Relationship Skills for Violence Prevention Project

One goal of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) is to promote extrajudicial measures and sanctions (pre-charge and post-charge diversion) and reduce the incidence of incarceration. The Relationship Skills for Violence Prevention (RSVP) project satisfied this goal for a select group of youths and provided support to potential and actual victims of relationship violence.

Based in downtown Toronto, RSVP targeted two groups: youths charged with, or accused of, relationship violence: and youths who were victims, or at risk of, relationship violence. During the evaluation period (March 2002 to October 2003), a total of 89 perpetrators and 53 victims of relationship violence were referred to RSVP; 97 youths received services. Most who did not receive services either did not meet program criteria or refused treatment.

RSVP is the result of a partnership between Central Toronto Youth Services (CTYS), the Toronto Child Abuse Centre (TCAC) and a variety of community partners. CTYS provided a treatment program for perpetrators, while the TCAC provided support to victims. The Department of Justice Canada’s Youth Justice Fund contributed to the cost of implementing RSVP. Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General provided in-kind support.

For perpetrators, RSVP began with an assessment: usually four one-on-one sessions with a counsellor to develop a suitable treatment plan. This was followed by a series of 16 group sessions of 90 minutes each, along with additional one-on-one sessions. The content and frequency of the one-on-one sessions varied according to the needs of the participant. Family treatment was also provided as needed. Family sessions were held only when at least one parent could attend, although counsellors preferred that whole families attend sessions. Fewer than 24 percent of all clients attended family sessions.

Participants in RSVP were aged 12 to 19 years. Those accused or convicted of excessively violent crimes (such as those involving weapons) were not accepted. Cases where victims required hospitalization, where sexual penetration occurred, or where the crime was deemed to be random also did not qualify.

Of the 52 victims accepted into RSVP, 40 percent completed the program, 46 percent either refused to participate or dropped out, and 14 percent were still active in the program at the time of evaluation.

Project assessment

The assessment process involved file reviews, pre- and post-treatment questionnaires, and follow-up surveys. However, lists of program participants were not maintained, making it impossible to complete a thorough and accurate assessment.

Lessons learned

  • The active involvement of a steering committee composed of stakeholders was extremely advantageous.

  • Given the shortage of youth-specific research on relationship violence and programs focused on intervention rather than prevention, RSVP relied on its own stakeholders and partners to develop and implement effective protocols and processes. This collaboration strengthened the program considerably.

  • Youths who were legally required to complete RSVP were much more likely than others to complete the program. Many who quit the program had not been charged. Formal charges might be an important component in treatment success.

  • Grouping participants by behaviour contributed to the success of sessions. Participants were more comfortable discussing their thoughts, feelings, and behaviour when surrounded by others who had committed (or were accused of) similar offences. Grouping also made it easier to tailor treatment to specific needs.

  • Continuing education is vital to the long-term success of a program of this nature. The legal environment (e.g. legislation and court decisions and processes), along with the ethnic and cultural backgrounds of the target population, continues to evolve rapidly.

Conclusion

Although RSVP experienced many setbacks during the development and implementation stages, it succeeded in providing valuable treatment services to dozens of youths. Program partners consider RSVP an effective and useful tool to combat relationship violence among youths.

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