Name.Narrate.Navigate: a program for young people who use violence in their families

(Photos by Name.Narrate.Navigate participants, used with permission)

Name.Narrate.Navigate (NNN) is a program exploring trauma-informed, culturally-sensitive responses to family and domestic violence by young people. NNN, works with young people who have committed family and domestic violence; are identified at risk of coming into contact with the justice system for the same; or who live in family and community contexts with high rates of family and domestic violence. The program also works to upskill practitioners in a range of sectors to work with these young people in ways that address the spectrum of violence, abuse and trauma from victimisation through perpetration.

The following is an overview of NNN written by (Tamara Blakemore, Lousie Rak, Joel McGregor and me).

NNN grew from previous research 1, 2 involving interviews with 38 practitioners working with young people in the Hunter region of New South Wales (NSW) to explore their perceptions of youth crime, educational engagement, the relationship between educational engagement and involvement in crime, and challenges and opportunities for practice. Some of the findings relevant to the establishment of NNN include:

  • There was a perception of increased youth-perpetrated interpersonal violence within family, out-of-home care and peer group settings, especially by young women
  • Crime can be seen as a form of communication and a way of building connection
  • Authentic engagement was key to working effectively with young people who use violence or are at risk of using violence
  • The behaviours and motivations of young people could be easily pathologised and labelled by service providers
  • The primacy of trauma and potentially intergenerational trauma in these contexts is important
  • Young people often experienced lack of fit and inflexibility in the services they were offered
  • There was a dedicated group of service providers who genuinely cared for the young people they worked with
  • There was a sense of disconnection between many of the practitioners and the worlds of the young people they worked with.

NNN, which is funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services—Family Safety Branch and the NSW Department of Education, is trialling workshops exploring some of the drivers of interpersonal violence within family and out-of-home care settings. The program has five main components (Figure 1), each of which is discussed below.

Figure 1: Components of NNN

The program for young people

At the heart of the program are small group workshops with young people to examine the role of violence in their lives and to build skills that can assist them to explore alternatives to violence. There is a tendency for program logics to assume that somewhere between inputs outputs and outcomes “magic happens” (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Magic happens!

Working from a trauma informed and culturally sensitive ethos, the “magic” in Name.Narrate.Navigate (Figure 3) is built on a theory of change that recognises that new knowledge; skills and behaviours; greater confidence; coping and sense of connection can assist young people to improve their life circumstances, wellbeing and safety. In the workshops there is a focus on:

  • skills and abilities to recognise, regulate and communicate emotions, needs and urges (emotional literacy)
  • communication skills
  • empathy to respond to others and themselves
  • an understanding of power and control,
  • awareness of the potential impact of blame and shame
  • opportunities to explore what positive choice might look like for them in their lives, particularly in relation to the use of violence.
Figure 3: Theory of change

NNN practice and process is informed by Kolb’s four stage cyclical experiential learning model; Universal Design; Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and Radically Open Dialectical Behaviour Therapy as well as the invitational work of Alan Jenkins 3, 4, and the photovoice work of Wendy Fitzgibbon in contexts of probation and parole. These are expressed through four main practice principles for the workshops.

1. Mindful Engagement: Although definitions of mindfulness vary and many mindfulness-based interventions employ different mindfulness meditation techniques 5, mindfulness is often trained through becoming aware of one’s breath, body, thoughts, or other present-moment, subjective experience in a non-judgmental way 6. In NNN, mindful engagement occurs primarily by encouraging participants to:

  • Participate in a range of interactive or experiential activities, including Photovoice work (see below)
  • Take notice of what they observe during the workshop
  • Describe what they observe through a range of media including group discussion, taking photos, and writing postcards to practice.

2. Reciprocal Communication: Reciprocal communication involves responsiveness, self-disclosure, warm engagement, and genuineness. It requires facilitators to make themselves vulnerable to participants and express this vulnerability in ways that can be heard and understood by them. Reciprocity is in the service of the participants, not for the benefit of the facilitators. Reciprocal communication is usefully balanced with irreverent communication which focuses on curiosity, frankness and humour in engaging as a co-learner in the process. In NNN, facilitators share their experiences in relation to the skills and concepts being discussed. If facilitators can share their own attempts (and especially their failures) with drama and humour, even better. This can provide valuable modelling in how to apply skills and how to respond to one’s own vulnerability in a non-judgemental fashion. Irreverent communication can help challenge or change direction in the work by frankly observing or being curious about what is observed in the group.

3. Validation (particularly of Trauma): Validation means acknowledging the experience and perspectives of participants, and acknowledging their perceptions as being true (or at least understandable). It does not necessarily mean agreeing with participants and it does not mean that perceptions cannot be questioned. Validation can improve our relationships by showing we are listening, reduce negative reactivity, defuse anger and reduce feeling the need to justify actions. Validation of trauma can help build knowledge that can motivate skill building and self-awareness for participants in managing distress. Four key practices assist to validate participant experience and emotions:

  • Paying attention by being attuned, noticing and responding to cues in context
  • Reflecting back both content and feeling without judgement
  • “Reading minds” by sensing and seeking out “what’s underneath” the observed behaviour
  • Understanding even if you don’t agree, try to see the roots of behaviour 7                     .

4. New Skill Development: Reflecting the theory of change underpinning the program there is a focus on building new knowledge, skills, behaviour, confidence, connection, and coping for participants in the program in relation to the six key topics in Figure 3.

The NNN workshops with young people involve a one-on-one orientation session, six workshops focusing on each of the main topics and finishes with a one-on-one review (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Structure of NNN workshops

Each of the six topics include six core activities.


Each group work session starts and finishes with participants and facilitators sharing a check in and check out process using a large A1 board. Participants can choose to keep their check in / check out anonymous or show their check in. Participants know that facilitators will check in with them if they select one of the bottom three (“I’m not doing great,” “I’m having a rough time & need a check in” or “I’m really struggling”) but will do so in a way that’s safe and non-identifying.


The program includes a key focus on building skills for mindfulness but includes intentional times throughout each group session where participants engage in participatory mindfulness activities. These involve the young people in activity that requires concentration and sustained focus. The activity shown here required young people to balance an egg on its end. It can be quite frustrating, and some participants question if it can be done, but once some people succeed, there can be pride and congratulations for those who manage to do it.


The program generally includes three short activities per group session which engage participants in experiential learning for knowledge development and skill building. The photos below depict the shoebox activities in the empathy session. Young people are presented with prepared shoebox and asked to think about what it would be like to walk in this person’s shoes, what their story might be, what might be happening in their life, how they might feel, what they might be thinking and doing in their life. In the second part of this activity the young people build their own shoebox—showing what it might be like to walk a day in their shoes (e.g., things about their life, how they feel, what they know about themselves and what they need).


Photovoice 8, 9 is an important part of the workshops and the associated research. Each session includes a photo making excursion where young people and facilitators take a walking tour of the local area to create photos around themes explored in the session. The following session starts with inspecting, theming and adding narratives to the photos taken the session before. This activity engages the participants in descriptive and observational mindfulness, and models focus, and nonjudgmental and curious exploration of a product they’ve made. Narratives of violence, and its key component drivers are elicited through exploration and discussion of the photos created.


Modelling reciprocal communication, each session provides young people with the opportunity to anonymously contribute a postcard to practice—telling practitioners something they wish adults knew (related to the session’s focus).


Each week young people provide an anonymous rating on the session; noting whether they felt heard, engaged and whether the activities were meaningful to their experience.

Steering committee and Practitioner Working Party

The program is supported by a steering committee of key funders and practice sectors and a practitioner working party. The steering committee (including senior representatives from Police, Department of Communities and Justice, Department of Education, Department of Health—Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Department of Infrastructure and Planning, Catholic Care, Singleton Family Support and Justiz Social Justice Org), provides support, strategic advice and championing for the program and its incorporation into the practice landscape.

The practitioner working party acts as a community of practice and supports NNN’s design, ongoing adaptation and continuous improvement. Learnings from the program’s implementation are also shared with community of practice members to stimulate opportunities for shared learning, informal and peer to peer professional development and mentoring. Members of the practitioner working party have trained as facilitators of the program and offer priority support to participants and their families on exiting the program.

There is also a cultural reference group which has engaged Aboriginal communities and supported the development of a program specifically for Aboriginal young people.

Action research

Action research is an important component of NNN. There are two main aspects of the research:

  1. Evaluation of the program
  2. Learning from the experience of participants.

The evaluation involves:

  • Quantitative data collected through the Strengths and Soft Spots Inventory 10 collected one-on-one in the orientation and review sessions
  • Qualitative data collected through collaborative notes based on the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) Common Approach to Assessment, Referral and Support (CAARS) tool 11 again collected one-on-one in the orientation and review sessions
  • Quantitative evaluations using the Scott Miller Child Session Rating Scale (CSRS) 12, collected at the end of each session

Learning from the experience of participants is undertaken through qualitative research involving:

  • The photos and narratives collected through the Photovoice process
  • The Postcards to Practice collected at the end of each session
  • Reflective notes from the facilitators about the workshops.

As part of the project, Louise (the program manager) is undertaking a PhD—with supervision from Tamara (the team leader) and Graeme—exploring five research questions:

  1. What are the narratives of young women who use violence in their interpersonal relationships?
  2. What are the narratives of service providers in relation to young women who use violence in interpersonal relationships?
  3. How do the narratives of service providers compare with those of young women?
  4. What are the implications of young women’s narratives for practice?
  5. What are the autoethnographic experiences of a practitioner/researcher exploring the narratives of young women and service providers involved in youth interpersonal violence?

Professional Development

The final component of NNN is professional development. One of the aims of NNN is to promote trauma-informed practice that challenges some of the top-down approaches often adopted with young people. As well as informing NNN, the Practitioner Working Party allows us to share our experience and learnings with local service providers. In addition, we have held several professional development sessions for local practitioners and will be sharing our experience through more traditional avenues such as journal articles and conference presentations.

For more details about NNN contact Tamara Blakemore, Louise Rak or Graeme Stuart.

Suggested citation:

Blakemore, T., Stuart, G., Rak, L., & McGregor, J. (2020, 25 February). Name.Narrate.Navigate: A program for young people who use violence in their families. Sustaining Community.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. 4 types of power: What are power over; power with; power to and power within?
  2. Power and strengths-based practice
  3. 12 principles of a problem solving approach to conflict resolution
  4. Principles of nonviolence
  5. Nonviolence as a Framework for Youth Work Practice
  6. What does Gandhi have to say about youth work?

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.


  1. Blakemore, T., Agllias, K., Howard, A., & McCarthy, S. (2019). The service system challenges of work with juvenile justice involved young people in the Hunter Region, Australia. Australian Journal of Social Issues, 54(3), 341-356.
  2. Blakemore, T., Rak, L., Agllias, K., Mallett, X., & McCarthy, S. (2018). Crime and context: Understandings of youth perpetrated interpersonal violence among service providers in regional Australia. Journal of Applied Youth Studies, 2(5), 53.
  3. Jenkins, A. (1990). Invitations to responsibility : the therapeutic engagement of men who are violent and abusive. Dulwich Centre Publications.
  4. Jenkins, A. (2009). Becoming ethical : a parallel, political journey with men who have abused. Russell House Publishing.
  5. Chiesa, A., & Malinowski, P. (2011). Mindfulness-based approaches: are they all the same? Journal Of Clinical Psychology, 67(4), 404-424.
  6. Coholic, D. A., & Eys, M. (2016). Benefits of an arts-based mindfulness group intervention for vulnerable children. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 33(1), 1-13.
  7. Lineham, M. M. (2014). DBT Skills Training Manual, 2nd edition. Guilford Press
  8. Sutton-Brown, C. A. (2014). Photovoice: A methodological guide. Photography and Culture, 7(2), 169-185.
  9. Wang, C. C. (1999). Photovoice: A participatory action research strategy applied to women’s health. Journal of women’s health, 8(2), 185-192.
  10. Egan, G. (2002). The skilled helper : a problem-management and opportunity-development approach to helping (Seventh edition. ed.). Brooks/Cole Publishing Co.
  11. Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. (2013). The Common Approach to Assessment, Referral and Support (CAARS): Working together to prevent child abuse and neglect – Final report. ARACY.
  12. Miller, S. D., & Duncan, B. L. (2000). The outcome and session rating scales: Administration and scoring manual. Institute of the study of therapeutic change.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Families & parenting, Nonviolence and conflict resolution and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Name.Narrate.Navigate: a program for young people who use violence in their families

  1. Tracy says:

    Hi Graeme
    Is this NNN program run through Family Action Centre?


    • Hi Tracy, Its an initiative of Tamara Blakemore from Social Work. I’m working on it through my role in the Family Action Centre (but being funding by NNN) but it isn’t run from us. Graeme


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