Pandemic recovery funds help Changing Ways tackle ‘big gap’ in the system to prevent domestic violence

Changing Ways, Tim Smuck, executive director and Holly Meaney, the agency’s new community engagement and research co-ordinator

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To end violence against women and domestic abuse, we have to get to the root of the issue.”

Tim Smuck
executive director, Changing Ways

‘We need to get to boys and men before they cause harm’

Changing Ways is internationally known for its programs for men who have been charged with domestic abuse.

Now — amid a rise of social media influencers promoting aggressive versions of masculinity to young males — the agency is working to prevent boys from ever turning to violence in the first place.

With federal pandemic-recovery funding allocated by United Way Elgin Middlesex, Changing Ways is expanding its partnerships with other organizations in the region and building a network of intervention services for young people on the cusp of using harm.
“Our focus is boys and men because that’s the demographic most likely to use violence,” said Tim Smuck, executive director of the nonprofit, which serves London and Elgin and Middlesex counties.

The funding enables Changing Ways to expand on its 20 years of work to combat intimate partner violence as an agency that provides court-ordered counselling for men who’ve been charged with domestic abuse.

“To end violence against women and domestic abuse, we have to get to the root of the issue,” said Smuck. “That means working to help men who’ve abused recognize their patterns. But it also means educating our community on the risk factors linked to boys and men who use harm, and establishing support services for them.”

Changing Ways, Tim Smuck, executive director

‘Young people charged more than ever before’

The agency, which has called on the City of London to declare gender-based violence an epidemic, is one of 26 groups that United Way Elgin Middlesex allocated to receive funding from the Government of Canada’s Community Services Recovery Fund to address needs that have emerged or increased since the start of COVID-19.

“Without this funding, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” said Smuck, who noted most funding in the area of domestic violence tends to be directed toward victim services. “We would be restricted to delivering our base service.”

Throughout the pandemic, UWEM helped the agency’s United Way-funded Caring Dads program continue its work by investing in electronic tablets that would enable clients to log in for virtual support meetings and counselling sessions.

United Way helped keep families safe during the pandemic by providing funds to help Caring Dads deliver remote support to men at risk of abusing.

But at that same time, staff and volunteers were seeing soaring numbers of 18-24 year old court-mandated clients — which more than doubled since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We are seeing young people charged more than ever before,” said Smuck.

This, amid a rise in “influential voices,” and men’s rights groups targeting boys online with misogynist messages that complain about discrimination against men and normalize violence against women.

“We know a lot of young boys are being influenced by these negative channels,” said Smuck. “We want to push the counter narrative: to tell men and boys, ‘You play an important role in making your community safe. You can show up without being emasculated.’”

Boys have important role in making community safe

“The patriarchal beliefs that give men privilege in our society — that they’re strong, they’re leaders, they’re logical — are also the ones that can handcuff men from seeking help to deal with their emotions,” said Holly Meaney, the agency’s new community engagement and research co-ordinator.

Holly Meaney, community engagement and research co-ordinator

A recent PhD candidate and former men’s counsellor, Meaney was one of the employees who helped to serve the influx of young males being ordered to attend Changing Ways during the pandemic.

Knowing that many clients in the 18-24 age bracket would have been showing signs of violent behaviour as early as 12 years old, Meaney, Smuck and the Changing Ways team began to explore ways to create interventions for boys through a multi-agency, community-wide prevention strategy.

New partnerships in the works

As part of the project, Changing Ways will work with organizations, such as police services, school boards, Western University and Fanshawe College to create spaces and strategies to bring boys and men into conversations around healthy relationships.
It will also strengthen relationships with other agencies in the intimate-partner and domestic violence sector, such as ANOVA, London Abused Women’s Centre and the Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration.

Breaking the cycle

“I didn’t want to be like my dad,” is a common refrain uttered by Changing Ways’ clients.
“We hear that all the time from men who end up in our support groups,” said Meaney.
“We want to make sure that going forward, there are more community supports available for boys and young men in that position — to help them learn to express feelings in non-violent ways.”

See the full list of funded projects and for more information about the Community Services Recovery Fund.

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