Parenting in contexts of family violence and inter-parental conflict: Implications for practice

Parenting in contexts of family violence and inter-parental conflict: Implications for practice

Cathy Humphreys and Kathryn Lyons
22 March 2018

This webinar explored the implications of recent research on women's and children’s experiences of family violence and inter-parental conflict.

Parenting in contexts of family violence and inter-parental conflict

Audio transcript: Parenting in contexts of family violence and inter-parental conflict: Implications for practice

Audio transcript (edited)

MS COLEIRO

Hi everyone and welcome to today's webinar, "Parenting in context of family violence and inter-parental conflict: Implications for practice."  My name is Amanda Coleiro and I'm the Manager of Knowledge Translation here at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Today's webinar presentation will explore the implications of recent research on women and children's experiences of family violence and inter-parental conflict.

Before I introduce our speakers, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we are meeting. In Melbourne the traditional custodians are the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation.  I pay my respects to their Elders past and present and to the Elders from other communities who may be participating today.

One of the core functions of the CFCA information exchange is to share knowledge. So I would like to invite everyone to submit questions via our online forum on the CFCA website.  A link will be displayed at the close of this webinar.  Our presenters will be available to answer your questions in the next few days.  It is now my pleasure to introduce today's presenters, Cathy Humphreys and Kathryn Lyons. 

Cathy Humphreys is Professor of Social Work at the University of Melbourne.  Cathy is also co-chair of the Melbourne Research Alliance to end Violence against women and their children (MAEVe) and one of the lead investigators on a safer family centre for research excellence led by Professor Kelsey Hegarty.  Her research in the domestic violence area includes projects on substance abuse, mental health, child abuse, strengthening the mother-child relationship and multi-agency working in reform.  She currently works on a range of projects including Fathering Challenges which examines responsible, reparative and responsive fathering in the context of domestic violence, the PATRICIA Project which explores the interface between child protection and domestic violence services.  The domestic and family violence and parenting project led by Dr Rae Kaspiew which explores the impact of domestic and family violence on mothering and fathering.  The Caring Dads Evaluation Project and Invisible Practices which focuses on interventions with fathers who use violence.

Kathryn Lyons is the Mmanager of the Geelong Family Relationship Centre and Parenting Orders Program working in the area of separated families.  Kathryn has practised as a social worker for the last 16 years in the area of children, adolescents, parenting and family including roles at a migrant resource centre and the Royal Children's Hospital. Kathryn is an active participant of the Victorian Family Relationship Centre’s Managers Group and the Victorian Parenting Orders Program Managers Group, both of which are professional networks that aim to ensure collaborative practice processes and staff development across the State of Victoria.  She is also a member of the Barwon Area Integrated Family Violence Committee and the Barwon South West Family Law Pathways Committee.

Please join me in giving our presenters a very warm, virtual welcome.

MS HUMPHREYS

So, thank you very much for that introduction, Amanda.  As Amanda said, I'm Cathy Humphreys, speaking on parenting in the context of family violence and family conflict, and particularly focussing on the implications from research and practice.  Within that area, I am also doing some focussing on fathers who use domestic and family violence.

Now I just to begin by recognising that this is a very sensitive subject, and not only because most people who are listening to this webinar would have had some experience of domestic and family violence either through loved ones, growing up family violence, friends that you know, or through the clients that you work with.  So we’re not talking about something that isn’t relevant to the lives of people that are listening to this webinar.  But it’s also an issue in relation to a quite big separation in the domestic violence intervention system, particularly when we’re looking at separated families.  This relates to family law, and the arena around family law.

Now for anyone working in the family violence area with women and children—women’s legal services, specialist family violence services, refuges—there’s actually an enormous sense of despair about the decision making and the culture in the family law area.  And only yesterday, I was talking about a program which is doing work with mother-child strengthening—lovely group work in this space—but talking to the facilitators, they’re saying, well of course what we’re doing is actually having to work with most of these women about how they’re managing their children following child contact, and managing the issues in relation to how distressed these children are when they’re coming back from having had contact with fathers who have used domestic and family violence.

However, when you move to the family relationship sector, you get an entirely different story, and they tell about the progress that’s being made in relation to domestic and family violence and the ways in which they are working in this space.  And so that’s why I'm terribly grateful that Kathryn Lyons is here to talk about this issue as well, so that we get some sort of balance in the discussion that we’re having in this webinar.  Slide.

So when you’ve got too much to say and not enough time to say it in, I was told it’s a very good idea to start with your last slide.  So that’s what I've done. I've started with my last slide, putting it first, because the key messages aren’t messages that you want to get lost in the big rush at the end.  So I'm going to give you those key messages and then work the presentation back from there.

So my key messages:  the needs and well-being of children whose lives are impacted by domestic and family violence need to be taken seriously.  We need to recognise that men who use violence are also fathers who use violence and that domestic and family violence is a parenting choice.  That fathers who use violence do not magically become good fathers on separation.  That reparation for the impact of their violence is an important part of healing relationships with their children, and that programs and interventions for fathers who use violence are currently very undeveloped in our service system.  We have a service system that’s been very focussed on the adult and not necessarily on thinking about the mothers and fathers involved, particularly where there’s domestic and family violence. Slide.

So I'll be drawing on different research projects, particularly the PACT Project – Parenting Abuse and Control Tactics, in which Rae Kaspiew, Dr Rae Kaspiew was the lead.  She was clearly someone who many of you have known, work with AIFS for many years, and is now on secondment to the Australian Law Reform Commission. So I'm speaking on behalf of this research team.  And there were three big strands of research in the PACT Projects.  There was the analysis of the LSAC data on parental conflict.  So the LSAC data is a longitudinal study of a large group of Australian children, not ones that are specifically related to domestic violence, just a prevalent study— a population prevalent study—where different waves continue, so that we’re following through children across their lifespan.

So there was an analysis in relation to parental conflict in that database.  Then there was also the analysis of the separated families data, where AIFS has the big databases, and then within that, we interviewed 50 women who had lived with domestic and family violence and talked to them about their experiences of both mothering and their experiences about the fathering that they experienced from their partner or ex-partner.  That will the area that I'll be concentrating on, because that was the area of the research that I was involved in.  I will also draw on a couple of other projects, the Fathering Challenges Project, because those interviews with women were part of the Fathering Challenges Project as well, and we also will be looking at some issues that were raised in terms of talking about children’s experiences of fathering, because they had some very clear views about fathering that I thought are relevant to this discussion and webinar. Slide.

So the PACT project team was led by Dr Rae Kaspiew, with Dr Lixia Qu, Dr Briony Horsfall, and then there was a team from the University of Melbourne and a team from the Judith Lumley Centre.  So I just wanted to acknowledge those colleagues of mine, who are very much a part of this project, and that some of the slides that are being used in this webinar are from Rae Kaspiew. Slide.

I just want to start, because some of you will be going, well why concentrate on fathers who use domestic and family violence? And I just wanted to make the case about a gendered analysis, so that we actually recognise that domestic and family violence is a gendered issue. That, in fact, when you look at the domestic homicide data, 80 per cent of men have created homicides against women, where there’s been domestic homicide.

Similarly, the Children’s Commission, when they looked at children and children’s deaths, more than 50 per cent of 127 deaths were children who were experiencing domestic and family violence.  The majority was violence by men towards to child’s mother.  So I think there’s those issues that we need to hang on to; if we’re talking about domestic and family violence, we need to recognise that it is a gendered issue.  I should just show you the population data from the Personal Safety Survey, which again, 5 per cent of men experiencing physical violence or threat and 17 per cent of women; so three times as many women. But significantly, 4.3 times as many women as men reporting fear or anxiety after the most recent incident, and 41 per cent of women experiencing post-separation violence.  So we need to recognise that the violence doesn’t necessarily stop with separation.

Just to mention, the British Crime Survey. I always point to this in terms of the gendered analysis, because it does show—because they measured violence in a different way, they measured it on a basis of incidents—does show that many men will say, quite legitimately, that they have been hit or experienced some sort of physical violence.  But then when you analyse further, four or more incidents, it’s 89 per cent were women.  Of all the incidents, 81 per cent involved violence by men against women. Overwhelmingly women are the most severely injured and the most fearful. So, it’s not to say that there isn’t quite a lot of physical conflict in relationships, but when you look into chronic patterns, you're looking at a gendered issue.

One of the problems with the LSAC data is it didn’t have a measure of domestic and family violence, it only had a measure of parental conflict, and that will include issues which are in fact domestic violence, as well as issues around parental conflict.  For the most part where you see significant and chronic inter-parental conflict that is an issue of domestic and family violence.  There were a number of research questions which were part of the PACT Project and which you can see up on the screen. Slide.

I just thought I'd start with the prevalence data because I want to drill down in a little while to the qualitative data and people will go, well you know, what about all the others? So I just wanted to put this in the context of inter-parental violence and conflict. So when you're looking at the first wave of 4–5 year olds, there was 76 per cent where there was no reported inter-parental conflict; there was 18 per cent where there was past or emerging inter-parental conflict and there was 6 per cent where it was persistent inter-parental conflict.  So you’ve got a group of children— 6 per cent of a population study— who when they were very young, were living with persistent, chronic inter-parental conflict.  When you look at the 8–9 year olds, it had moved to about 8 to 9 per cent, who were living with persistent inter-parental conflict. Slide.

In terms of that inter-parental conflict and the family structure— so when you looked at the 12 to 13 year olds, and what was the family structures they were living in—well actually of the separated families, there were 40 per cent of those with inter-parental conflict, where there was as reporting of current and ongoing inter-parental conflict and 10 per cent within the study where they weren’t separated.  So I guess what that means is that we have to be really clear that there is a lot of post-separation violence, and that we actually haven’t got a service system that’s well established to deal with post-separation violence and recognise post-separation violence.

So moving across to domestic and family violence in the Separated Family Studies, what they saw and when they looked at a large cohort of the separated families that are part of the AIFS database that, in terms of physical hurt and emotional abuse that associated with negative inter-parental relationships, with a lot of fear and safety concerns, high levels of parental stress, and increased financial hardship.

I'm just going to move across the fact that children are harmed through the processes of domestic and family violence, and that’s why I want to continue to raise that as an issue, but we also need to recognise – and I'm going to move on to Katie Lamb’s study, which says actually children also have a lot of agency and they’ve got some very clear views.  She interviewed in a qualitative study 16 young people about their experiences of what they expected and wanted from a good father.  There were eight of those young people who then constructed digital stories that could be used in men’s behaviour change programs or fathering programs that were specific for fathers who use violence.

I have made the website link because we actually haven’t got the technology to be able to play the digital story, but I do urge you to go back and see a couple of the digital stories, because they’re very powerful messages from children.  And one of the clearest messages from children was they were very keen to have reparation.  In fact when they were living with domestic and family violence, they wanted their fathers to address the past, to acknowledge the wrongdoing, to acknowledge the harm they caused, to apologise, to accept the consequences.  All of the children in different ways said this, and certainly they didn’t use the term ‘reparation’, but we as researchers, pulled it together going – these children are looking for reparation.  They want to address the past; they want a commitment to change.  They want more than an apology.  They want not just to say sorry and then do it all again; they want an apology that’s followed by change and they wanted a rebuilding of trust,  an investing in time and effort, and just about all of them mentioned they wanted them to stop bagging out their mothers, and that that was considered by them to be part of the need to rebuild trust. Slide.

There were other projects as well that we’ve done that highlight the issues for children, when you interview children about their relationships with their father.  These are relationships where the father is a great source of confusion for many of the children.  They fear anger and sadness towards their father, but many of them miss their father’s following separation; others of them resent being forced into unwanted contact. So there’s a range of issues that are very confusing in this space for children, but nevertheless ones that highlight how difficult the issues are when we don’t have programs that demand and support the healing processes that are needed for children to manage the issues in relation to post-separation violence or even violence that’s happening.

So I want to now move to the qualitative data based on the 50 interviews with women; and what you see is that fathering under what circumstances; it’s very complicated and changing.  So that with these 50 women, there were four who were still living with their partners and one of whom was separated under the same roof.  And of the separated mothers, 70 per cent, that’s 35, had at least one child who was mainly living with them, and there were 12 mothers who had no overnight stays for their children.  But of this group of 35 mothers, most of whom had lived with actually very serious domestic and family violence was what they were reporting— and so their children had lived with very serious domestic and family violence—but of those 35 women, six reported at least one child living mainly with the father, six mothers reported all their children living with the father, six mothers reported shared care contact, you know, 50/50 contact, and nine mothers reported weekly contact.  So, in short, there were 27 mothers who had children who had full-time care or extensive contact with their fathers following separation.

So I think that when we’ve got a service system, and particularly the child protection system, which often sees separation as a point of safety, for many of these children, they may be no better off with separation.  In fact, the protections that are built in there, from their mothers being there as the non-offending parent, may be taken away from them.  And so we actually often say to women, why don’t you leave, but then we don’t allow children to leave violent relationships, and we don’t do the repairing with their fathers that’s required to make those relationships non-violent. Slide.

Because if you look at some of the issues that were reported by women in these 50 women who were interviewed, prior to separation they were reporting very high levels of child abuse.  Now you could say that if you're living with domestic and family violence, then in fact that’s all physical and emotional abuse, but they are also reporting other forms of child abuse; a lot of physical abuse, some sexual abuse, some neglect, that was very striking.  One of the things I should say is that the child abuse seemed to have very little impact on the initial child care arrangements that were made, not all of which were court ordered, by any means; a lot of them were – at separation there was a lot of bargaining done, sometimes with the help of the formal system and family relationships services, other times it was just agreed.  But in several cases, like in five of the cases where there was extensive contact with fathers, that was then revoked and moved to supervised or no contact, once very serious abuse in relation to child contact was shown and demonstrated.  So what we saw with those five cases is that children were extensively abused on contact in ways that were so concerning that the abuse was revoked.  But in fact, when you think about it, that should not be happening; that is systems abuse, a lot of that, and we need to be thoughtful about what we’re putting children through. 

There’s a range of issues that mothers reported in terms of their own parenting, about trying to function when there’s domestic and family violence.  There’s a regime of control.  The most common metaphor used was, “we’re walking on eggshells”.  I actually thought when I was reading through the transcripts and analysing the transcripts, I’d think, “Oh I've done this one,” but no, they kept on using this metaphor— a lot of women used this metaphor of walking on eggshells.  They had a lot of commentary; some of it was we prompted and asked the women to talk about the positive attributes of their partners or ex-partners, all of whom had been domestically violent.  So a lot of women could talk about some positive attributes, but if you look at that quote there, you will see that it’s full of, yes they had some good aspects, but they were very undermined by some extremely concerning behaviour from the father.  And so they talked a lot about the poor knowledge and skills that fathers had, who were in this cohort of domestically violent fathers. Slide.

They also talked about school replicating their father’s behaviour.  So this is really concerning behaviour, and I guess is the seeds of intergenerational abuse, isn’t it, that 20 mothers—actually unprompted, because it wasn’t one of questions in the interview schedule—talked about children replicating their father’s behaviours.  They’re lovely but also very difficult.  They’ve come back from his house very angry.  My child, last night, he had a two hour tantrum where he was throwing things and hitting his sister and smashing windows and smashing doors.  Some women left at the point when they saw their children replicating the behaviour, others were finding it being replicated when children came home from contact.  But you can see when you look at the LSAC data, where you’ve got no inter-parental conflict reported, the blue bar would show that children can sometimes return from contact withdrawn and unhappy and critical of their mothers and having difficulty settling.  But when you look those where you’ve got chronic interpersonal conflict— so that’s the orange bar— you can see it’s two or three times as much.  So it’s not to say that children often aren’t upset when they return from their fathers, from contact, but actually it’s much, much greater where you’ve had domestic and family violence reported.

There were some men who were seeking help, and we need to recognise that, but a lot of women felt was quite self-interested and they didn’t see much effect. Those who saw effects from men attending parenting programs or men’s behaviour change programs were those where they saw case management support occurring alongside.

So just to finish off, the LSAC data, the AIFS data and the interview data, say inter-parental conflict and domestic violence does not stop for many families after separation, that exposure to inter-parental conflict or domestic and family violence is associated with poorer outcomes for children, and especially poorer where inter-parental conflict or domestic and family violence is sustained.

So just returning to those key messages, and I just go back to the final message there, that programs and interventions for fathers who use violence are currently very undeveloped, and we do need to recognise the fact that actually mainstream parenting programs do not do the business that’s required, particularly in relation to reparation for these fathers who are using violence.  There’s actually more that’s required.  Many of the parenting programs are about how you maintain discipline and control—actually most of these fathers don’t have a lot of problem with discipline and control, but not necessarily in healthy ways—so we do need to develop the programs that are for fathers who have a history of using violence.  Thank you very much.

MS LYONS

Thank you, Cathy, and thank you also to AIFS for having me here today.  I think this is a really welcome opportunity to talk about the practice implications for parenting in the context of family violence and inter-parental conflict.  So as has been mentioned, I've been at the Geelong Family Relationship Centre now for almost ten years, so hopefully there’s quite a bit of practice experience that I've had over those years that I can share with you today. Slide.

So in future, I'll certainly use Cathy’s tip on putting your key messages first in a presentation, but I haven’t done that today.  What I have done is given an overview of the presentation, so hopefully you’ll find that there are all the pieces there that you would like to hear about.  So I'll talk a little bit about the information about the context of practice, about assessment for family violence and inter-parental conflict.  I also will touch on the impact of conflict on children and young people, because we that so much in our service.  I'll talk about family violence, inter-parental conflict and parenting, and some of the interventions that we use, but also some of the dilemmas, and I think Cathy has certainly touched on many of those already.  And what we see in practice is that this is very complex work; there are many dilemmas within it; we haven’t got it exactly right, but hopefully we are striving to make it better for separated families, and I will end on some future directions. Slide.

So I'll talk just briefly about the umbrella underneath which we sit as a Family Law service and a Family Relationship Centre, and that is of course the Family Law Act.  So that was introduced in 1975.  It’s had many amendments since then, but many would be aware that some more significant amendments occurred in 2006, such as the rebuttable presumption of equal and shared parental responsibility.  Some quite significant changes to language regarding living arrangements for children, and certainly far more emphasis on non-legal resolution of parenting matters, and that of course includes family dispute resolution or mediation.

So in 2006 and 2007, 65 Family Relationship Centres were rolled out across Australia, as well as a host of other Family Law services that offered support and education to separated parents.  So the aims of Family Relationship Centres are to support families through separation and that’s certainly the core work that we do, through mediation, through some counselling and also the Parenting Orders Program. It’s around strengthening family relationships in whatever their form, and also focussing parents on the needs of their children. Slide.

So, the section of the Act that is most relevant, I think for our work, is section 60CA, and that is of course around the best interests of children.  So it must be our paramount consideration.  It talks about the benefit of children having a meaningful relationship with both of their parents, but it also importantly talks about the need for children to be protected from physical or psychological harm, and not be subjected to or exposed to abuse, neglect or family violence.  That sounds simple, but of course it is very complex and certainly complex in practice.  And that section also talks about Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children having the right to maintain connection to their culture; to have support and opportunity and of course encouragement to explore their culture, but that must be consistent with their developmental age and stage.  Slide.

So just lastly in terms of the Act, I think that one of the most significant parts of the Act for us now of course, is the Family Law Legislation Amendment or the Family Violence and Other Measures Act 2011.  So I won’t go through the full definition, but if you're interested that’s in section 4AB, but it has direct implications for matters relating to the safety of children, and of course best interests, and it also talks about mandatory and discretionary reporting obligations for practitioners in this field.  So it certainly refers to children’s exposure to family violence, but I think Cathy has absolutely highlighted and what we see in our service, is that incidences of family violence, including those when children are present, do not end at the point of separation, and, in fact, this is a time where it may escalate.  And in fact, most parents and families that come into contact with a Family Relationship Centre (FRC) are there because of some form of inter-parental conflict or potentially family violence. Slide.

So assessment for family violence and inter-parental conflict is an incredibly important part of work and practice in an FRC, and we know that it may co-exist— family violence and inter-parental conflict—but also important to assess, where possible, for family violence and distinguish it from inter-parental conflict.  I would like to certainly acknowledge, and I have read those studies, and I know that there are reports from particularly women who state that they were not asked about family violence and safety concerns during formal Family Law processes, and that includes mediation.  But I would like to think that in ten years we have made some improvements in this area.  There are a lot more to come, but I think some of the tools that we are using are the Common Risk Assessment Framework in Victoria, which is currently being reviewed and updated, the Attorney General’s Department Screening and Assessment Guide, the DOORS Guide for example and also AVERT.  And it’s very exciting to see that there is currently some review of the intake and assessment tools that we use in Family Law services through ANROWS and the Attorney General’s Department.

I would certainly like to note though that assessment for family violence must be ongoing throughout a mediation progress.  There cannot be a start and finish point.  We must be constantly on alert for any issues of family violence and safety.  I won’t go through all the types of family violence, that’s there on the slide for you to refer to, but I would certainly reiterate again that we must assess, not only a history of family violence, but family violence post-separation.  We must be considering safety of children, but also the impact the violence has had on them and also on their parents and their parenting capacity.

We also need to really consider recommendations from child protection, because a number of families do come to us via that pathway.  And I would also note that, while Family Relationship Centres must conduct mediation in an impartial manner, certainly our own data (and I note that there is a lot of research around this), but our client data and assessment information shows far higher numbers of women reporting family violence.  That’s not to say that there are men and fathers who report that also to us, but overwhelmingly our figures would show that it is more women that are reporting this. Slide.

So some of the practice considerations that we really need to be focussed on in FRC services, as I've said, is of course the safety of parents and children; that must be our primary concern, and sometimes we need to look at what safety measures are required and perhaps our service isn’t the right service; perhaps a referral is needed.  I think though that mediation services are in a very unique position in that we do meet with both parents a lot of the time.  We would meet with the parent who has perpetrated family violence, and we would meet with the other parent who has been affected by family violence.  So supporting disclosure around family violence is, of course, incredibly important.  And there has been, I think, a lot of research in how we do this, and there is a balance, of course, between direct questioning, but also avoiding re-traumatisation of our clients.

So I think our practice experience tells us that with thorough but respectful questioning and, of course, the engagement skills of the practitioner, parents are able to disclose family violence to us; not all of the time, I note that, but sometimes these parents are disclosing it for the very first time.  We need to pay particular attention to the questioning of parents who have been violent, so we must address behaviour, not collude with it.  But I would also see, and I certainly have in my role as a manager, seen this in practice, where the mediation process may be being used by the abuser as a means of engaging the other parent and that’s something we must not be a part of.

We would also see in practice that there may be parents, and it often is the mother, who might appear positional in the mediation process, but in fact what she’s trying to do is act protectively towards her children.  And we certainly see in practice there are cases where there has been very significant coercive, controlling behaviour, and it might be in that case that mediation is not a suitable process.  So, of course, along the way in assessment, we must be thinking also about referral pathways.  So what specialist and therapeutic services may be needed for this family. Slide.

So just moving on a little bit more now to the impact of conflict, particularly on children and young people.  There is a fantastic DVD that we use in our child-focussed information sessions, called Remember Me. I have put the link to that clip in the slides.  I'd love to give some case scenarios today but time doesn’t permit that, so I would really encourage you to have look at that DVD.  It’s very powerful; it talks about the impact of conflict on children, but it also really highlights the parent’s experience of that conflict and the impact it has on their parenting capacity. Slide.

So I would also just like to talk briefly about shared care and inter-parental conflict and family violence. It is a contentious issue, and I am very well aware of some of the assumptions that are made about shared care.  So one of them certainly, and it’s often made by parents, is that equal and shared parental responsibility under the Family Law Act, must equate to equal time. I think there’s also a concern that shared and equal time or care would be favoured over the safety of children and parents with the changes to the Family Law Act.  And also, there’s an assumption, I think sometimes, that Family Relationship Centres advocate for shared and equal time in the majority of cases.  But I think over ten years, what I have seen, and I know there’s still a long way to go, is actually an increased awareness, even in the court system.  When we have magistrates come down to Geelong to the circuit courts, they’re talking to us more and more about the fact that equal time can actually be detrimental to children where there’s significant conflict between their parents, and that’s because we have to consider that these children are trying to navigate two incredibly separate worlds, which have no connection to one another.  And we also must consider, of course, the developmental stage of children and how the conflict has impacted upon them. Slide.

So in terms of the impact of family violence on parenting capacity and what we see in practice, I certainly again would reiterate the studies that certainly have shown that family violence does not necessarily end at the point of separation.  We certainly see in practice the impact it has on parents’ mental health; the trauma and the psychological abuse that they may have experienced, but we also see many parents who over many, many years have had their parenting strengths and capabilities undermined.  We do see mothers’ capacity to act protectively at times is compromised by fear, power and control, and sometimes we’ll see that they’ve been told, even by a system such as child protection, to just leave the relationship, and we expect that that will solve everything, but we know that it doesn’t.

It is interesting to hear Cathy refer to some of the women talking about walking on eggshells, because we certainly hear that metaphor often in our practice, that mothers report feeling very tense and agitated with their children, even within the relationship, as they were trying to continually modify their behaviour in order not to escalate the violence in the home.  We also meet sometimes with fathers who have used violence, and they may be exhibiting overly controlling and punitive parenting behaviours.  I would also note that parents who have not had significant involvement in parenting or care giving with their children, it may not actually be appropriate for them to have substantial time, at least initially.

We certainly see an incredible impact in terms of financial hardship, and that’s often raised in a mediation context.  And we’re also seeing actually more recently, more cases where there has been adolescent violence, where adolescents, particularly boys, may, as Cathy said, replicate the violence that they have seen in their home.  And we certainly see often ruptures to the parent-child relationship.  So I think it’s really important in the context parenting, to be asking, how do you think this has impacted your children?  How do you think this has impacted upon your parenting? Slide.

So what we certainly know, when parenting capacity is lessened by inter-parental conflict particularly, children will be exposed to ongoing parental conflict, and that actually includes non-communication.  Children become messengers between their parents.  We see that they have to share information between their parents because they’re not capable of doing that themselves.  We see an incredible emotional burden that’s ongoing for children and their parents, and we also can see that there is development progress being compromised, particularly in that 0-4 age group.  We often do mediations with parents who are recently separated with very, very young children, and very, very young infants, so we have to be very mindful of children’s developmental age and stage.

We also see that parents are at times unable to support their children’s relationship with the other parent, and in case work more recently, again, we’re seeing situations where siblings are split between their parents, so one sibling is with one parent, the other with the other parent, and siblings are actually not having a lot of contact with each other.  And, of course, it goes without saying, that parents in these situations are unable to effectively co-parent. Slide.

So, when parenting capacity is enhanced though, hopefully what we’re able to see is that parents are able to help their children emotionally after separation, that they can become more present emotionally, and tune into their needs; that children receive reassurance that they’re loved by both of their parents and can be loyal to both, and I'm not talking about though in that situation where there has been violence.  Hopefully older children are able to have a voice, but their parents still take responsibility for making decisions, and hopefully children will experience smoother transitions which help them feel supported and safe, including when we introduce new adult relationships into their lives.

So, what can we do?  Hopefully we can help shift the focus from the other parent to their own parenting and support them with their own strengths.  What are they proud of?  How can they support their children?  How do they ensure they’re safe and emotionally tuned into their needs.  We can build strong and safe attachments for infants and toddlers, and it’s really important that we intervene at an early point there.  That perhaps ourselves or indeed other services, can provide the space for the repair of parent-child relationships and restore parental capacity with therapeutic interventions, which of course we need far more of. Slide.

So, some of the interventions that I'll now talk about that we may use or what we may refer on to, as we look for opportunities to untangle that presenting conflict. I think practitioners must be empathic, but challenging as well.  Often this is very entrenched conflict and we need to challenge that behaviour.  Some of the tools that practitioners may use could be, for example, the Experiences of Care-giving Interview, the Adult Attachment scale, sometimes with children we use the Child’s Perception of Parental Conflict scale.

We used the child-focussed information and education part of our process as early on as possible, and many parents will come up to us after our information sessions, noting that if only we had attended this earlier. I think we can hopefully engage men in their fathering role. And I think FRCs have a unique position here, because we often do see both parents and often they are motivated for some change. There’s some really creative and flexible models of service delivery that are happening right now in FRCs. For example, the Family Safety Navigation model at Melbourne and Sunshine FRC, and there’s a link at the end of the presentation, if you’re interested in hearing more about that. The Family Safety Service model at the Northern Beaches Sydney FRC is another one. But I think more and more we’ll be using legally assisted mediation in FRCs, where perhaps because of the complexity of family violence, parents may need a support person in the form of a solicitor. And I think what we need to do certainly more of, and we’re very fortunate in the Geelong and Barwon region, that even as part the FRC consortium we’re partners with MacKillop Family Services, with Catholic Care, with Barwon Youth and Family and the City of Greater Geelong, and we need to work in partnership with them. Also with the Children’s Contact Service, with specialist family violence services for women, children and men, again, in the Barwon area. So I think these networks are important, perhaps they are under-utilised and we need to, I think, work with them more into the future. Slide.

I’m just going to talk before I finish also about a particular program that is offered fortunately at the Geelong FRC; it’s also offered across Victoria and Australia and that’s the Parenting Orders Program. So, the Parenting Order Program works with families who are in incredibly high conflict, they are often in and out of court and still unable to work through arrangements. So we work with individual counselling, we offer groups and seminars to hopefully strengthen parental capacity, to look at the co-parenting relationship and communication in between parents, and to assist parents in understanding how that conflict is not only impacting themselves and their parenting, but their children too. And it’s also a lot about strategies, about how we can reduce that conflict and what strategies can be put in place.

The other part of that program and a lot of court referrals come to us via this work is what we call ‘repair work’. So, supporting parents again where there’s been very entrenched conflict to re-establish relationships with their children. It’s restorative practice and it must be at the child’s pace, and we meet with children throughout that program. Another intervention that we can use, of course, is child-informed family dispute resolution, developed by Jennifer MacIntosh, Family Transitions and La Trobe University, which really supports disputing parents to actively consider the voice of their children. Slide.

Some of the dilemmas, though, that I think we face in this incredibly complex work are certainly where we’re working with parents who are attempting to make parenting arrangements or decisions when their parenting capacity and thought processes have been compromised by the experience of family violence. We also see sometimes that we’re getting referrals from child protection, and families are coming to us via that pathway, but perhaps an assessment has not been conducted with the perpetrator of family violence and, therefore, we are unaware of any recommendations that might be made regarding the safety of children. And, I think that unfortunately is still a gap and something we need to work better at. I think parents who minimise or justify their abusive behaviours and therefore will not consider the requirement of time with their children being supervised. It is sometimes difficult to engage with and include both parents in interventions. You might have one parent that’s very motivated and the other parent not so. But I think overwhelmingly an incredible dilemma for us is that there are parents that without our service  will continue to engage in contact arrangements that may impact on their children’s psychological and emotional safety; they can’t access legal resources for whatever reason and we know that they will just continue to send their children to the person who has been violent, because that in their eyes in the safer thing to do. So there are a lot of professional dilemmas that we have around decision-making. Slide.

So just to finish with in terms of the future landscape, there’s certainly I think a very important review right now, the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Review into the Family Law Act, led by Helen Rhoades. We need to certainly work with the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence in Victoria and I think FRCs hopefully will work in partnership with the Support and Safety Hubs; one of which is being piloted in the Barwon area. There has also been, of course, the Parliamentary Inquiry into a Better Family Law System to protect those affected by family violence. But in practice we must continue to ensure the safety of children and those affected by family violence, we must get better at that. We need to place more emphasis on the particular impact that family violence and inter-parental conflict has on parenting capacity. We need to continue to build stronger relationships with child protection and other specialist family violence services, and refer to those services wherever possible. But I think  we certainly need to see an increase in resources for fathers who have used violence and I’m very excited to see that Bethany Community Support in Geelong are hopefully going to be putting a lot more resource into the coming year through their men’s centre. Slide.

So, just to finish, I think it’s important to continually bring the focus back to children and parenting. It’s certainly, in terms of conflict and family violence, one of the most significant issues that’s reported by parents that access an FRC service. We must place great emphasis on supporting these parents to not only understand the impact on themselves, but their children, and also provide them the means to engage in therapeutic and educative processes to support sustained change. Thank you.

RECORDING CONCLUDED

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Slide outline: Parenting in contexts of family violence and inter-parental conflict: Implications for practice

Slide outline

1. Parenting in contexts of family violence and inter-parental conflict: Implications for practice
Cathy Humphreys and Kathryn Lyons

2. Parenting in the context of family violence and family conflict: Implications from research and practice

Cathy Humphreys

Professor of Social Work, Uni of Melb, Co-chair of the Melbourne Alliance to End Violence Against Women (MAEVe), and Chief Investigator Safer Families Centre OF Research Excellence.

AIFS Webinar – 14th March, 2018

3. Key Messages

  • The needs and the well being of children whose lives are impacted by domestic and family violence (DFV) need to be taken seriously.
  • Recognise that men who use violence are also fathers who use violence – DFV is a parenting choice
  • Fathers who use violence do not magically become good fathers on separation.
  • Reparation for the impact of their violence is an important part of healing relationships with children
  • Programs and interventions for fathers who use violence are currently under-developed aspects of our service system

4. Research to inform policy & practice

  • The PACT project: Parenting Abuse and Control Tactics (women’s experiences) (lead researcher, Rae Kaspiew)
  • 3 strands to the research: Analysis of LSAC data on parental conflict (Jan Nicholson and colleagues); Analysis of Separated Families data (AIFS); Women’s experiences (Cathy Humphreys, Kristin Diemer, Fiona Buchanan, Rae Kaspiew, Briony Horsfall)
  • Fathering Challenges: responsible, reparative, responsive fathering in the context of DFV (ARC linkage grant, lead researcher, Kristin Diemer)
  • Children’s experiences of fathering in the context of DFV (lead researcher, Katie Lamb)

Culminating in the CRE, Safer Families: Tailoring early identification and novel interventions for DFV (lead researcher Kelsey Hegarty); PATRICIA project; Invisible Practices and Caring Dads evaluation

5. PACT Project team

Australian Institute of Family Studies: Dr Rae Kaspiew, Dr Lixia Qu, Dr Briony Horsfall (Lead organisation)

University of Melbourne: Professor Cathy Humphreys, Dr Fiona Buchanan, Dr Kristin Diemer

Judith Lumley Centre, La Trobe University: Professor Jan Nicholson, Professor Angela Taft, and Dr Leesa Hooker

6. Making the case for a gendered analysis

Domestic Homicide data: Vic Coroner’s Court data – 80% men against women; Australian data – 75% men against women.

Children’s Commissioner: Neither Seen Nor Heard – <50% of 127 deaths were children who had or were experiencing DFV. The majority was violence by men towards the child’s mother

7. Population studies of DFV (PSS, 2006/2016)

1-20 (5%) men experienced physical violence or threat from co-habiting partner

1-6 women (17%) experiencing physical violence or threat from co-habiting partner. Women are 3 times more likely than men to have experienced violence by a ex/partner

1-4 women experience violence from Intimate partner

4.3 times as many women as men reported fear of anxiety after most recent incident from an opposite sex partner

41% of the violence women experience is post-separation

Latest 2016 data – no significant change in rates of DFV. Women experiencing more sexual violence and harassment

8. British Crime Survey (2004)

Subjected to DV in the past year 13% of women and 9% of men

Subjected to 4 or more incidents 89% were women

Of all incidents 81% involved violence by men against women.

Women were overwhelmingly the most severely injured (3 times more likely); Fearful (3 times more likely)

9. A note on terminology

Domestic and family violence (DFV)

Inter-parental conflict (IPC)

  • See Westrupp, Rose, Nicholson & Brown 2015

Survey limitations:

  • Do not measure severity of harm, power dynamics or context
  • Under-represent parents who experience severe violence

10. Research questions

The project has focused on three main research questions:

  • How does IPC and DFV affect mother-child and father-child relationships?
  • How do mothers who have experienced DFV perceive this has affected their relationship with their children?
  • To what extent have these mothers had contact with services and agencies in the child protection, family law and DFV systems?

11. Inter-parental conflict: prevalence

LSAC study child 4-5 years old, mothers’ reports of IPC (B cohort, 3 waves)

  • 76% no IPC reported
  • 18% past or emerging IPC
  • 6% persistent IPC

LSAC study child 8-9 years old (B cohort) or 12-13 years old (K cohort), mothers’ reports (5 waves)

  • 64-65% no IPC reported
  • 26-27% past or emerging IPC
  • 8-9% persistent IPC

12. Inter-parental conflict: Family structure

LSAC study child 12-13yrs old (K cohort)

Percent of mothers reporting any current IPC

  • Mother separated from child’s father (n=629): 40%
  • Mother and child’s father together (n=2734): 10%

13. IPC, maternal parenting and children

  • Children and IPC: poorer outcomes across age groups
    • global health, physical health, socio-emotional adjustment and teacher’s reports of education performance (after controlling for demographics)
    • Any IPC associated poorer outcomes but persistent IPC especially so
    • Poorer global health: 11-14% no IPC cf. 20-24% persistent IPC
    • Poorer physical health: 12% no IPC cf. 23-32% persistent IPC

14. DFV, separated parents and child wellbeing

Physical hurt and/or emotional abuse associated with:

  • Negative inter-parental relationships, fearful and safety concerns
  • Higher levels of parenting stress
  • Increased financial hardship, especially for mothers
  • Poorer outcomes for children and young people
    • Study child’s general health, development worse in one or more areas than their peers’ (4yrs & older), socio-emotional development (4yrs & older), and BITSEA behavioural problem scale (1-3yrs old)

15. Children living with domestic violence: presenting symptoms

  • Bedwetting, sleeping disorders, anxiety, stress, depression, withdrawal
  • Aggressive behavior and language, problems at school
  • Chronic somatic physical problems and frequent presentations
  • Drug and alcohol abuse, suicidal ideation in adolescence

(Smith, 2006, Bedi, 2006)

16. The health impacts on children

  • Children of mothers with a history of IPV have significantly greater use of mental health, primary care, specialty care, pharmaceutical services than those who do not live with family violence
  • Children exposed directly to IPV were 3 times more likely to access MH services after the IPV ended; significantly higher use of ED and primary care. (Rivara et al 2007)

17. Children’s emotional well-being

A consistent research finding is that the emotional well-being of a substantial group of children is undermined by living with domestic violence

Meta analysis of 118 studies showed significantly poorer outcomes on 21 psychosocial measures for children ‘witnessing’ domestic violence, than those not living with violence (Kitzmann et al, 2003).

In any sample, at least a third of children doing as well as or better than children not identified as living with domestic violence.

18. Children’s experiences of fathering

PhD by Dr Katie Lamb

  • Interviewed 16 children with experiences of DFV and talked about what they would look for in a father; 8 constructed digital stories; focus groups held with 21 facilitators from parenting, healing and MBC programs.
  • Powerful stories of the impact of fathers who use violence, the undermining of their mothers, and the need for reparation from their fathers.
  • https://violenceagainstwomenandchildren.com/

19.The diagram shows three step process involved in seeking reparations with father:

The diagram shows three-step process involved in seeking reparations with father:

  • Addressing the past
    • Acknowledge wrongdoing
    • Acknowledge harm caused
    • Apologise
    • Accept the consequences
  • Commitment to change
    • Involve children in change (if they want to be)
    • Change your attitudes
    • Change your behaviour
  • Rebuilding trust
    • Invest time and effort
    • Step up to parenting/co-parenting
    • Acknowledge child perspective as important

20. Other projects (Talking to my mum; SARAH project (Anita Morris)

Their relationship with their father is a source of confusion

They feel fear, anger and sadness towards their father

Some miss their fathers following separation

Some resent being ‘forced’ into unwanted contact

21. Fathering under what circumstances

Complicated and changing!!

4 women still living with their partners

Of the separated mothers, 70% (n=35) had at least one child mainly living with them. 12 mothers had no overnight stays for their children

Of this group of 35 mothers, 6 reported at least one child living mainly with the father

6 mothers reported all their children living with the father

6 mothers reported shared care arrangements (50/50)

9 mothers reporting weekly or regular overnight stays.

In short, 27 had children who had full time care or extensive contact with their fathers.

22. Problems with child abuse – prior to separation

45 women reported child abuse

Table shows number of women (n=45) reporting different forms of child abuse:

  • Psychological/emotional abuse (31)
  • Child witnessed violence against mother or other family member (31)
  • Child was a direct victim of family violence with mother (13)
  • Physical abuse (17)
  • Sexual abuse of child (5)
  • Neglect of child (5)
  • Total forms of child abuse (102)

23. Mothers’ reports on their own parenting

  • Functioning in a “regime of control” limited their ability to focus on the needs of children
    ‘we were walking on egg shells’ (most common metaphor)
  • Mothering became focused on:
    • attempting to protect children from child abuse and DFV exposure
    • compensating for the deficits in the other parent’s parenting or for the children’s experiences of abuse/DFV

24. Women commentary on fathers: Positive attributes – but…..

I honestly think he's a very good father. I've got no issues with that. He just had extreme anger issues that he couldn't - he never dealt with. Like I wouldn't say he was an extremely bad father. Like he supported them in their sports. He supported them with the things they did growing up. But he just had anger that he could not control. (Libby)

She described later in the interview how abusive he was to her as a mother. ‘He wouldn't allow me to [have a relationship with the daughter]….It was always the fact that she was very sporty….I don't know if she was… on the autism spectrum… Just basically his words used to be “fuck off, you're a bad mother”…. You can't have anything to do with her really. (Libby)

25. Problems with fathering

* Poor knowledge and skills as a father

I was realistic about little kids and the mess they make. He demanded everything was tidy. There's no point in yelling at a 1 year old because they've got the coffee out all over the floor. Like, you've left them unsupervised in that time for them to get the coffee all over the floor. (Eloise)

26. Lack of interest as a father

Tough on the kids

He was pretty tough on them and there was really no relationship with [the children]. Like his reality, he was just always angry and he used to just be constantly sending them out of the room if we were all in the room together…So yeah, it sort of—it affected them quite a lot...I was just always looking over my shoulder or trying to make them be quiet. (Kimberly)

27. Children replicating father’s behaviour

20 mothers reporting (unprompted) children replicating their father’s behaviour

(the seeds of inter-generational abuse)

They're lovely but also very difficult. They're coming back from his house very angry. My [child] ...last night, he had, like, a two-hour tantrum where he was throwing things and hitting his sister. And smashing windows, smashing doors. (Malene)

28. LSAC children in separated families (12-13yr olds, K cohort, current IPC)

Bar graph shows proportion of children aged 12-13 years experiencing adjustment difficulties after care time with their father by current inter-parental conflict:

  • Withdrawn and unhappy
    • 9.6% where no IPC was present
    • 22.7% where IPC was present
  • Critical of mother/other family members
    • 12.3% where no IPC was present
    • 32.8% where IPC was present
  • Difficulty settling
    • 16.5% where no IPC was present
    • 40.2% where IPC was present

29. Men seeking help

* 20/30 men sought help

* 7 parenting programs

* 8 Men’s Behaviour Change

* 5 attended both

Women generally cynical about the ‘help’ – used against them

Lasting change reported where men obtained multiple forms of support (case management)

He went to that program. And he was, he was being respectful and helpful and after a little while… I let him move back in. But it didn't last very long... As soon as he was in the house, he stopped going to that …men's change program. He's just reverted back to the—worse than before. He got more and more controlling. (Mai).

30. PACT Project conclusions

  • The LSAC, AIFS Family Pathways and interview findings show:
    • IPC and DFV does not stop for many families after separation
    • Any exposure to IPC or DFV associated with poorer outcomes for children, especially poorer where IPC or DFV is sustained

31. Key Messages cont...

  • The needs and the well being of children whose lives are impacted by domestic and family violence (DFV) need to be taken seriously.
  • Recognise that men who use violence are also fathers who use violence – DFV is a parenting choice
  • Fathers who use violence do not magically become good fathers on separation.
  • Reparation for the impact of their violence is an important part of healing relationships with children
  • Programs and interventions for fathers who use violence are currently under-developed aspects of our service system

32. References

  • Kaspiew et al (2017) Domestic and family violence and parenting: Mixed method insights into impact and support needs: Final Report https://anrows.org.au/domestic-and-family-violence-and-parenting-mixed-method-insights-impact-and-support-needs
  • Kitzmann, K., Gaylord, N., Holt, A. and Kenny, E. (2003). Child witnesses to domestic violence: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71(2), 339–352.
  • Lamb, K., Humphreys, C. & Hegarty, K. (2018 accepted) “Your behaviour has consequences”: Children and young people’s perspectives on reparation with their fathers after domestic violence. Child and Youth Services Review
  • Humphreys, C. & Campo, M. (2017) Fathers who use violence: options for safe practice where there is ongoing contact with children. CFCA Paper no. 43. Melbourne, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
  • Westrupp, E. M., Rose, N., Nicholson, J. M., & Brown, S. J. (2015). Exposure to inter-parental conflict across 10 years of the early childhood period: Data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 19 (9), 1966–1973

33. Parenting in contexts of family violence and inter-parental conflict: Implications for practice.

Kathryn Lyons, Manager, Geelong Family Relationship Centre.

34. Overview of Presentation

  1. Information about the context of practice
  2. Assessment for family violence and inter-parental conflict
  3. The impact of conflict on children and young people
  4. Family violence, interparental conflict and parenting
  5. Practice interventions
  6. Practice dilemmas
  7. Future directions

35. (1) Information about the context of practiceFamily law services and the Family Law Act

  • The Family Law Act (Cth) first introduced in 1975 with numerous amendments since then.
  • Amendments in 2006 included: rebuttable presumption of equal shared responsibility, changes to language re living arrangements and emphasis on non legal resolution of parenting matters (incl through Family Dispute Resolution)
  • This led to the roll out of 65 Family Relationship Centres in Australia. Other Family law services include a range of services offering support and education to separated parents.
  • Aims of FRCs: to support families through separation, strengthen family relationships and focus parents on the needs of their children

36. (1 cont...) Best interests of children

  • Section 60 CA of the Family Law act underpins the work of FRCs and Family law services.
  • Must be the paramount consideration
    • The benefit of a child having a meaningful relationship with both parents
    • The need for a child to be protected from physical or psychological harm and not subjected to or exposed to abuse neglect or family violence
    • For an Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander children to have the right to maintain a connection to their culture, to have support opportunity and encouragement to explore the full extent of that culture consistent with their developmental age and to develop a positive appreciation of that culture

37. (1 cont...) Family violence and the Family Law Act

  • Family violence in the context of the Family law act. Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011. Definition in the act S4AB.
  • Has direct implications for matters relating to the safety and best interests of children, and mandatory and discretionary reporting obligations
  • The act also refers to children's exposure to family violence (section 4AB (2))
  • We know that incidences of Family violence including those where children are present do not necessarily end at the point of parental separation: in fact they may escalate

* Above information from Towards Common Understanding and Practices: A webinar Alan Baker CatholicCare 13th February 2018. 4AB (2) from http://austilii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/cth.consol_act/fla1975114/s4ab.html

38. (2) Assessment for family violence and inter-parental conflict

While family violence and inter-parental conflict may coexist, it is important to assess for family violence and where possible distinguish FV from IPC:

  • Studies have demonstrated that there are substantial numbers of parents who report that they were not asked about violence and safety concerns during formal family law processes such as court, FDR, lawyers (Kaspiew, Carson, Dunstan, De Maio, Moore et al., 2015)
  • Tools in FRCs include: CRAF, AGD’s Screening and Assessment guide, DOORS, AVERT.
    *Intake/Assessment tools currently being developed for FL services (AGD’s and ANROWS)
  • An ongoing assessment throughout the FDR process.
  • Assessment includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and financial abuse, threats, intimidation, assertion of power and control. Assess history of FV and FV post separation, current safety and the impact on children and parenting capacity
  • Consider recommendations from child protection
  • While FRCs must conduct FDR in an impartial manner, client data and assessment info showshigher numbers of women reporting FV

39. (2 cont...) Assessment for family violence- practice considerations

  • Safety of parent and children must be primary concern- what safety measures are required?
  • FDR services are in unique position of often meeting with both parents
  • Supporting disclosure: direct questioning vs avoiding retraumatisation our practice experience tells us that with thorough yet respectful questioning and the engagement skills of the practitioner, parents are able to disclose- some for the first time
  • Questioning of parent who may have been violent: addressing behaviour, not colluding
  • Risk of mediation process being used by the abuser as a means to engage the other parent (“systems abuse”)
  • A parent (often mother) who appears “positional” when in fact acting protectively
  • Coercive controlling abusive behavior- likely that FDR is not a suitable process
  • What referral pathways are needed i.e specialist and therapeutic services

40. (3) The impact of conflict on children and young people

“When they yell they don’t really notice me”
“What really annoys me about my parents is they’re always fighting about money”
“Everything that’s important to me just goes over their heads, like I don’t think they care about me at all”
“Sometimes it was like he was trying to be the grownup and I was the child”

Remember Me-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPUnmt95N28

41. (4) Family violence, interparental conflict and parenting Shared care and inter parental conflict

  • Presumption that equal and shared responsibility (FLA) equates to equal time
  • Concern that shared and equal care would be favoured over the safety of children and parents
  • Assumption that FRCs advocate for shared and equal time in majority of cases

Shared care considerations in the context of inter parental conflict

  • Increased awareness in the court system and in Family law services that equal time can be detrimental to children where there is significant conflict between their parents
  • Consideration for children who are trying to navigate the two separate worlds which have no connection to one another
  • Developmental stage of children

42. (4 cont...) The impact of family violence on parenting capacity

  • Impact on affected parent’s mental health- trauma, psychological abuse, parenting strengths and capabilities undermined
  • Mothers capacity to act protectively compromised by fear, power and control and trauma she may have experienced
  • Feeling of "walking on egg shells", feeling tense and agitated with their children
  • Fathers who have used violence may exhibit overly controlling and punitive parenting behaviors
  • Parents who have not had significant involvement in parenting their children- substantial time with the child may be inappropriate
  • Financial hardship- often raised in mediation context
  • Adolescent violence
  • Ruptures to the parent child relationship
  • Important in the context of parenting: "how do you think this has impacted your children and your parenting"

43. (4 cont...) When parenting capacity is lessened by interparental conflict

  • Children will be exposed to ongoing parental conflict (including non communication)
  • Children become messengers between their parents
  • Parents and children will experience an ongoing emotional burden
  • Children’s developmental progress may be compromised- particularly the 0-4 age group
  • Parents are unable to support the child's relationship with the other parent
  • Siblings are “split” between their parents
  • Parents are unable to effectively co parent

44. (4 cont...) When parenting capacity is enhanced …

  • Parents are able to help children emotionally after separation
  • Children receive reassurance that they are loved by both parents
  • Older children are able to have a voice but parents take responsibility for making decisions.
  • Children experience smooth transitions which help them feel supported and safe, including the introduction of new adult relationships

So what can we do?

  • Help shift focus from the other parent to their own parenting
  • Identify their strengths, what are they proud of, how do they support their children, ensure theyare safe and emotionally tuned into their needs
  • Build strong and safe attachments for infants and toddlers- early intervention
  • Provide a space for the repair of parent child relationships
  • Restore parental capacity with therapeutic interventions

45. (5) Practice interventions

  • Practitioners look for opportunities to untangle the presenting conflict- empathic butchallenging
  • Tools that can be used with parents e.g. Experiences of caregiving interview (Solomon & George 2005) Child's perception of parental conflict scale (Grych, Seid and Fincham)
  • Child focused information and education- at an early intervention point
  • Engaging men in their fathering role- motivation for change
  • Creative and flexible models of service delivery in FRC’s eg: Family Safety Navigation model Melbourne and Sunshine FRC Family safety service model Northern beaches Sydney FRC
  • Legally assisted FDR- will be utilised more often in FRC's
  • Working in partnership with other services including the Children's Contact service,Specialist Family Violence services for women children and men (Barwon network)

46. (5 cont...) Practice Interventions- Parenting Orders Program

Through Individual Counselling, Groups and Seminars POP aims to;

  • Strengthen parental capacity, the co parenting relationship and child focused communication
  • Assist parents in understanding how the conflict is impacting on their children and provide strategies to reduce conflict.
  • Repair work – supporting parents to re-establish relationship with their children, restorative practice- at the child’s pace
  • Child informed family dispute resolution (McIntosh Family Transitions/La Trobe University)-supports disputing parents in actively considering “the voice” of their children

47. (6) Practice dilemmas

  • Parents who are attempting to make parenting arrangements/decisions when their parenting capacity and thought processes have been compromised by experience of family violence
  • Referrals from Child protection at intake where no assessment conducted with perpetrator of family violence
  • Parents who minimise or justify their abusive behaviors, will not consider the requirement of time with their children being supervised
  • Engaging with and including both parents in interventions
  • Parents who without a service such as mediation will continue to engage in contact arrangements that may impact on children’s psychological and emotional safety
  • Professional dilemmas around decision making i.e decision to proceed to FDR due to the complexity in these cases

48. (7) The future landscape …

  • The Australian Law Reform Commissions review into the Family Law act
  • Recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence Victoria- Family Violence information sharing scheme, the roll out of the Support and Safety hubs
  • Parliamentary Inquiry into a better family law system to protect those affected by family violence December 2017

In practice we need to:

Ensure safety of children and those affected by family violence

Place more emphasis on the particular impact both family violence and inter parental conflicthas on parenting capacity

Continue to build a stronger relationship with child protection, specialist FV services

Refer to therapeutic womens and children's services

Increase resources for fathers who have used violence- I.e Mens centre Bethany

49. Bringing the focus back to children and parenting

One of the most significant issues reported by parents accessing an FRC service is interparental conflict. Therefore we need to place great emphasis on supporting parents to understand its impact upon themselves and their children and provide them the means to engage in therapeutic and educative processes to support sustained change.

50. References and further reading

  • Cleak,H,.&Bickerdike,A. (2016) One way or many ways Screening for family violence in family mediation (Family Matters No 98) Australian Institute of Family Studies
  • Grych, J.H.,Seid,M.,& Fincham.F.D. (1992) Assessing Marital Conflict from the Child's Perspective: The Children's Perception of Interparental Conflict Scale Child Development 1992 by the Society for Research in Child Development
  • Wilcox, K. Clearinghouse Good Practice Officer Promising practice in family dispute resolution-Northern Beaches Family Relationship Centre, Sydney Australian and Domestic &Family Violence Clearinghouse Newsletter Spring 2010
  • Humphreys, C., & Campo, M. (2017). Fathers who use violence: Options for safe practice where there is ongoing contact with children (CFCA Paper 43) Melbourne: Child Family Community Australia Information exchange, Australian Institute of Family Studies
  • Family Law act 1975 (cth)
  • Website for information about the Relationships Australia Family Safety Model:http://www.relationshipsvictoria.com.au/services/familyviolence/family-safety-model/
  • For articles/reports on post separation parenting arrangements and developmental outcomes:
    • Post Separation parenting arrangements and developmental outcomes for infants and children. Collected Reports May 2010 Jennifer McIntosh Bruce Smyth, Margaret Kelaher, Yvonne Wells and Caroline Long
    • Special Considerations for Infants and Toddlers in Separation/Divorce: Developmental issues in the family law context Jennifer McIntosh, (June 27, 2011) Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development Centre for Excellence for Early Childhood Development 
    • Legislating for Shared Time Parenting after Separation: A Research Review
    • Belinda Fehlberg Bruce Smyth Mavis Maclean Ceridwen Roberts International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, Volume 25, Issue 3, 1 December 2011,
    • Children's living arrangements after parental separation Lixia Qu Family Matters No. 67 - May 2004 
    • The attitudes of separated mothers and fathers to 50/50 shared care Bruce Smyth and Ruth Weston Family Matters No. 67 – May 2004
  • Mens Referral service No to Violence: www.ntv.org.au
  • Family Safety Victoria: www.vic.gov.au>familyviolence
  • Family Relationships online: www.familyrelationships.gov.au
  • Safe and Together institute: www.endingviolence.com
  • Safe Steps: https://www.safesteps.org.au/

51. Questions?

Do you have questions for our presenters?

Please submit questions or comments on the online forum following today’s webinar.

This webinar was recorded on 14 March 2018 and broadcast on 22 March 2018.

Recent research1 led by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) found that both domestic and family violence (DFV) and inter-parental conflict (IPC) have a range of negative consequences for families and children, including increased parenting difficulties. It revealed that DFV and IPC are relatively common in Australian families, including separating families:

  • One in 4 mothers reported past or emerging IPC, with 8–9% reporting persistent IPC; and
  • One in 4 mothers in separated families reported physical harm before separation (compared to 1 in 6 fathers).

In families where mothers experienced IPC, children were more likely to have poorer physical health, poorer socio-emotional adjustment and lower academic achievement. Similarly, DFV was closely associated with poorer parent–child relationships.

This webinar explored the impacts of DFV and IPC on parenting capacity and children’s social and emotional wellbeing. It discussed implications for practice, including the need to develop responses that restore parenting capacity and repair parent–child relationships.

Further reading

Related resources

  • Family Safety Model: for working with those affected by family violence
    Developed by Relationships Australia Victoria, the Family Safety Model uses a whole-of-family approach to working with and providing services and support to all family members who are affected by the violence, including children.
  • Living with a father who uses violence
    Developed as part of the Fathering Challenges Research Project, this resource presents short digital stories that were created by young people living with a violent father.
  • No to Violence: Mens Referral service
    No to Violence is a peak body for organisations and individuals working with men to end family violence in Australia.
  • Family Safety Victoria
    This website from the Victorian Government presents information and related resources on family violence reforms in Victoria.
  • Family Relationships online
    Family Relationships Online provides all families (whether together or separated) with access to information about family relationship issues, ranging from building better relationships to dispute resolution. 
  • Safe & Together Institute
    The Safe & Together Institute provides expert professional training and consultation to increase the safety and well-being of families impacted by domestic violence.

This webinar was presented in collaboration with ANROWS and the Family Law Pathways Network of Greater Melbourne.

ANROWS and Family Law Pathways Network

Footnote

About the presenters

Cathy Humphreys

Cathy Humphreys is Professor of Social Work at the University of Melbourne. Cathy is also co-chair of the Melbourne Research Alliance to End Violence Against women and their children (MAEVe) and one of the lead investigators on the Safer Families Centre for Research Excellence led by Professor Kelsey Hegarty.

Her research in the domestic violence area includes projects on: substance use; mental health; child abuse; strengthening the mother–child relationship; and multiagency working and reform. She currently works on a range of projects including: Fathering Challenges, which examines responsible, reparative and responsive fathering in the context of domestic violence; the PATRICIA project, which explores the interface between child protection and domestic violence services; the Domestic and Family Violence and Parenting project led by Dr Rae Kaspiew, which explores the impact of DFV on mothering and fathering; the Caring Dads evaluation project; and Invisible Practices, which focuses on interventions with fathers who use violence.

Kathryn Lyons

Kathryn Lyons is Manager of the Geelong Family Relationship Centre (FRC) and Parenting Orders program (POP) working in the area of separated families. Kathryn has practised as a social worker for the last 16 years in the area of children, adolescents, parenting and family, including roles at a migrant resource centre and The Royal Children’s Hospital.

Kathryn is an active participant of the Victorian FRC Managers Group and the Victorian POP Managers Group—professional networks that aim to ensure collaborative practice, processes and staff development across the State of Victoria. She is also a member of the Barwon Area Integrated Family Violence Committee and the Barwon South West Family Law Pathways Committee.