Social services were on the brink of taking James’s child into care after his partner committed a series of assaults that led to her arrest.
James’ partner was suffering from post natal depression and struggling to cope. During arguments, she occasionally physically assaulted James*. But the major flashpoint came when she assaulted James’ mother.
Social services placed the child with James’ parents, restricted him to a visit lasting an hour a week, and recommended he complete a programme called Help that is run by the Merseyside Community Rehabilitation Company (M CRC).
Help is aimed at men who have either committed domestic abuse or who could be considered as likely to do so. James was resistant to starting the course because he did not believe he was ever going to lash out.
He said: “I refused at first, but how could I not do it if it meant I could see more of my son? I thought it was going to be a waste of time. I was the victim. It was my mum who got hurt.”
The couple split up over the assault. Social services had also flagged serious concerns about James’ chronic cannabis consumption, which was averaging a dozen joints a day.
Roy Cook, interventions lead, co-facilitates Help at offices across M CRC with his colleague Cindy Green.
James said: “As I started to hear the conversations from other men on the course it began to make sense. I understood why my ex-partner became violent, and how my actions had contributed to making her more violent.
“I see how it was a two-way thing. I wasn’t blameless. I could’ve reacted better.
“Help made sense. I got stuck into it and really learnt about empathy. Empathy is powerful, and it really woke me up.
“I realised what she had been going through, she’d seen her parents being violent – she’d had a bad upbringing. I’d not made allowances for that.
“We’d been afraid to reach out for professional help because we didn’t want our child taken away.”
James was also referred to Addaction to help him tackle his cannabis usage. Ordered by the courts to quit or face losing his child, James took the only option.
He said: “As I reduced, and as I continued with Help, things slowly fell into place. I also got a lot of support from Roy when not everything went my way.
“Help was eye-opening. I heard from men of all different ages, about their situations, their perspectives. It was like a puzzle, I was putting all the bits of information I took from Help and from the other participants and was putting all the bits together.
“I ended up looking forward to attending the sessions. It made me feel more relaxed in dealings with my social worker.”
After a long battle James now shares custody of his child with his ex-partner. Both he and his ex-partner are on much better terms.
Roy said: “James learnt that when someone is vulnerable they are much more likely to be damaged by domestic discord. He quickly recognised that his partner needed his support not criticism and that this criticism made things much worse.
“He has done so well. We are all enormously proud of the progress he has made. He built on that early momentum and it’s to his immense credit that he kept that momentum going.
“Programmes cannot change anyone who doesn’t want to change. They act as a catalyst. And when people like James are exposed at the right time to that catalyst, the transformation can be stunning if built upon’
“Thanks to quitting cannabis he is far more comfortable in his own skin, fresher, clearer thinking. Discussion in the group helped him to understand that whilst he viewed cannabis as a ‘little thing’ the Court didn’t and this ‘little thing’ was threatening the most important thing to him – life with his son. Understanding that was key. The understanding came from the group sessions but it was him who turned the talk to action. He is a fantastic ambassador for what can be achieved and I’m glad Help has been able to play a part .”
James now volunteers with MCRC.
James added: “I’d say to anyone starting Help, ‘approach it with an open mind. It might not be what you want, but see if things strike a chord, and if they do, try to focus on them while the rest fits into place’.
“I was nervous at first talking to others about my experience. But if what I’ve come through can help others, I want to do it.”
James* is not his real name.