Domestic abuse service voted a ‘huge success’ in the Borders

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An initiative aimed at helping victims of domestic abuse and their children is proving a huge success in the Borders.

CEDAR (Children Experiencing Domestic Abuse Recovery) is a 12-week group work programme for children and their mothers, which helps to support their recovery from domestic abuse. The programme launched in March 2013, with three other groups having successfully taken place since then.

CEDAR projects are funded by the Big Lottery and are part of a national programme coordinated by Scottish Women’s Aid. CEDAR Borders is a core service within the Pathway project and contributes to tackling domestic abuse in the Borders where agencies work in partnership.

The model for the programme has been inspired and adapted from an innovative programme originating in Canada. The model is based on core principles that recognise that domestic abuse is damaging to children as well as to the mother/child relationship, and the belief that mothers are best placed to support their own children in their recovery.

The groups offer an opportunity to explore feelings, with an emphasis on providing fun and creative activities that keep children engaged and interacting with each other. It is about creating a safe place for children and their mothers so they can help each other to find the best strategies to deal with their experiences and rebuild their lives. The main aim of the programme is to help mothers support their children in their recovery.

CEDAR Borders is run by Co-ordinator Elizabeth Parker, who is also supported by a team of 17 voluntary co-facilitators – men and women, who between them, deliver the women’s and the children’s groups. The children’s groups are split into two age groups; aged 5-11 and 12-16 years old.

The most recent group ended last November, when I was invited along to a final session to talk to the four mothers who had taken part, and to hear, first hand, how they felt they and their children had benefited from the programme.

Jenny Williamson, lead facilitator for the women’s group, was there to welcome me and introduce me to the mums. She explained how the group is run in the Borders.

She said: “The group takes place in a nice, small venue in the central Borders and there are three facilitators that run the sessions, which are usually no bigger than seven or eight women. The families that take part in CEDAR need to be living in a safe place and at low risk of further incidents of domestic abuse. Mums can self-refer by contacting Elizabeth, or children can be referred via their school or an agency that is working with either the mum or child. Elizabeth makes a home visit to every family referred to assess whether CEDAR is the best service for them.

“I have been lucky enough to have been involved with all the CEDAR groups and the women that I meet never cease to amaze me. They have been through a lot but still have the capacity to listen and support each other. Some weeks are harder than others and can be really emotionally tough for the women but they are always able to have a laugh and leave the group feeling stronger.”

At the end of the 12 weeks there is a graduation where the mums and children come together with all their facilitators for a day out and also to provide feedback and evaluate the group. Feedback from some of the children includes: ‘I love coming to group, I wish it didn’t have to end’; ‘I know I am not to blame for what happened’; ‘I couldn’t talk to people before I came here’; ‘I thought it was my fault but I have made friends in CEDAR who had the same happen to them. I’m feeling better’.

Jenny continued: “Over the course of the four groups, we’ve also learned a lot which has helped us improve the service we offer. For example, it is more beneficial if women can attend group so that the child’s experience of learning can be shared with their mum. Contact with mothers between sessions is important to update them on the progress of their children and also to provide additional support. Children’s confidentiality and rights are very important to them and the facilitators are able to build up trust and openness on this basis.”

One of the key tools the programme uses with the children is the Mikey and Jools cartoon. This multi-award winning animation, aimed at children who find themselves in unsafe situations without knowing what they can do to protect themselves, has proven a huge success. As one of the children who attended the CEDAR programme, told them: “When I watched the DVD I could see it was exactly what happened to me and my sister, and we couldn’t tell. Well, if it happened now I would know what to do.”

Mum Lisa believes the animation should be given a wider audience, helping to break down the barriers that prevent us from talking about domestic abuse, ensuring it remains behind closed doors.

She told me: “If my kids had seen that (Mikey and Jools), I don’t think we would have remained where we did as long. Personally, I think it should be brought into the schools, because it is important to let kids see – through Mikey and Jools – that if they need to speak to somebody they can go and talk to them.”
And mum Tigs agrees, explaining: “Even if the programme can’t go into the schools yet, I’d like CEDAR more widely publicised. It would be lovely to see information about CEDAR pop up on more Facebook sites or websites, or radio, just somewhere where someone is going to catch it.

“If it wasn’t for them we would still be struggling massively. If I’d known about this [programme], I’d have done it a year ago – that’s a year out of your child’s life. Maybe they could have moved on a year quicker and not carried it, so it’s harder to sort out now.”