of the needs and differences in each area and even in each school. Staying up to date and ‘keeping in’ with youth and technology is absolutely essential in order to develop the project to suit different ages, cultures and attitudes. It is unlikely that children will pay attention to you if you’re not on their level, so be young, enjoy being with them and always remember the impact you are having – probably on the children you least expect. 

The Me+You=4eva project celebrates the early exposure and learning the participants have encountered as it has actively and so successfully contributed to encouraging the next generation to experience positive relationships. This achievement prompts the participants to enjoy safe, healthy, relationships which if followed, will reduce the number of domestic abuse cases in the future. 

Core Leadership Behaviours 
Eight core behaviours have been identified as part of successful elements of leadership (see National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services/C4EO (2011). Resourceful leadership: how directors of children’s services improve outcomes for children. Full report. Nottingham: NCSL. Those that apply to this example are shown below.

Openness to possibilities
This openness resulted in more collaboration which has contributed to improving the quality of the production as well as increasing the level and scale the project could be presented on.

The ability to collaborate
Working with professionals and authorities meant that we could share information and support young people that disclosed information as a result of the project.

Demonstrating a belief in team and people
Supporting the team meant the project had approachability and a sustained support network. The passion and hard work of the team resulted in the project’s success. 

Personal resilience and tenacity
The perseverance of the team and determination to raise awareness of domestic abuse was a driving force throughout the whole process. 

The ability to simplify
This was important to training, delivery and support for the team. Through our selected medium of drama we were able to raise awareness and explore the issues around domestic abuse in a subtle manner. Ssimplifying the core issues within healthy relationships has been a key factor in the success of the project.

The ability to learn continuously
Having the most up to date knowledge, by studying and attending courses and seminars on the subject of domestic abuse and violence, has been imperative. Our ability to learn has improved our service and has meant that we are delivering the most accurate and up to date service. 

C4EO Golden Threads
The following golden threads apply to this example.

Know your communities
This is essential in order to know what demand there is for the service as well as ensuring that the delivery is appropriate and culturally sensitive for each community visited.

It takes a community to raise a child – see the bigger picture
Me+You=4eva aims to involve a range of different people in early intervention with the intention of raising awareness of domestic abuse to improve domestic abuse statistics for future generations.

Unite to succeed – the right support at the right time
Me+You=4eva has worked extensively with both local authorities and the individual schools we work in to ensure support is there for each child. Me+you=4eva raises the issue of domestic abuse in a subtle manner, which allows the children to relate to the production in a way that is unique to their current situation and ability.

Prove it – making change happen
By conducting and collating extensive pre- and post-data we are able to demonstrate the impact of our work and prove the need and demand our services in future domestic abuse awareness work.

From good to great – leadership, vision and embedding is key
The team have worked tirelessly together and many authorities, individuals and professionals have helped shape the vision. Touring schools for 24 months with this project has meant it has developed and been shaped into a ‘stand out’ example of raising awareness of domestic abuse.

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