Who are DARFA and how do they work?

Who are DARFA and how do they work?

The Domestic Abuse Restorative Family Approaches (DARFA) Partnership www.darfa.uk is a consortium of three organisations, dedicated to providing a service that enables families to live safer lives. The consortium subscribe to a set of shared restorative and co-operative values. DARFA have committed to forming an effective restorative partnership based on respectful, strengths based working which will model restorative behaviours.

DARFA as a consortium brings a longstanding history of working within joint working protocols, understands that the term ‘added value’ is at its strongest when stakeholders work to create open and transparent services.  DARFA facilitates that environment, welcomes transparency, has formulated a management structure that enables the families we work with to be placed in the centre and allows them to orchestrate their needs.

All three organisations provide day to day services within their sector area, but they also come together, working to strengths to deliver the Choices for Change Programme www.choicesforchangewales.uk . The core Choices for Change programme is delivered via highly trained and experienced Practitioners and the peripheral offer via staff trained to facilitate a supportive environment.

In their day to day work, STTEPS delivers generic floating support that is designed to enable our clients to identify, plan for and work through any issue that may hinder or prevent them finding or maintaining a home www.stteps.co.uk  , Wales Restorative Approaches Partnership (WRAP), is a best practice hub for restorative approaches and practices in Wales and the first restorative practice agency in Wales to achieve the Restorative Services Quality Mark www.restorativewales.org.uk.  Brightlink learning is an organisation that, along with specialist associates facilitates training and education.  It provides an eLearning platform that facilitates positive education outcomes.  As part of its services, Brightlink also facilitates business management learning, these educational services, are based on lean practices. www.brightlink.org.uk


DARFA began in 2013 with six organisations, working together to offer children experiencing domestic abuse a voice. Lorna Baldry, CEO of Brightlink says “we had an idea for a model that our shared experience told us would work, meet the needs of families and fill gaps in existing provision. So we applied for funding and although on our first application we were unsuccessful, feedback showed that the funder liked our model, in fact they liked it as much, if not more than the service they decided to fund.”

Sally Milton, CEO of STTEPS says “this experience brought us to the realisation that we believed in the consortium and the model so much that we wanted to continue to work together in search of funding. We were determined to create an opportunity for families, particularly children, to benefit from our services.”

In July 2014 DARFA were awarded a competed fund by the South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner from the Ministry of Justice. From October 2014 to March 2015 the consortium researched, designed and tested the Choices for Change programme.  The programme is backed up by a comprehensive, manualised system.  This system is quality controlled through a strict licensing process.

The outcomes of the funding included an evaluation of how the consortium managed their working relationship, as much as how they worked with families.  This level of scrutiny enabled the consortium to showcase its best practice abilities in joint working and inter-contractual relationships.

This was also tested in wider service delivery when from March 2015 to March 2016 DARFA further developed and tested the Choices for Change programme with Social Services Integrated Family Support Team.

What is Choices for Change?

Choices for change is an evidence based cutting edge service of interventions. Practitioners co- work and co-produce realistic outcomes with whole families, so they and their supporters develop their own strengths based solutions to address abusive behaviours, experienced from one or more family members, which could be threatening or controlling and coercive; financially, physically or emotionally.

Beneficiaries are families (who receive direct support through C4C); their wider relationships; and the network of practitioners and organisations who partner DARFA.

The programme includes a core offer, bespoke to the needs of each family, of a series of restorative meetings, over 6 months. In addition, concurrently there is a wider supportive environment and peripheral offer. The model anticipates individuals meeting their own needs through our peripheral offer i.e. education, housing, debt, substance misuse etc.  Families are encouraged to regularly bring this development to the whole family core meetings.

The children’s voice and extended family impact matters hugely to effect change. Choices for Change recognises there are multiple victims and not just one direction of harm, including children who can also ask for a meeting, and that violence is often bidirectional, especially at lower levels of harm and risk.

Julia Houlston Clark, CEO of WRAP says “for the levels of risk we are working with, and where we know the victim and offender are going to stay together no matter what, or where they want an amicable nonviolent separation, a series of restorative interventions is the safest and most effect strengths based option.

The model has family check ins as the other separate meetings are going on to bring the change pragmatically and honestly into the room, and to plan for long term resolution to prevent harm, as these couples are choosing to stay together anyway and may do so secretively and therefore more dangerously if separation is imposed. Sometimes couples may decide to separate amicably as part of an outcome agreement. “

In the sector and beyond, there is doubt expressed over the use of one-off Restorative Justice conferences, particularly with high risk domestic violence and abuse.  This doubt is  largely centred around the potential for increasing risk and victimisation.  There are valid concerns around the abilities, experience and training of any potential conference facilitators to support and challenge any harmful or coded perpetrator behaviours that may revictimise those present during or after a conference.

Where risk is identified, DARFA at all times uses methods of risk management that are tried and tested and built on the premise and principles that partnership, expertise, and the families health and wellbeing must never be compromised.

The Restorative Justice Council and the Ministry of Justice acknowledge that in sensitive and complex cases like serious domestic violence or sexual crimes, any Restorative Justice process bringing a victim and perpetrator face to face to explicitly address the harm must be handled with great care, and with extensive advanced facilitator and participant training, sector experience, and longer term expert support.  The wider supportive environment for all involved needs to be solid before restorative engagement in this field is even entertained.

Julia Houlston Clark says “DARFA agrees that a one- off restorative conference alone cannot easily address patterns and cycles of harmful behaviours and victimhood, focussing on the usual one harmful “event,” which is extremely rare in domestic abuse contexts.”

Evidence from New Zealand, Australia and from several European countries, seems to indicate that a victim can indeed feel empowered and safely informed through the restorative process.  This is a significant positive outcome towards becoming a survivor of domestic abuse, as apposed to survivors adopting the often, debilitating identity of the ‘victim’.  This contributes to breaking the cycle earlier within families, rather than remaining within ‘victimhood’.

It is not about the offender being given the space to ‘make up’ with the victim, but it is about the victim feeling heard and having the opportunity to ‘tell their story’, even where the offender is an ex-intimate partner.

There is additional international evidence from the United States, Canada, and Europe that supports its theories and effectiveness. Choices for Change is part of a wider picture of restorative approaches in family working, such as those being developed in projects in other parts of the UK which were discovered and examined as part of DARFA’s research providing the evidence base for Choices for Change.

The first selection criteria for Choices for Change are that there is no risk of serious harm, family members are risk assessed using CAADA DASH plus dynamic clinical assessment from several meetings.

DARFA recognises the Partner Abuse State of Knowledge (PASK) project, this is a large-scale international research effort which – as the name suggests –  looks at what we know about intimate partner abuse and violence.

While much attention focuses quite rightly on high-risk cases, where there is often a clear victim and perpetrator, and a high risk of physical harm from violence, research from the PASK indicates two significant points.

Firstly, up to 60% of intimate partner violence is low level. Without minimising any physical violence, if physical violence is involved it is more likely to be pushing, shoving and slapping rather than broken bones or severe injuries requiring hospitalisation.  The harm is more likely to be psychological, emotional, financial, and coercive.  However, there is a risk that without intervention, the harm may escalate over time.

Secondly up to 60% of harm is bi-directional, meaning that rather than a clear victim and perpetrator, the situation is more fluid and complex, sometimes harm being done to one partner, sometimes to the other and on occasions to each other. This implies a much wider continuum of behaviour and variation of seriousness and harm, than is commonly captured when we think about ‘domestic violence’.

A third point arising is that this is chronic behaviour: it is normalised. Many of the families and individuals Choices for Change work with do not regard their situation as ‘abusive’; it is simply the fabric of relationships. And yet, this chronic, conflictual, hostile, unhappy, non-communicative setting, while it does not pose the risk of acute harm found elsewhere on the continuum, has some terrible life-long effects for children in terms of their own life chances. The emotional trauma associated with being in this kind of family dynamic has wide ranging negative effects which echo down the generations as the children grow up to have their own families.

Consequently, interventions need to mirror the complexity and connectedness of relationship needs and systemic family harms.  There still needs to be provision of targeted interventions to meet the specific needs of the potential multiple victims and perpetrators e.g. children, partners, and extended family members or supporters.  Labels are not always useful where the behaviours and consequences are experienced by different family members at different times.  Restorative practice focusses on the harmful acts and relationships, rather than the actor, which is also helpful when working with shame and its consequent behaviours in both victims and perpetrators e.g. blame, denial, minimisation, avoidance, and maladaptive guilt.

It is important that any learning and progress is integrated, and driven and shared with the whole family appropriately, so that positive shifts happen as concurrently and safely as possible.  Interventions delivered by several agencies with different family members need to bring the whole family with them over time.  These service would benefit from whole family restorative engagement so changes and learning are shared safely and openly in steps with the whole family.  Bringing families together also addresses the real risk of participants complying with the objectives of a course in order to complete successfully, preventing, ‘playing the game’ without embedding change, the attempt of jumping through externally defined hoops in the shorter term in order to get back together.

“Family” is a key word here Choices for Change is based on the belief and evidence that you can’t work with just an individual and expect an entire system or family to change. By working with families who are experiencing domestic abuse, and taking a core strengths-based approach which sees them as experts in their own lives, and who are capable of generating their own solutions, the family is aided to function more healthily and to be happier as a family, when it is safe to remain together.

Choices for Change offers a robust alternative or parallel intervention to punitive, criminalising, externally enforced models of separation, which can have negative consequences for all family members.  Families can be resistant when they feel the available interventions are “done to” them, rather than “with them”.  Parents can fear losing their children and appear to comply, so agencies go away.  Perpetrators and victims can feel shamed and blamed, and denial can increase through traditional criminal justice methods alone.

Choices for Change demonstrates that where appropriate approaches are used, family members can co-work with highly trained professionals, finding their own strengths and solving their own problems. This significantly reduces the emotional and intergenerational cost to families and communities, and the financial cost to society incurred through sometimes unnecessary or ineffective interventions by public authorities.

C4C presents a step-change in approach.  It challenges previous historical conversations and concerns about restorative justice which focus on the use of restorative conferencing for face-to-face meetings with a perpetrator and immediate victim. This model often presumes one directional harm, usually gender specific against the woman.

C4C is much more sophisticated and responsive, using the full range of restorative approaches, coaching families in restorative skills so that they can utilise them once practitioners withdraw.

C4C is proven to offer a measured, evidence based and safe process bringing the well documented benefits of restorative approaches, systemic family working, and early intervention. This is critical if all family members are to listen and be heard and given the tools to ensure they can fully participate in providing a solution which is as fair and inclusive as possible for all affected, dominantly inclusive of children.

DARFA are proud of the direct impact Choices for Change has achieved.

  • Families previously resistant to interventions engaged positively in their own homes, openly disclosing multi- directional harms and victims
  • Children reported having a chance to speak and be listened to with, stating that they felt safer
  • Some children were removed from the child protection register
  • Some parents were able to stay together safely with their children
  • Some couples amicably separated


Feedback from organisations highlights that Choices for Change offers a measured, evidenced based and safe model for a multi-agency approach to whole family working.  It brings otherwise disparate agencies and interventions together with the family at the centre, owning and driving the change needed. The secrecy and shame are carefully explored and resolved together.

What next?

Choices for change is a dynamic model, its professionalism is promoted through a strengths based whole family approach.  Sally Milton says “we want to change the life-outcomes for families facing domestic violence through further development and dissemination of the Choices for Change project, responding to evidenced demand.  We want to intelligently challenge any uninformed myths and risk aversion, with a robust, evaluated and safe model of restorative training and practice. “

DARFA is interested in funding opportunities and associate relationships to develop use of the Choices for Change model, aiming for a large scale fully evaluated service. They have also begun more depth research into some aspects of potential development work, for example transferability and replicability where there is cultural diversity, including transient, traumatised populations.

Choices for Change is a model designed to work with the whole family.  Whole family in this context can be aunty, uncle, cousin, next door neighbour who has adopted the role of aunty, or a trusted best friend.  The term here is used to describe anyone who has involvement with the family and who may in some way support the family. In this context it could also be said that where violence sits, all those affected by the violent act could potentially be a stakeholder to formulating more positive, healthy relationships.  The Choices for Change model is transferable with work, therefore to other inter familial violence, gang violence and potentially many other situations.

It should be noted that restorative work with whole families experiencing domestic abuse should only be undertaken by professionals with significant and specialised qualifications and experience. DARFA train and licence a small number of specialist practitioners for this reason. Choices for Change and all materials and processes associated with it are the intellectual property of DARFA who assert their rights vigorously to ensure the highest quality and avoid harm.

Case study 1 – Amicable separation

A couple were referred to Choices for Change as they had requested a service to help resolve conflict between them. At the time they were in temporary accommodation having been homeless and experiencing financial difficulties. Restorative conversations were held with both of them individually which highlighted different needs and a different understanding of each other. Through the use of restorative techniques and meetings, an understanding of each other’s needs was achieved.

Because of mental health issues it was not possible to de-escalate conflict and the couple decided to live separately. Through restorative work with Choices for Change they have managed to achieve this amicably and used the service to draw up short and long term plans to co-parent their daughter.

Dad is currently looking for work and seeing his daughter 3 times a week and mum is looking forward to starting an apprenticeship as their daughter has started nursery. Mum is being supported by Flying Start.

I believe the service was invaluable to the couple making the necessary positive changes required to ensure the safeguarding of their child and I am aware that the couple are complimentary of the service and thankful for the support they received “Principal Social Worker

“Everyone should have this service. I didn’t feel judged. It helped me to see what I wanted and feel confident about sticking to it. Thank you.” Service user

The voluntary nature of this confidential service has given this couple the time to make their own informed choices and plans.

In some cases the restorative voluntary service has been able to engage families in a conversation about their needs, where previously they had been stuck in a stand-off between them and mandatory services. This distracted away from making changes and discussing needs. It became a battle of “them and us”.

At times the service has also helped restore relationships between families and services and helped the family make sense of the differing demands. In other cases it has created a transparency which has helped services respond appropriately to ensure safety.

Case study 2 – Safety

This case hinged on voluntarism, confidentiality and developed with the whole family in mind. The family did not identify themselves as having issues around domestic violence, however police reports seemed to contradict this. This was cause for concern and social services were afraid of family minimisation and therefore issues of safety.

The initial referral to Choices for Change was for consultancy involvement around safety, supporting the social worker. The family later decided to engage with Choices for Change precisely because it was voluntary and whole family (they had previously repeatedly refused to engage with domestic abuse services). Dad was subsequently charged with robbery and was given a short custodial sentence. During this time mum and son were able to have restorative conversations about their family life.

Through these conversations mum agreed to complete a CAADA dash which led to presentation at MARAC. As a result of this meeting the family were re-housed to ensure safety, and the Choices for Change service bridged a relationship between mum, the Independent Domestic Violence Advocate and the police. With the family’s consent Choices for Change kept social services informed about safety issues throughout. This enabled a more realistic and transparent picture of the risks to the family for all services.

“I trusted them, and they listened.” Service user

Case study 3 – Family choices

At the point of referral to Choices for Change the family had been escalated to Child Protection status following repeated and distressing breakups in the parents’ relationship. Two complaints had been made against social services by the family and their involvement with a domestic abuse couples service had broken down because of allegations of breach of confidentiality.

The initial engagement for whole family work was tentative, and within a few weeks there was a disclosure of sexual abuse from the teenage daughter against her adult brother which has resulted in a court case.

Although great care had to be taken with the family work not to infringe on any police or social services conditions, the children and adults continued to engage with the service beyond this crisis.

Each member of the family had a confidential space to explore their individual needs. The children had not previously engaged with the services that were offered.

Choices for Change was able to build a positive working relationship with the youngest child. He was able to express his needs through art and open discussion. He also was able to communicate to school and his family about his sadness through our work together. Choices for Change created a safe forum for the whole family, as well as the couple, to safely share their needs and create plans and boundaries.

The family were able to make use of techniques and tools learned through our sessions together as a way to engage with other members of the family who weren’t present, in order to negotiate shared boundaries and acknowledge everybody’s needs

As they developed better communication and clearer aims, changes were made in the cycle of their chaotic relationship and the impact on the children. This has been evidenced by:

Both adults making changes in the way they respond to couple conflict and external pressure.

Mum has changed her emotional responses and actions in order to safeguard the children.

Both primary school and secondary school have noticed that the children have flourished over the past six months, and the head teacher at the primary school has been involved in the intervention at the child’s request.

The teenage daughter has been able to have her voice heard at core group meetings through prepared questions. She has reported a marked improvement in the ability of the family to make plans and talk about their different needs and feelings.

This family has been known to Social Services for 3 years now and at the last case conference in August Social Services were preparing to take legal proceedings.

The changes brought about by the family’s engagement with Choices for Change was noted by children’s services at the last core group in January and the Social Worker is now hopeful that the family  will be de-registered at the next case- conference.

Before the service got involved I felt down most of the time and there was a lot going on. I am now feeling a lot happier and my problems have been solved.

Also feeling more confident. The service has improved us talking as a family a lot and it is much easier to communicate” service user (14yrs)

I felt my life was all over the place both emotional and feeling drained….I now feel stronger and confident in myself and feel better. I have also had good support and advice from the service” service user (Mum)

As part of the DARFA intervention it has been useful for the family to help them clarify expectations and process confusing information. This has meant a considerable amount of indirect work to support the family, however this has given them more confidence in making longer term changes and plans.

“Choices for Change have worked really well to support the family to figure out where they fit within the expectations from Children’s Services. The service has allowed them to explore and try out change, in a way that they were previously unable to.” Social worker.