Up2U – reducing family violence - Portsmouth City Council

Up2U is a programme for people who use domestically abusive and unhealthy behaviours in their relationships. It seeks to reduce the incidents of domestic violence, prevent the cycle of abuse, and reduce the numbers of children in child protection services, edge of care or children in care.


As part of that, the Up2U: Family Intervention service will work with 100 high risk families, offering support for parents, children and young people alongside intervention work with the parents who use domestically unhealthy/abusive behaviours to prevent the families continually returning to the same services. Up2U hopes to break the cycles of behaviour for the whole family.

The challenge
Up2U recognises that people use domestic abuse for different underlying reasons ranging from childhood trauma and emotional deregulation, learned behaviour, attitudes that support gender differentials, poor conflict resolution to the use of power and control resulting in different typologies of domestic abusers. The service seeks to help people use non-abusive behaviours through a range of skills that target thinking, feeling and behaviour.  The service aims to support service users to:

  • take responsibility for their own thinking, emotions and behaviours and learn to use healthy and respectful relationship behaviour
  • promote safety within families and reduce the risk of continuing domestic abuse
  • address the link between substance misuse and abusive behaviours
  • increase their ability to recognise and manage emotions increasing their emotional and mental wellbeing
  • prevent the cycle of abuse by modelling healthy relationships to their children

The solution

Up2U is an assessment led intervention programme responding to individual need, risk and responsivity by offering tailored packages:

  • the programme can range from six sessions to 40 sessions, with the option of extended sessions where risk and need indicate
  • for very high risk individuals sessions can be delivered two times per week
  • the delivery method can be vary between group and 1-2-1; many people cannot access or may be disruptive in a group environment.

Modules and sessions delivered to each individual are matched to their particular needs.  To avoid lengthy waiting times for referral and to cut out complicated referral processes which may cause delay when a person is most motivated to change, Up2U operates an informal referral pathway. To be eligible for referral a person must accept that they use abusive or unhealthy behaviours in their relationship and want to change these behaviours.

An Up2U worker will arrange to meet up with the referrer and client as soon as possible. Once this meeting has taken place and the person being referred demonstrates that they acknowledge their abusive behaviours and that they want to change, they start the assessment and engagement element of the programme. To address the high level of dropout rates and low completion rates of many domestic abuse perpetrator programmes, Up2U uses motivational interviewing techniques to engage individuals, working with their resistance to build strong therapeutic relationships.

The Up2U: Family Intervention Service (VAWG), funded by the Home Office, is available only to parents who open to children’s social care and this does not accept referrals but takes cases identified by social workers in the service.

When someone is accepted onto the Up2U programme support is offered to their partner/ex-partner to ensure ongoing safety and risk management. If an Up2U client has children and they are not currently working with children's services Up2U will refer through the CAF processes for support to be in place.

The programme can be tailored to work with both males and females from the age of 16 and can be delivered to people in same sex relationships or couples where both partners use abusive behaviours.

The impact
At the end of 2016/17 33 clients had completed the Up2U programme. 22 of these clients had completed the Up2U programme and were followed up at 12 months after completion. 

  • There were 44 children with open cases with children’s social care prior to the Up2U programme, 37 on Child Protection (CP) Plans, six in local authority care (LAC), and one on a Child in Need (CiN) plan.  12 months after clients had completed the Up2U programme only 16 children remained open to children’s services and 28 cases had been closed.
  • In the 12 months prior to starting the Up2U programme there were 22 incidents where clients were suspects of DVA, 18 arrests for DVA and nine convictions for DVA.  In the 12 months after completion this was reduced to one incident where clients were suspects of DVA, one arrest for DVA and no convictions for DVA. 
  • In the 12 months prior to starting the Up2U programme the clients were MARAC offenders 22 times; in the 12 months after completion this was reduced to twice.

Other achievements include

  • securing the Big Lottery Funded Service in Partnership with Southern Domestic Abuse Service (SDAS)
  • the model and approach has been identified as best practice in other areas who have bought consultancy, training and support to deliver the Up2U programme
  • the recovery achievements of beneficiaries through the programme and individual stories of success
  • Up2U imbedded as a core programme for family support and recognised as Best Practice for domestic violence work in Portsmouth social care. 

How is the new approach being sustained?
The core Up2U service has been running since May 2014. The SDAS service launched following the Big Lottery Funding in July 2017 and the Home Office Funded Family Intervention (VAWG) service launched in January 2018.  

Next steps are to

  • embed the core delivery further and improve referrals from Mental Health, health and primary care specifically, as well as increasing the level of referrals from police.
  • complete the evaluation and review learning for endorsements & improvements.
  • bring online current developments awaiting launch dates
  • develop Up2U for Youth
  • promote the model through the traded services for take up in other areas

Lessons learned
There have been many lessons learnt throughout the programme but particularly these are considered to have made the greatest impact on the programme and its development:

  • Recognising co-abuse, which the project did not set out to find
  • Developing a partner support service; previously abusers would get the core therapeutic service and non-abusers would get a lesser programme. Understanding unhealthy relationships and co-abusive relationships allowed the programme to recognise that partners asking for support required access to the same behavioural change support.
  • That an innovative approach which challenges the cultural environment of the victim and perpetrator and asks professionals to think about behaviours and their origins as a means to sustaining behavioural changes for all beneficiaries involved in Domestic Violence services can be quite threatening to the sector and stakeholders within it. Courage, strength and diplomacy are essential when testing and developing new approaches.
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