Each counselling group is different, and the clients can be just as engaged virtually as they are in person
Partner Assault Response Program
Abrigo Centre’s Partner Assault Response Program (PAR), internally known as Men in Transition, has been servicing the Portuguese and English speaking communities since 1997. The PAR program is a Domestic Violence Court initiative that delivers a specialized community-based group education and counselling program to offenders who have been mandated by the court to attend the PAR program in response to a criminal charge involving domestic violence.
By Ed Graca, Executive Director | July 7,2021
In the days prior to COVID, a small group of men in Abrigo’s Partner Assault Response (PAR) program would mill about the sidewalk outside of our building after normal business hours, patiently waiting for the front door to open again. Some make small talk to pass the time while others smoke quietly in solitude.
When the door is unlocked, the men, of varying ages and occupations, file in lining up at the Reception desk to check-in for the evening and confirm if they’ve completed their homework assignment.
Each participant in this program has been charged with or found guilty of assaulting a partner or former partner. The criminal justice system has mandated their participation in the 12-week educational program. One-by-one they would head down the hallway to the meeting room. At 7:00 p.m. sharp, the front door is locked and the counselling session begins.
In-person sessions are limited now
With the COVID-19 pandemic taking hold of our world 15 months ago, the ability to hold in-person group counselling sessions like this has been limited at best. During a small window of time, from September and October of 2020, Abrigo was holding in-person sessions with the men, all physically distanced, in our large upstairs meeting room. However, the third COVID wave necessitated the move back to virtual sessions.
Virtual counselling has taken a hold on the social service world
Virtual counselling has taken a hold on the social service world, even for group sessions like our PAR classes. Technology, the Zoom application in particular, has made counselling sessions like this possible, and for many clients, there are advantages to doing the class virtually. Travel time is reduced and it can lower one’s costs on gas, food (dinner before class) and parking.
For others, the technology poses a challenge. Some men arrive with no experience with technology. They don’t own a phone or don’t have reliable internet service. Others have no idea what Zoom is. For those individuals, Abrigo will do our best to accommodate them including doing individual sessions over the phone so that they can complete the program.
Abrigo Counsellor Anderson Salvador is one of two staff members who works exclusively with our PAR clients. A long-time employee, his experience delivering the program and technical savvy has made for a smooth transition to virtual counselling.
There’s no room to be set up or photocopies to be made, but time is required to prepare the program’s documents and video clips that will be shared with everyone on their screens at home.
The lessons covered are the same as they would be in-person but how the counsellors deliver them has changed. There is less group work among the participants to keep things simple and online breakout rooms are not used.
Operating out his office at Abrigo, Anderson opens up the virtual Zoom room at 6:45 p.m. for the men to join. With the top of the clock reached and the introductory remarks given, Anderson has the full attention of the group. Over the next two hours they cover the evening’s content, watch a video, and questions are asked to inform and stimulate discussion. The men answer with insightful comments and often reflect back on their own experiences.
Each counselling group is different, and our clients can be just as engaged virtually as they are in person. Virtual counselling is here to stay in one form or another, but we look forward to the day when we can see our clients together, in-person, once again.
Our focus is to connect, integrate and support the Portuguese-speaking community in Canada.
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