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Tackling family and domestic violence among refugee communities
Best Practice Principles for Interventions with Domestic and Family Violence Perpetrators from Refugee Backgrounds
Colleen Fisher introduces a set of newly formulated best practice principles, designed to fill a long-standing gap in domestic and family violence policy and practice, and to help develop better and targeted interventions for refugee communities.
Australia has a history of settling individuals and families fleeing persecution, war and violence. With this comes a responsibility to ensure the availability of appropriate support and services to those who enter. Domestic and family violence (DFV) is an important public health and social issue in Australia and one such area where the provision of appropriate support and intervention is essential. Despite this, there are limited interventions available that are designed specifically for those from a refugee background, although there is increasing evidence to guide interventions for refugee women who experience this kind of violence. Interventions for perpetrators of DFV from a refugee background, however, are lacking and there is a dearth of evidence to guide professionals who plan to develop and implement such interventions. The result is that current interventions for men may be sub-optimal or even inappropriate for those specifically from refugee backgrounds.
In the context of a lack of both perpetrator interventions specifically for those from a refugee background and an evidence base to inform the development and implementation of such interventions, a team of researchers from UWA developed a set of evidence-based best practice principles to guide professional practice and address this gap. Having readily available best practice principles is important as it ensures that professionals do not need to ‘go back to the drawing board’ to obtain evidence on appropriate underpinning principles for their proposed intervention. This, in turn, creates efficiencies across the DFV sector. Being guided by best practice principles also facilitates the development, implementation and evaluation of high-quality and culturally appropriate interventions. Wide usage of the best practice principles also helps ensure participants, across interventions, receive more equitable levels of support.
Research to inform best practice considerations
In developing the best practice principles, the research team drew on lived experience of DFV and professional experience in responding to it, as well as the minimal available literature. The research was participatory – it included members of refugee background communities as key advisors, members of the research team and participants – and brought together the strengths of both qualitative and quantitative research approaches. The proposed best practice principles were tested with a national panel, recruited based on their expertise in DFV in refugee communities.
The final set of 12 best practice principles is augmented by three overarching principles, two of which are foundational for DFV interventions – namely the safety of women and children, and perpetrator accountability for their use of violence. That interventions should be trauma-informed is the third overarching principle.
The 12 best practice principles we developed cover a range of purposes. Some relate to philosophical constructs, and others to instrumental considerations. Philosophically, those developing and implementing interventions should ensure their interventions work to empower women and come from a strengths-based approach (i.e. focus on positive rather than negative attributes). Additionally, the best practice principles signpost a need for genuine engagement with, and partnerships between, agency professionals and members of refugee background communities.
Instrumentally, interventions should account for diversity in refugee background communities and address pre- and post-settlement experiences of trauma. Accounting for diversity is important because communities have differing demographic profiles, religious and cultural backgrounds, family structures, levels of acculturation and length of time spent in Australia. They also have differing levels of understanding how DFV is conceptualised and responded to in an Australian context. There is also significant diversity within communities and it is a misnomer to assume that refugees are a homogenous group in Australian society.
Interventions also need to account for individual experiences of trauma, both pre- and post-settlement. Those who perpetrate DFV are dealing with the impact of past traumatic experiences and are simultaneously adjusting to a different social environment. Pre-settlement traumatic experiences can be severe and include witnessing war at close quarters, disappearance of family members, shortages of food, and the destruction of their homes and, ultimately, forced displacement. Post-settlement challenges include difficulties brought about by changed and changing gender roles, securing employment and appropriate accommodation, and learning a new language, to name a few. Experiences of structural disadvantage, discrimination and racism also impact on settlement. Interventions need to address these experiences while ensuring they are not used by perpetrators of DFV as an excuse to avoid taking responsibility for their behaviour. This is a notoriously difficult balancing act that is reflected in many areas of migrant and refugee settlement policy.
Engagement, take up and potential benefits
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