Links between coercive controlling violence, parenting problems and children’s behaviours

Links between coercive controlling violence, parenting problems and children’s behaviours

22 November 2012

Research from the Parramatta Family Relationship Centre

Research undertaken by the Parramatta Family Relationship Centre (NSW) has emphasised the high prevalence of violence between clients presenting for post-separation services, with 87% of client relationships in the study characterised by intimate partner violence.

Findings from the research, conducted by Lynda Dunstan, Dr John Bellamy and Dr Susan Evans (2012)2, show that the types of problems reported by clients include threatening or abusive behaviour towards the partner and emotional abuse and manipulation of children.

Researchers used the Mediator’s Assessment of Safety Issues and Concerns (MASIC) tool and three other instruments developed by the Parramatta FRC staff – a Child Behaviours (Assessment) Tool, a Parenting Problems Screening Tool and a Practitioner (Reflective Oriented) Assessment of Parenting Problems to screen and assess for violence between parents and its impact on parenting and children’s behavior.

Results from the study indicate a strong association between the presence of coercive controlling violence3 and problems in parenting, leading to reduced parenting capacity for both victim and perpetrator parents. The most significant association, other than exposing children to domestic violence, was “angry outbursts when discussing children” which was identified as occurring at least weekly for 41% of parents who experienced well above average levels of coercive control. This group of parents was also identified by practitioners as experiencing a range of problems impacting their parenting, such as being preoccupied with an abuser’s demands, exhaustion and lack of emotional availability, and drug and alcohol issues.

The presence of coercive controlling behaviors was also found to be associated with particular children’s behaviours such as physical aggression by the child, bullying others, aggression towards parents and other children, disrespect of females, disturbed eating and sleeping routines and children’s increased concerns about their body.

The negative short-term and long-term impacts of family violence make the presence of such violence a serious consideration in post-separation parenting arrangements.

The study affirms that practitioners should aim to include screening for the presence of coercive controlling violence in the context of separation. The use of MASIC and the three other screening and assessment tools in combination was also confirmed by the study as effective in practice settings, although the MASIC alone does not identify perpetrator and victim parents.

The general recommendations arising from this study were:

  • That comprehensive assessment in the post-separation context needs to incorporate both actuarial tools (tools developed from empirical research through a process of testing in clinical studies that helps accurate prediction of risks) and sound professional judgment.
  • Assessment tools must have the capacity for differential assessment of intimate partner violence, particularly coercive controlling violence.
  • Addressing the presence of coercive controlling violence should be prioritised in relation to child safety and in designing parenting plans.
  • Assessment processes should be extended and refined to better identify children’s needs in cases of intimate partner violence.
  • Post-separation services seek to provide high levels of support for victims of coercive controlling violence, seek to enhance parenting capacity, and improve access to children’s support services.
  • Further research should be carried out on ways of addressing coercive controlling violent behaviours and developing parenting programs for perpetrators.

For further information or to obtain a copy of the full report please contact:

Lynda Dunstan, Senior Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner and Child Consultant

Parramatta Family Relationship Centre

Level 3, 16 Parkes St Parramatta 2150

Phone: (02) 9895 8144


2. This research was presented at the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts 49th Annual Conference in Chicago, 2012, and the Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, Melbourne 2012.

3. Coercive controlling violence is a type of intimate partner violence with a pattern of abusive intimidation, coercion and control coupled with physical violence against partners.


Childhood abuse in all its forms, is minimized these days due due to the lack of funding and knowledge of the true effect it has on a child’s development. The difficulty of educating parents to what is considered child abuse and what is not is not to simple as others think. Parents sometimes don’t ‘plan’ to hurt their child but consciously do. That is still considered child abuse. Arguably, it is an social problem that effects every single person. Google Harville Hendrix as he has some very interesting books on why we need to overcome our childhood issues to find true happiness. There are also many blogs out there where you can follow people blogging about living with childhood abuse and the effects on their life. One interesting one
Hi Kate, thanks for your thoughts and for passing on these resources. The blog certainly gives a very personal account of how child abuse affects ongoing relationships, and it's important that research doesn't become too detached from people's lived experience. Thanks again, Elly
Elly Robinson

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Lalitha Nair

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