Programming Responses for Intimate Partner Violence




Legislation: Protection Against Family Violence Act, 2000

Provincial Action Plan: Family Violence Hurts Everyone: A Framework to End Family Violence in Alberta (2013)

Domestic Violence Court: Available in eight jurisdictions: Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, Red Deer, Fort McMurray, Airdrie, and Medicine Hat.

In 1984, Alberta established the Office for the Prevention of Family Violence, which was the first of its kind in Canada. In 1990, the United Nations commended Alberta for its progress in addressing family violence through the efforts of this office.

Alberta’s current action plan defines IPV as “The abuse of power within relationships of family, trust or dependency that endangers the survival, security or well-being of another person”. The action plan’s guiding principles include: commitment to safety in the home; focus on primary prevention; acknowledgement that IPV is a fundamental violation of human rights; a commitment to collaborative, evidence-informed, client-centered, and a gender-based approach to acknowledge the different situations and experiences of women, men, boys and girls. The plan utilizes a lifespan perspective, and a commitment to culturally appropriate responses with shared responsibility for ending IPV including a whole-government approach.

Five strategic priorities are identified:

  1. Strengthen efforts to prevent family violence
  2. Enhance services, support and the justice response for victims and offenders
  3. Partner with diverse communities
  4. Promote family and community safety through policy, legislation and public engagement
  5. Evaluate, measure and demonstrate success

The Action Plan identifies risk factors at an individual, relationship, community, and societal level for both perpetrators and victims. Strategic Priority 2 is dedicated to enhancing services, supports, and the justice response for victims and offenders of family violence. Risk factors are discussed, such as poverty, housing, and unemployment as key issues that prevent victims from leaving their abusive partners. Strategies that follow include provision of basic needs, housing, education, and employment services for victims.

The Action Plan addresses maintaining and enhancing an effective justice response to IPV. For example, strategies to enhance police risk assessment, coordinate information sharing between criminal and family courts, provide victims access to legal advice, develop and implement strategies to assist with an effective and appropriate justice response for victims and offenders are outlined.

In 2009, the Province began the process of developing standardized service guidelines to ensure greater consistency in justice-linked IPV processes and programming across the 15 communities in which Alberta Health and Wellness funds services. The resulting document, the Provincial Family Violence Treatment Program (PFVTP), sets out minimum standards for referrals, assessment, treatment, monitoring of compliance, and reporting related to programs for offenders. All contracted IPV service providers are expected to comply with the standards. Standards are reviewed on an annual basis to keep current with expanded knowledge related to IPV. PFVTP services exist in every jurisdiction that has a domestic violence court as well as some others. Specifically, PFVTP programs currently exist in Calgary, Edmonton, Peace River, Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, Hinton, Wetaskiwin, Drumheller, Red Deer, Rocky Mountain House, Airdrie, Morley Reserve, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and Brooks.

Programs also operate outside of the PFVTP. These programs are situated in community counselling centers and within some John Howard Society agencies. In some cases, these services are delivered by Family and Community Support Services, as described below. The Safe Communities Secretariat provides funding to increase and expand counselling services outside the PFVTP. (See Appendix A for a list of counselling services).

Risk assessment

Police based screening begins with the Family Violence Investigative Report, which is completed in all cases of IPV to identify offender risk and safety planning for victims. This assessment is included in the offender’s court brief. Extremely high-risk cases are referred to the Integrated Threat and Risk Management Centre (I-TRAC), a multi-disciplinary threat assessment unit that provides a range of services related to risk assessment, such as case management, safety planning, expert testimony, referrals to community resources, and specialized police units.

Probation screens all offenders for IPV using the SPIn (Service Planning Instrument). This tool identifies service needs based on risk and protective factors in the following categories: criminal history, response to supervision, aggression/violence, substance use, social influences, family, employment, attitude, social/cognitive skills, stability, and mental health. The assessment is updated every six months. Offenders are also screened using the Domestic Violence Inventory (a self-report measure which has scales in truthfulness, violence, alcohol, drugs, control, and stress coping ability). Depending on the level of risk, probation may case conference with the police domestic violence unit to address the offender’s supervision needs.

At the intake stage of treatment (within the PFVTP framework), participants’ risk is assessed by treatment providers using the SARA (Spousal Assault Risk Assessment Guide) and B-SAFER. Offenders are also screened for addictions and mental health issues.

Domestic Violence Court

In communities where there is a domestic violence court, offenders who admit to the facts or are convicted of an IPV-related offence are divided into two court streams according to their level of risk for recidivism. Lower risk offenders are afforded the opportunity to enter into a ‘therapeutic stream’ where they admit to the facts of the charge and complete a treatment program. If the offender agrees to enter this stream, the charge is withdrawn and the offender enters into a peace bond with conditions to keep the peace, report to probation, and attend mandated treatment. Treatment includes specialized IPV programs, substance abuse treatment and/or parenting courses.

Men who are ineligible or opt out of the ‘therapeutic option’ are mandated into treatment upon conviction. In both cases, men are monitored through conditions of their probation order.


Communities that operate within the PFVTP adhere to specific guidelines that address how information will be shared between agencies. At its inception the PFVTP working group established an agreement under which all funded agencies were able to share information (vetted by the Privacy Commissioner – Privacy Impact Assessment). Local protocols have emerged throughout the province that allow communities to work in collaboration and share information primarily with the consent of the offender, or without consent in cases of extreme risk.


Treatment within the PFVTP program is considered as either base or enhanced. The base model is a psychoeducational, 15-week group format (minimum of 15 weeks of 2 hour group treatment or a suitable variation of 30 hours of treatment). The preferred model is more variable and includes best-practices and evidence based therapeutic models that may be eclectic or hybrid in approach.

Groups include, at minimum, a psychoeducational component that encompasses the PFVTP core concepts. Eight core concepts are covered within the treatment program: exploring and defining abuse, responsibility and accountability, emotional regulation, skills development, boundaries, safety, substance abuse and addiction, and parenting.

Whether base or enhanced, participants are screened for risk at intake as well as for addictions and mental health issues using the SARA, B-SAFER and SPIn. Concurrent addictions and mental health treatment is provided for those who require it through links to specialized community services. Offenders may also be referred to culturally based services as appropriate.

Group therapy is the preferred treatment modality; however, there are cases when individual counselling is deemed to be more appropriate, such as when there are significant barriers to group participation (including poor English). An offender may be offered individual counselling in addition to or as an alternative to group. In either case, the offender must complete a minimum of 15 weeks of treatment. Groups are offered in closed format and have between 8 and 15 participants (allowing some flexibility for drop-outs).

Of particular note in terms of innovative programming within PFVTP is the “Sobering Effect” program offered by the YWCA Sheriff King Home in partnership with the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission in Calgary. Sobering Effect is a 14-week domestic violence and substance abuse program - one of the only such integrated programs in Canada. Men attending this program have files opened in both agencies and make contact with the program 3 times a week for 14 weeks.

Parenting/Impact of child witnessing

The parenting component of the PFVTP treatment group assists participants to learn new ways of interacting with and parenting their children. The impact of exposure to family violence on children, strategies to assist children exposed to family violence, and the intergenerational transmission of family violence are covered under this segment.


Every police service in Alberta is required to work in partnership with community service providers, systems, and agencies and is encouraged to establish IPV coordination committees. Many communities also have specialized IPV response teams that coordinate services to victims and assess and monitor high-risk IPV offenders. In jurisdictions where there are IPV courts, justice partners and community-based service providers work collaboratively to provide services. In Calgary, HomeFront was established to ensure coordination and integration of services within the justice system and between the justice system and the broader community. HomeFront continues to be a highly successful and innovative initiative.

Accountability to Victims

PFVTP agencies conduct partner contact as part of their core services. This contact occurs at a minimum of three occasions during an individual’s treatment. Victims are offered safety checks and referrals for support. In Calgary, HomeFront offers a comprehensive, coordinated service for victims, working closely with the Calgary Counselling Centre and the YWCA.

Non-PFVTP Services


In some communities, agencies offer programs outside of the PFVTP guidelines and are ineligible for Alberta Health funding. These agencies piece together funding from different sources including alternate government funding, user fees and fundraising.

Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) exist in some communities throughout the province. FCSS is tasked with providing preventative social services at a local level in a manner that is tailored to each community’s needs and resources. They are funded in a provincial (80%) and municipal (20%) cost sharing arrangement. FCSS provide services directly or they contract services from other community agencies. IPV treatment services fall under FCSS in some communities. Men are referred to these programs as part of a probation order.

There are a range of strategies employed by non-PFVTP service providers with respect to user fees. Some agencies charge a fee both to mandated and voluntary participants, while others offer services free for mandated participants (who are funded by the Ministry) and only charge voluntary participants (who would otherwise be unfunded). In Camrose, the Family Violence Action Society provides free services regardless of the participant’s court status.


Agencies accept referrals from probation, child protection, community agencies and in some cases self-referrals. The programs use a range of treatment modalities including narrative therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, IPV-informed couples therapy, life skills training, and individual counselling.

Accountability to Victims

For communities operating outside of the PFVTP, victim contact is most often the responsibility of the probation officer.


Tutty, L. M., and Koshan, J. (2013). Calgary’s specialized domestic violence court: An evaluation of a unique model. Alberta Law Review, 50(4), 731-755.

Evaluation of the Calgary Specialized Domestic Violence Trial Court and Monitoring the First Appearance Court: Final Report, 2011

Irene Hoffart and Michelle Clarke, HomeFront Evaluation. Final Report, 2004

Leslie Tutty, Cindy Ogden and Jacqueline Warrell, “Paths of Change: A Follow-up Qualitative Evaluation of Men Mandated to the Sheriff King Offender Groups”

Tutty, L. M., Jesso, D., Ogden, C., and Warrell, J. G. (May, 2011). Interviews with Mandated Men Regarding the Criminal Justice Process and Calgary Counselling Centre's Responsible Choices for Men Program. Calgary, AB: RESOLVE Alberta.

McGregor, M., Tutty, L., Babins-Wagner, R., and Gill, M. (2002). The long term impact of group treatment for partner abuse. Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, 21, 67-84.

Tutty, L. M., Bidgood, B. A., Rothery, M. A., and Bidgood, P. (2001). An evaluation of men’s batterer treatment groups. Research on Social Work Practice, 11(6), 645-670. doi:10.1177/104973150101100602


A particularly notable innovation in Alberta is its integration of addiction and IPV treatment. Addiction treatment is a component of the PFVTP (based on a biopsychosocial approach). Treatment is provided by a specialized service provider who works in partnership with the IPV service provider. All attempts are made to integrate service delivery. The HomeFront program is also innovate in its work to integrate court and community services.

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