Fathers who use violence

Fathers who use violence

Options for safe practice where there is ongoing contact with children

Cathy Humphreys and Monica Campo

CFCA Paper No. 43 — June 2017
close up of angry man

Domestic and family violence (DFV) remains a chronic and destructive aspect of family life in Australia (Cox, 2015). Its pervasive reach into the lives of women and children creates fear, undermines health and wellbeing, is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children, and costs the community an estimated $21.6 billion (Our Watch, 2016; Price Waterhouse & Cooper, 2015).

This paper responds to a challenge that has continued to frustrate workers attempting to intervene to support women and children living with DFV. The challenge that arises when women and children may not be in a position to separate from their abusive and violent partners, and when women and children's wellbeing and safety may not be enhanced by separation. In particular, this paper is focused on fathers who use violence and whether there are strategies that engage and address the issues for children, women and men who are continuing to live with DFV.

Key messages

In situations of domestic and family violence, non-offending parents (mainly but not exclusively mothers) are not always in a position to separate from an abusive partner. Separation may result in escalating violence, homelessness and poverty, even a loss of resident status.

Very little evidence exists of effective, safe practice where there is domestic and family violence (DFV) and mothers and fathers remain living together, or when they are co-parenting a child/ren.

A range of different responses have been developed from different areas of the service system to respond to families living with DFV, including nurse visitors, couple counselling, restorative justice, child protection, and whole of family approaches with vulnerable families.

Where services have been developed, there are generally stringent conditions that support safety for all parties, including workers, when working with fathers who use violence.

Statutory child protection workers are required to work with families even when there are risks of harm. All other workers in the interventions reviewed circumscribe work through risk assessment processes.

Whole of family approaches that engage each member of the family where there is domestic and family violence and focus on parenting represent emerging practice, with some promising developments.

Workforce development is critical in an area where skilled work is essential to support the safety and wellbeing of all involved.

The documentation of evidence of domestic violence and the specific detail of the impact of poor fathering and the undermining of the mother-child relationship are crucial aspects of the child protection investigation (Mandel, Healey, & Humphreys, forthcoming 2017). Without this evidence, the child's case for protection and support will be significantly undermined.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Cathy Humphreys is Professor of Social Work at the University of Melbourne. At the time of writing Monica Campo was a Senior Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Publication details

CFCA Paper
No. 43
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, June 2017.
26 pp.
ISSN: 
2200-4106
ISBN: 
978-1-76016-126-2
Suggested citation:

Humphreys, C., & Campo, M. (2017). Fathers who use violence: Options of safe practice where there is ongoing contact with children (CFCA Paper No. 43). Melbourne: Child Family Community Australia information exchange, Australian Institute of Family Studies. 

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