By Delphine Burns and Dalia Ochoa-Navarro
May 27, 2021
What is Positive Solutions?
While the COVID-19 pandemic presented unique challenges to the way we at Monarch Services traditionally run our programs and serve clients, we have been able to adapt and adequately serve our clients, both individually and in group settings. One example of this success is the long-anticipated launch of the Positive Solutions program.
Positive Solutions is a group program for individuals who have caused harm in domestic violence situations. The Positive Solutions curriculum was established at The Center for Violence-Free Relationships in Placerville, where Monarch advocates were trained to replicate the program in Santa Cruz County. The program focuses on changing abusive patterns and building healthy relationships, one person at a time. The group model provides a safe environment for participants to relate to others’ experiences, learn to accept responsibility for their actions and develop skills to more appropriately respond to conflict. Positive Solutions operates based on the belief that abusive behavior is learned and can therefore be unlearned.
This program provides tools to stop abusive behavior, help participants develop an awareness of their emotions and change their attitudes that have contributed to their harmful behavior. The program helps participants address and examine past trauma dating back as early as their childhood. Sessions also focus on participants supporting one another by holding each other accountable for their actions and acknowledging any progress that has been made by a fellow group member.
Focusing on behavioral changes creates safer communities by interrupting the cycle of violence at its root. For example, even if a domestic violence survivor ends their relationship with the person who harmed them, the cycle of violence is not broken. The person who caused harm will likely cause harm in future relationships, unless they are provided with tools to replace the violence behavior. This approach could be considered transformative justice, as Positive Solutions is designed to create lasting change not only in individuals, but in social systems.
Dalia’s (Group Co-Facilitator) Perspective:
As one of the group facilitators, I felt privileged to implement such a program with unique elements and strategies, in comparison with other batterers’ intervention programs. I come from the background of working with probationers and parolees, so it has always been a passion of mine to help those who have caused harm take responsibility for harmful actions while also working on changing. I do believe people can change, if they have the will, support system and tools to do so. If you have a bias toward people who have caused harm, then facilitating this group would not be easy to do. It is important to have an open mind and really understand that people can change, and that violent behavior is learned.
Typical intervention programs tend to focus on what the group participants did wrong and emphasize that they should not behave that way in the future. There are also sections in these programs focused on making amends with those you have harmed and sections on replacing behavior. However, these programs neglect childhood wounds and past trauma that often leads to violence in the first place. In Positive Solutions, we dive deeply into past trauma and help participants navigate the complex healing process.
People who have caused harm need both to both be held accountable for their actions and be given tools to replace their violent behavior – not jail time. Though, a program like this might be a good rehabilitation tool for those who are already incarcerated. Our goal is to ideally break the cycle of violence before participants end up in prison and to decrease recidivism rates. The specific Positive Solutions curriculum wouldn’t work inside prisons, as it is a closed group from week 1-14, and as we know individuals are often in and out of jail, but a similar program would be great for the correctional system.
Implementing Positive Solutions during the pandemic
In October of 2019, we began offering intake appointments for our pilot Positive Solutions program. Our first group was men-only, as we mirrored the model used by The Center for Violence-Free Relationships and men statistically cause harm to their partners more frequently, but we hope to open it to all genders in the future. We received referrals from Family and Children Services and self-referrals. When COVID-19 hit, we had to restructure the program to be virtual, even though we had never previously offered it in person.
As one can imagine, there were many obstacles our group facilitators faced in piloting this program during a global pandemic. By the time the program was restructured to accommodate virtual participation, many participants were either unavailable due to the new schedule or our facilitators were unable to contact them. Some participants did not have access to internet or a web cam, so were unable to log into Zoom. Monarch Services offered support by purchasing wireless hotspots for these participants. Sometimes group engagement was challenging, as not every participant was familiar with Zoom and its functionalities.
Additionally, sometimes encouraging individuals to participate in the program was challenging as some shared that they did not feel that the virtual group was a “real” group. Our two group facilitators created group agreements with the program participants and worked hard to motivate and help them take responsibility when violating a group agreement, such as entering Zoom groups late. Our Case Manager innovatively reorganized materials and binders to ensure these materials would be available to participants in a socially distant way. We also had to be creative in motivating group participants virtually.
Despite these challenges, we never lost motivation to make this program successful and there were many positive outcomes resulting from our pilot Positive Solutions program. Since our first group of participants was small, there were more opportunities for each participant to share and interact with the group facilitators. The virtual and remote format also enabled some participants to join the group who may not have been able to if the group had been in person. Ultimately, one participant successfully completed the group. Because of his success in the program, he now has custody of his son, has a stable job, his own home and is planning to go back to school to further his education.
How can we expand Positive Solutions?
The top resource needed to make these services more widespread in the field is funding. The traditional model of funding batterers’ intervention programs has placed the burden on the participant which has created the following dynamics:
- More stressors on families having to pay $25+ session for 52 weeks.
- For-profit businesses not being trauma informed and more focused on the money-making side of offering programming.
We have had to piece together funding in very creative ways to make this program work and many agencies do not have the bandwidth or drive to piece together funding when they are already struggling to make ends meet.
The next steps would to be to work with a larger funder in the state (CALOES, Kaiser, Blue Shield etc.) to offer ongoing funding and opportunities for best practices much like the Housing First model and funding was done. For Monarch our next steps are to retain more funding and to train more facilitators to offer programming. We have been working with probation to provide programming and they have been very receptive to the Positive Solutions model and offering alternatives to incarceration or more punitive sentences.
Other systemic changes
Positive Solutions is a transformational model, and we are delighted we’ve had the opportunity to pilot this program. However, we recognize that there are many other systemic models and social norms that must shift in order to support survivors and their families and work toward a violence-free future.
Firstly, Positive Solutions cannot achieve its full potential as a program if community partnerships are weak. We need to ensure that local law enforcement agencies, probation, departments and partner organizations are aware of this program and willing to help make referrals. For example, if law enforcement responds to a domestic violence situation and refers the survivor to seek services at Monarch, the person who caused harm could also be referred to Positive Solutions.
Additionally, this program uses tools that supplement prevention models we should be using. As previously mentioned, many individuals who cause harm to their partners are men. This indicates that it is important we think and talk about how masculinity’s role in violence in our prevention work. Masculinity is not inherently bad, but when men receive social messages, their whole lives telling them they can’t show emotions or be vulnerable, we don’t allow them the opportunity to experience and express the full range of human emotion. In Positive Solutions, we try to challenge those social norms and help participants understand that even as a man, it’s healthy to share feelings. The way our society presents masculinity makes it seem more socially acceptable to be violent than to be vulnerable. Teaching about healthy masculinity as prevention work is vital.
Ultimately, when we give someone (regardless of gender) opportunities to express feelings and discuss childhood wounds, we provide healthy alternatives to violence.
We are currently finalizing a start date for our second Positive Solutions group. This group will run for 52 weeks, and we encourage referrals. Learn more about the program here and please contact Monarch Services with any questions about this program.
- WATSONVILLE OFFICE – (831) 722-4532
- SANTA CRUZ OFFICE – (831) 425-4030