(Excuse the title for this post. The writer is from Bristol.)
When a father who is involved in proceedings concerning his child has been found to have perpetrated domestic abuse against the other parent, the family court will generally look to assess the risk associated with that parent having contact, and will potentially require him to attend a course aimed at changing their behaviour in order to reduce that risk. This is known as a Domestic Abuse Perpetrator’s Programme or DAPP (previously a Domestic Violence Perpetrator’s Programme or DVPP). The court does this by making a ‘contact activity direction’, with Cafcass referring the parent to a local DAPP provider (although sometimes, if there is a criminal conviction, attendance on the DAPP will be ordered by the criminal court and organised by probation). Typically, the course takes 6-9 months, and contact will either be withheld or supervised until it is completed and the court can consider what should happen next. (I use the term father rather than parent intentionally, because as I understand it Cafcass has never had any DAPP programme for female perpetrators, meaning that all family court DAPP referrals are referrals for fathers.)
However, as of July this year the DAPP programme has been decommissioned and Cafcass have confirmed that no new referrals can be made:
Please note family court advisors can no longer recommend perpetrator programmes to court.
The Ministry of Justice has decided to work towards replacing the existing DAPP with a new programme to better meet the needs of a wider range of families. Provision under the current contracts will end on 31 March 2023 and the time to complete the programme is typically nine months. Therefore referrals ceased on 30 June 2022.
There was limited advance warning of these changes, and there remains precious little information about what family courts are supposed to do in domestic abuse cases, where a DAPP might previously have been ordered.
This post sets out some background and what we know so far.
The Harm Panel report from October 2020 dealt at some length with DAPPs. It noted the absence of any provision in Wales, the absence of any provision for women (though it questioned whether this was likely to be effective or cost effective), and flagged general patchiness in terms of provision and consistency.
The Harm Panel Implementation Plan recommended
“A review of the current provision of DAPPs to ensure that they are effectively focused on reducing harm for children and families affected by domestic abuse, and are anchored in the design principles underpinning all the recommendations. DAPPs should be more widely available in England and Wales and should allow for self-referral for parents in private law children’s proceedings.”
In March 2022, following the enactment of the Domestic Abuse Act in 2021, the government published a Domestic Abuse Plan.
The plan said:
“…following the commitment outlined in the Harm Panel Implementation Plan, Ministry of Justice convened a Steering Group to review the evidence base on Family Court Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programmes (DAPPs). The review will consider whether to allow those involved in Family Court proceedings to self-refer to perpetrator programmes. It will also consider the need for additional services beyond current provision to better meet the needs of families involved in Family Court proceedings, particularly domestic abuse victims and survivors and their children. The outcome of the review will form the basis of a new commissioning specification for perpetrator programmes linked to Family Court proceedings.”
“To get perpetrators to change their behaviour and reduce reoffending, the Home Office will invest £75 million over three years into tackling domestic abusers. This includes funding for perpetrator interventions, with multi-year agreements where appropriate, evaluation, and further research. This will include funding for interventions that directly address domestic abusers’ behaviours. The Home Office will also develop a set of national principles and standards to promote a consistent and safe approach by these programmes.”
In a section concerning the piloting of new Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Notices and Orders (provisions in the DA Act 2021 which are not yet in force), the plan says:
“The Government is undertaking extensive work to prepare DAPNs and DAPOs for piloting. This includes selecting police forces and courts for participation in the pilot, designing a robust evaluation process, and ensuring that key features such as electronic monitoring, perpetrator programmes and notification requirements are fit-for purpose and operationalised effectively. Pilot areas will be announced later this year.” (our emphasis)
“Our investment in and evaluation of perpetrator interventions is critical to changing the behaviour of domestic abusers and understanding how to prevent more of these individuals reoffending in future. That is why it is so important we continue our investment. The Home Office will invest a further £75 million over the next three years into tackling domestic abuse perpetrators. This will fund perpetrator interventions, with multi-year agreements granted where appropriate, evaluation, and further research to improve our knowledge of what works to reduce reoffending. We can then feed this knowledge into perpetrator programmes to hone and refine them. We will also share these findings and any emerging evidence with local commissioners and the police to ensure everyone can benefit from this work.”
Although it is clear from the plan there is likely to be scrutiny of DAPPs, and some thought about whether the provision could be improved, there is nothing in this plan which suggested that the entire DAPP programme was about to be imminently nixed. Nor have we seen any report of the outcome of the DAPP review that was mentioned in the implementation plan and recommended by the Harm Panel.
However, by April this year, news was beginning to trickle through that no new referrals would be accepted after the end of June 2022, although there was no public announcement. In fact, there is very limited official confirmation of this important news in the public domain at all, apart from a perfunctory notice on the Cafcass website (as quoted above), which refers readers to the Ministry of Justice website (on which we can find no reference to this decision). My enquiry to the MoJ in July has neither been acknowledged or responded to. What is clear from the Cafcass announcement is that this is an MoJ decision – and the timing appears likely to have been down to a recommissioning deadline – that is to say that when existing contracts expired, they just weren’t renewed.
The Cafcass CEO’s report to the July 2022 board meeting is illuminating. It tells us this :
• Interim arrangements – FCA assessments built on Domestic Abuse practice materials. FCAs can recommend safe
arrangements for children spending time with a perpetrator (Direct or in-direct) or to recommend no
arrangement should be made
• FCAs adjusting to absence of DAPP, however concerns remain particularly in teams where DAPPs were utilised more than
• New internal guidance requires a strong social work analysis on harm and risk to child from contact with explicit reference
to what the child/ren want and think is in their best interests
• Concern – in some children’s cases we are not able to progress arrangements without a perpetrator having completed a
• Cafcass are receiving some criticisms due to some professionals not understanding that it was not our decision to stop
commissioning DAPPs. We continue to clarify this message.
What will replace the DAPP?
The answer (based on the minutes of the April 2022 Cafcass board meeting, published in July) appears to be – nothing. For two years. There will be no equivalent programme until 2024.
The minutes also tell us that
‘New guidance would be issued to the courts in the coming months to ask them to consider a range of options where previously they might have considered referring parties to a DAPP. Cafcass’ FCAs would also be asked to ensure their assessments were built on the approach set out in Cafcass’ Domestic Abuse practice materials, demonstrating clear and well-reasoned decision-making, supported by increased liaison with other agencies and family members. All guidance would be developed with the aim of ensuring the safety and welfare of children remained paramount.’
Except it is now several months on and so far there isn’t any published guidance. There is just a gap.
Respect have raised concern about this sequence of events, here.
“Respect is concerned that this decision was made without sufficient consultation; the DAPP Review Steering Group was convened in August 2021 but has not met since December 2021, and we do not believe that other key stakeholders such as the Family Law Bar Association or Resolution were consulted about the potential impact of this gap in service provision. “
And, according to Cafcass they ‘have updated their guidance, tightening their agreement to accepting perpetrators in court proceedings including when parents intend returning to court on completion of a DAPP’.
We don’t know what response (if any) was received from the Minister.
A Freedom of Information Act Request
Whilst waiting for news the Transparency Project team got to wondering how big of a gap this really is. How many DAPP referrals were there and how many cases that might previously have involved one would now be left without this option?
Transparency Project volunteer Malvika made an FOI request to Cafcass to find out. The response was surprising.
|New referrals||Suitability Assessments||Assessed Suitable||Completed Full Programme|
In 2019/20 (the last year before covid hit) there were just short of 900 referrals, and around half led to referrals and completion.
In the two years that followed referrals were markedly lower, particularly in 2020/21 – probably because the number of fact finding hearings will have stalled and because programmes were running more slowly or not accepting referrals at all during Covid. Things picked up in 21/22, by which point awareness of the pernicious effect of domestic abuse and the importance of the proper application of PD12J post findings had begun to climb and Re H-N had been handed down by the Court of Appeal (in June 21). Even then, referrals were lower than pre-Covid at just over 500, and only about 1/5 of the initial referrals converted into a completion (but that might be because a proportion of those referred will still be completing the course or waiting to start it).
Partial figures for the preceding three years are actually available in the Harm report at table 9.1
These represent between 1.4-2.1% of all cases. 2019/20 was within that range, but the last two years are even lower.
It’s difficult to know what to make of this, particularly given the limitations on data. However, the family court deals with around 45,000 new private law children cases each year. We understand that roughly 60% of these involve allegations of domestic abuse (so, that’s something like 27,000 cases). Not all of those will require a fact finding hearing or lead to findings of domestic abuse, but a good proportion of them will. Even where findings are made, not all cases will require or be suitable for a DAPP to be considered. Even so, 895 referrals (the highest annual figure we have) seems quite low. That could be for a range of reasons, or a combination of them –
- perhaps there are comparatively few fact finding hearings happening;
- perhaps where fact finding hearings are happening a relatively low proportion of them are leading to findings;
- or perhaps only a low proportion of cases where findings have been made are leading to a referral. This may be because the findings aren’t ‘serious’ enough, or because the perpetrator doesn’t accept the findings – in which case a DAPP referral is typically inappropriate and pointless, or for some other reason such as contact being agreed or the application withdrawn.
These are ultimately no more than loose hypotheses, because we just don’t have basic data on rates of fact findings hearings, findings or welfare outcomes.
Some tentative conclusions – or in fact, a bunch of questions…
What we can say is that – perhaps – the recent gap in provision that had caused us concern is less of a problem than we had thought it might be – because courts just aren’t using DAPPs that often. But the Cafcass CEO seemed in July to anticipate it would create a difficulty in some instances. We would quite like to know what is happening, now that fact finding hearings have picked back up post-Covid, and now that DAPP referrals have closed, with cases where findings are made. How are courts managing to achieve safe outcomes without just shutting the door on contact?
In prompting us to explore the issue and try and unpick how big a problem the abolition of the DAPP might be, it has raised an equally interesting and important question – why weren’t courts using perpetrators programmes more often (and what was behind inconsistency between teams/areas as the CEO report seems to confirm?)? We can’t answer those questions either!
Finally, without some transparency from the Ministry of Justice, whether by ministerial statement, press release or publication of the DAPP Review, we don’t really know WHY the plug was pulled at all. We don’t know if it was for sound evidence based reasons (and if so what they were), we don’t know whether or why it was justified to pull the plug BEFORE developing an alternative, and we don’t know if the plug was instead pulled for political or financial reasons unconnected to the merits of the programme or the need for it.
[UPDATE – 22.09.2022: We have now been contacted by Cafcass to say these figures may not be accurate. We will clarify this as soon as possible]
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feature pic : open shut copyright L Reed