Domestic Abuse: Covid-19 & the DAPP

Tue 25th May 2021

The Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programme (‘DAPP’) is described by Cafcass as follows:

The Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programme (DAPP) aims to help people who have been abusive towards their partners or ex-partners to change their behaviour and develop respectful, non-abusive relationships.

Taking part in DAPP can make a real difference to the lives of those involved, including children who have been affected. But it can be challenging and the court will make decisions about contact based on the progress a participant makes during the programme.

In most cases, Cafcass will assess a person’s suitability for the programme and will check whether it is available locally. We will only make a referral following a court order.

The DAPP takes place in groups involving 8-12 participants. Sessions are weekly, outside working time, and last for between 2 and 2.5 hours over about six months. Every DAPP has a parallel service that supports partners and ex-partners at risk from domestic abuse and this service is offered to them.

The Family Court Adviser will make the referral to the provider. The provider delivers the DAPP sessions and will report back to Cafcass on progress and learning. The court is then informed by Cafcass regarding changes in risk.

There is no charge for Cafcass service users to take part in a DAPP when this is ordered by the court as a ‘court ordered activity’ in private law cases concerning Child Arrangements Applications.’

Guidance: 12 May 2021
On 12 May 2021 Cafcass released an announcement in relation to the Domestic Abuse Perpetrators Programme (‘DAPP’). The announcement can be found here:

The headlines are as follows:

  • The DAPP has been adversely affected by Covid-19 due to the ‘necessary face-to-face delivery model.’
  • A number of DAPP providers have had to reduce or suspend their offer.
  • Careful consideration has been given to the possibility of development of remote DAPPs using another safe alternative. There is not yet sufficient evidence to support the adoption of a remote model. A remote version of DAPP is being developed with RESPECT, but it is not ready for release.
  • A backlog of several hundred cases has accrued.

Temporary Process
A temporary process has been agreed in relation to DAPPs in England (not Wales), as follows:

  1. Cafcass has issued with immediate effect, temporary guidance to support Family Court Advisers when making recommendations progressing cases in the current context where DAPP provision is severely limited. See below for a summary of the guidance.
  2. Cafcass is establishing a small, dedicated team to review the circumstances of families for whom a DAPP has been ordered, but not yet completed, prioritising first those for whom a DAPP has not yet commenced.  These case reviews will involve a Family Court Adviser reviewing the child’s file, speaking with adults and children to re-assess the current risks and options, taking account of the new guidance.   The child will be given the opportunity to write to the court explaining the impact for them and their wishes and feelings.
  3. For cases that have been reviewed, Cafcass will request the court’s permission to file a further report, and there may need to be a further hearing to consider this. These reports may recommend either

(a)that the case remains on the waiting list as no safe and beneficial arrangements for time with the child are possible without this provision, with appropriate ongoing oversight including a process of monthly review; or
(b) that the application to court for the existing order for a DAPP can be discharged and an alternative plan (informed by the reassessment) can be put in place: this could be a final order of no contact, a final order for contact with a safety plan and other provision, or an interim order for ‘a step-by-step approach to the progression of contact arrangements’, with a further review and an addendum ordered. From 1 May 2021, Child Contact Interventions commissioned by Cafcass on behalf of the Ministry of Justice were replaced with the new Improving Child and Family Arrangements (ICFA) service.  The ICFA service is designed to be a more tailored and less prescriptive approach to meet the needs of individual children and their families.
4. In areas where there is capacity to commence new individuals in face-to-face DAPP programmes, families identified at (3a) above will take priority, under new arrangements for oversight, which are currently being developed.  Cafcass will only start making referral recommendations in reports for new cases once those families with delayed proceedings have been able to progress, unless a DAPP is seen to be the most suitable option. In this situation, the family will be added to the DAPP waiting list.

Implementation of the temporary process described above will result in new referrals for DAPPs only being made in cases where it is truly necessary and having due regard to the delay this order will inevitably cause.

The publication concludes by stating: ‘Cafcass will keep the temporary arrangements under review and share the learning with the National Recovery Group.  It is anticipated that DAPP provision will be reinstated when the system has recovered.’

The Temporary Practice Guidance (‘TPG’)
The main points are as follows:
-The limited availability or absence of timely DAPP provision heightens the need for clear, well reasoned risk analysis.
-The Cafcass Domestic Abuse Practice Pathway sets out the steps to be followed when assessing alleged or known domestic abuse (including coercive control). The questions FCAs consider are as follows:

        • What has been happening?
        • What is happened now?
        • What might happen?
        • How likely it is to be repeated? What would be the risk to the children if contact does or does not happen?
        • How serious would it be?

-There will be some cases were it becomes impossible to progress safe and beneficial ‘spending time’ arrangements absent a DAPP.
– FCAs need to be clear about the judgment they have made in relation to risk of harm. This starts with paragraph 37 of PD12J which provides:

In every case where a finding or admission of domestic abuse is made, or where domestic abuse is otherwise established, the court should consider the conduct of both parents towards each other and towards the child and the impact of the same. In particular, the court should consider –

(a) the effect of the domestic abuse on the child and on the arrangements for where the child is living;
(b) the effect of the domestic abuse on the child and its effect on the child’s relationship with the parents;
(c) whether the parent is motivated by a desire to promote the best interests of the child or is using the process to continue a form of domestic abuse against the other parent;
(d) the likely behaviour during contact of the parent against whom findings are made and its effect on the child; and
(e) the capacity of the parents to appreciate the effect of past domestic abuse and the potential for future domestic abuse.’

There may be cases where the FCA’s risk analysis indicates that the severity and likelihood of current or future harm is manageable, and a DAPP would have been ‘desirable rather than an essential safeguard’ the TPG states that ‘it may still be defensible to progress without a DAPP.’ The advice for FCAs is that recommendations in these circumstances ‘must be very carefully risk assessed, being clear about the alleged perpetrators level of motivation and victim empathy.’ Any recommendation for ‘spending time with’ arrangements should be supported with robust safety planning.
-The TPG provides some ‘standard text’ for FCAs to utilise (and to tailor to the local situation) followed by four potential outcomes from the assessment. The standard text and four options are as follows:

Standard text:
The need for xxx to attend a DAPP has been considered. Cafcass commissioned Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programmes (DAPPs) have been severely delayed by the pandemic. It is therefore important to make the court aware that if a DAPP is ordered there will be a significant delay in the referral being made to the provider of the programme and the programme commencing if assessed as suitable. This will inevitably impact on arrangements for the child. It is not possible to say with certainty how long this delay will be, but it will be in the order of a number of months.

 In these circumstances, careful consideration has been given to
a) whether any alternative recommendation to a DAPP could meet the children’s needs
b) whether DAPP is the only available option to provide the opportunity for safe and beneficial time with the parent/ carer attending the course, for the children”

Four options:

(1)The family’s circumstances do not meet threshold for suitability for DAPP referral – no referral recommended;
(2)The circumstances do meet the threshold and there is sufficient Cafcass commissioned provision – recommend referral;
(3)The threshold is met, but there is no DAPP availability and the assessment concludes that alternative arrangements are considered suitable – recommend an alternative plan that might involve a final order of no contact; a final order with contact and a safety plan, or an interim order for a step-by- step approach to the progression of contact arrangements.
(4) The threshold is met, but there is no DAPP availability and no safe and beneficial arrangements for time with child are possible without it – recommend the order for a DAPP is made but clarify that the referral will be added to the waiting list. The case remains allocated in Cafcass with appropriate oversight including a monthly review to assess any changes in circumstances.

The TPG makes clear that option (3) – cases which meet the threshold but there is no DAPP availability and the assessment concludes that alternative arrangements are considered suitable – ‘should be used with caution as there will be very few cases where it is safe to proceed with spending time with arrangements where the threshold for DAPP is also met.’ FCAs are advised to seek situational supervision from their Service Managers and to ensure that their risk analysis is clearly recorded on the child’s case file. The TPG also requires the report to clarify the arrangements for ensuring the children and family members understand what is happening and, where a DAPP is ordered but not yet available, how they will keep updated about when the programme might start, and arrangements for a review.

Other Information
The TPG contains other information including:

– Safety Planning: The Cafcass Domestic Abuse Practice Pathway is being updated and will be published this summer. Guidance on planning for safety and all aspects of risk assessment is being updated as part of this. The summary of key points are as follows:

  • Wherever possible include the child in the safety planning process, explore what they would need to see in order to feel secure and comfortable in their parent’s care (this should only be done after the FCAs own risk assessment has concluded there is strong potential for safe and beneficial contact);
  • Consider the use of the new Improving Child and Family Arrangements (ICFA) interventions as a bridging intervention to reintroduce ‘spending time’ arrangements at the child’s pace. From 1 May 2021, the ICFA service replaces the previous Child Contact Interventions and provide a more tailored and less prescriptive model for meeting the individual needs of children and their families;

-If ‘spending time’ arrangements are likely to be in the community, consider the use of a trusted third party to facilitate the handover; or
– If the arrangements are on a week-day consider the child being collected from school to minimise the non-abusing parent’s exposure to the other parent (even if the risk of abusive behaviour is low FCAs must be mindful of the non- abusing parent’s healing and recovery);
– Should arrangements take place at a structured event e.g. football/swimming?

The TPG makes clear that safety planning should be driven by the needs of the child and ‘non-abusing parent’ and therefore they must be included in the safety planning process. It is considered ‘crucial’ that the child is able to contact the parent with whom they live during contact. The TPG notes that it might be appropriate to explore with the parent who caused the harm what behaviour and measures they plan to put into place to reassure the child and ‘non-abusing’ parent that they are ready to parent safely and responsibly (eg: are they agreeable to ending contact early if the child so wishes?)

  • Letterbox, digital and telephone arrangements: In the absence of a DAPP, and where it is not possible to progress ‘spending time’ with arrangements in person, FCAs are urged not to simply default to no other forms of contact without also giving careful thought as to whether these are likely to cause harm. Due to blurring of lines between ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’, consideration of the specific format of contact is needed. This, for example, avoids issues such as intrusion and digital surveillance being overlooked.
  • Self-funded programmes: Cafcass cannot recommend or endorse these programmes and it is a matter for the court as to whether to direct attendance. Whilst the TPG notes that FCAs ‘may’ feel able to comment on any reports prepared by the particular programme, they are are advised to be ‘cautious’ about providing advice on the suitability of a particular programme, particularly where the programme does not include support with the victim. Such programmes which do not support the victim would not meet the minimum standards used in Cafcass contracts.

Where a parent files with court a mid-way or final report from a self-funded DAPP provider FCAs are advised that they must be clear with the court that it ‘may not be possible to provide a detailed assessment of this report’. This is because the TPG says Cafcass cannot be confident that the service providing the report complies with the same stringent standards that Cafcass required of its previously contracted providers. Further, in the event a parent self-funds a DAPP with one of Cafcass’ previously contracted providers the FCA may not be in a position to comment in detail on those reports as Cafcass will no longer be able to confirm that standards have been maintained at the previous level. If the Court orders Cafcass to undertake an assessment in these circumstances FCAs are advised that the report should refer to the guidance and the constraints on any assessment of the provision. FCA assessments in these circumstances will focus on the needs of the child and their best interests as far as we are able to ascertain, in the usual way.’

Resumption & Review
Where current Cafcass contracted DAPP providers can progress or resume delivery of the in person DAPP, this capacity will be available in the first instance to families where orders have already been made.

Timescales for ‘new’ cases are not possible; factors are outside of Cafcass’ control.

A formal review as to DAPP provision will take place within 3 months of the guidance – thus around August 2021 time.

The TPG will also be reviewed on 7 June 2021.

In Practice
It is imperative that practitioners who have cases where a DAPP has been ordered, or where a DAPP is being considered/thought to be appropriate, familiarise themselves with the TPG and consider how it applies to their case.

Considerations will no doubt differ depending on whether a DAPP has been ordered, or not, and also depending on which party a practitioner represents. Extra careful analysis of the FCAs recommendations is going to be required, particularly in those cases where the threshold for a DAPP is met but there is no availability, and in the view of the FCA alternative arrangements are considered suitable. Fuller consideration may also be required as to safe alternatives in cases where face to face arrangements are deemed unsafe.

Emily Ward
Deputy Head of the Family Team

25th May 2021

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