3P Family violence
The Velvet Covered Sledgehammer: A child-centred approach to perpetrator intervention
Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) is a major health and welfare issue in Australia. It predominantly affects women and children and has a profound impact on the lives of children, their development, emotional and mental health, and future relationships. Too often the responsibility for keeping children safe rests with mothers, while fathers who use violence are isolated and marginalised. This approach limits opportunities for meaningful change and relationship repair.
In this paper we show that men who have used violence in their family relationships can be challenged and motivated to take responsibility for ending their abusive behaviour towards their children and their children’s mothers, and develop more child-centred fathering.
Kids First Australia and ReGen, in partnership with the Universities of Toronto and Melbourne, are undertaking a Victorian trial of Caring Dads. Caring Dads is a Canadian intervention program for fathers who have neglected or physically and/or emotionally abused their children; exposed their children to domestic violence or are deemed high-risk for these behaviours. The Caring Dads program emphasises men’s accountability for their behaviour and helps fathers become more aware of and responsible for their use of abusive and unhealthy parenting strategies. The program draws on best practice across parenting, child abuse, perpetrator interventions, behaviour change and working with difficult-to-engage clients to enhance the safety and wellbeing of children.
Two years into the trial, feedback from fathers, mothers and referrers is showing us how Caring Dads makes a difference for children and their families. One father described Caring Dads as a “velvet-covered sledgehammer” that pushed him to confront the impact of his use of violence on his children, while respecting his desire to be a better father. The experience of feeling listened to empathically helps fathers to reflect and move beyond entrenched patterns of self-centred parenting choices rooted in deep shame. Many fathers have described having a greater sense of connection with their children, and evidence suggests that this increased empathy is a protective factor against his future use of violence. While holding father’s accountable for their use of family violence, this program approach acts as a ‘velvet sledgehammer’ to promote change and repair.
Keywords: Family violence, perpetrator program, partnership, parenting intervention, Victorian trial.
Social Work trained, Monique Yeoman has extensive experience in the fields of Child Protection and Family Violence and is the coordinator of the Caring Dads Victorian trial.
Fiona Edwards is social work and family therapy trained with extensive experience. She’s uniquely skilled at therapeutic work with perpetrators of family violence.