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Evaluation of Programme to Protect Children from Domestic Violence

Resource type: Research Report

University of Lincoln |

Children who experience domestic abuse can be forgotten victims. Mayo Children’s Initiative (MCI Ireland), a programme in rural Ireland, made “spectacular progress” in reaching these children and is a model for other countries to follow, according to the lead researcher of an evaluation carried out by the University of Lincoln, United Kingdom.

MCI Ireland educates communities about domestic abuse and works to equip children and young people with the skills to identify when they are unsafe and when to seek help. MCI Ireland also supports therapeutic interventions designed specifically for young people, noted the evaluators.

MCI Ireland is an Atlantic grantee. 

“What’s going on here in Mayo is of international significance.”
– Professor Howard Stevenson, University of Lincoln, UK

The Situation

Children living in households with domestic abuse are significantly affected by the trauma and experience acute distress. Yet few programmes specifically address the needs of children living in abusive households.

The Work

MCI Ireland in County Mayo is the first Irish-based project established to help children affected by domestic abuse and negative family conflict. The work was influenced by research, including a study Listen to Me: Children’s Experience of Domestic Abuse, which noted that the needs of children are so varied that a range of interventions are necessary.

In 2009, MCI Ireland began with three main components:

  • Providing early intervention and support for young people, largely undertaken in schools. It is built around the Protective Behaviours programme, which is designed to promote the right of everyone to feel safe and to convey the message “that there is nothing so awful or so small that we cannot talk about it with someone.”
  • Raising awareness of the impact on young people who live in homes with domestic  abuse and  negative family conflict among young people themselves, the wider community and professionals working in relevant agencies.
  • Providing specialist support and interventions to young people experiencing domestic abuse and volatile conflict in their family.

  • Mayo Children’s Initiative: An Animation

    An animation created for Mayo Children’s Initiative in conjunction with St. Brendan’s College, Belmullet and the Galway Film Centre with tutor Aideen Barry

  • Listen Louder

    This video explores the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people.

  • Something in the Way

    Healthy and unhealthy dating relationships are portrayed in this video aimed at teenagers.

The Findings

Researchers from the University of Lincoln carried out a process evaluation in 2011 and noted the following key findings:

  • The Protective Behaviours programme was popular among students and has been highly effective in communicating MCI Ireland’s core message to young people. The programme was adapted to reflect the needs of differing age groups. Some of the most effective work with young people took place in extracurricular and out-of-school contexts, indicating that a flexible approach to delivery is extremely helpful. 
  • Raising awareness was most effective among young people and teachers. MCI Ireland’s insistence that all teachers in schools that participate in the Protective Behaviours programme receive training about domestic abuse ensured a heightened awareness amongst staff. The project also raised awareness among parents, generally indirectly through their children. For example, some 81 per cent of participating primary school children indicated that they had discussed with their parents their Protective Behaviours work at school.
  • MCI Ireland provided a range of therapeutic interventions to support young people that included: (1) specific interventions based on art therapy; (2) a generic counselling service; (3) a clinical psychologist to work with children with specific needs. Through these interventions, MCI Ireland met the varying needs of children and young people.

Next Steps

Based on their experiences and recommendations from the evaluation, MCI Ireland staff developed “Something in the Way,” a one-day workshop for post-primary schools (covering ages 12-18) that focuses on the issue of teen dating abuse with an emphasis on healthy relationships. Some 500 students, who were typically 16 years old, participated. About 200 of those students then took part in a peer education programme where they disseminated the messages of Protective Behaviours and healthy relationships to approximately 2,000 other young people.

MCI Ireland also developed a programme for child-care practitioners in preschool, called “This is Me and I am Wonderful,” which focuses on helping children develop positive self-esteem. Staff members delivered the programme to more than 40 preschool teachers with an indirect impact on approximately 400 children. MCI Ireland’s primary school programme has adapted the principles of the Protective Behaviours programme to deliver to communities or groups that local service agencies identified as in need of intervention.

An evaluation is underway that is examining all the programmatic activity at Mayo Children’s Initiative, and a final report is expected in November 2013.

Download the Report


Mayo Children’s Initiative (MCI Ireland) is an Atlantic grantee through a re-grant from Society of St Vincent de Paul