Fathers who use violence: "Whole of family" approaches where there is ongoing contact with children

Content type
Event date

6 July 2017, 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm (AEST)


Cathy Humphreys, Monica Campo




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This webinar was held on 6 July 2017.

Our service system has been configured on the basis that separation is the most effective safety strategy, and that gender specific services for men or women and their children are the interventions of choice. However, many women and children may not be in a position to separate from their abusive and violent partners, and some women and children’s wellbeing and safety may not be enhanced by separation.

The webinar explored evidence from five different areas of the service system that have substantial contact with families where fathers who use violence remain living in the home:

  • nurse home visitation;
  • restorative justice and family group conferencing;
  • couple counselling;
  • family services; and
  • child protection.

The webinar outlined emerging practices, with a focus on the developing area of "whole of family" approaches. A range of strategies to address the needs and safety of women and children who continue to have contact with fathers who use violence were also explored.

You may also be interested in our accompanying paper - Fathers who use violence: Options for safe practice where there is ongoing contact with children.

Audio transcript (edited)

SMART: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to today's webinar, "Fathers who use violence: 'Whole of Family' approaches where there is ongoing contact with children." My name is Jessica Smart and I'm a senior research officer here at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Today I'd like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the lands on which we meet in Melbourne. The traditional custodians are the Wurundjeri of the Kulin nation. I pay my respects to their elders, past, present, and emerging and acknowledge any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that may be joining us today.

Today's webinar will explore the controversial issue of intervening in families where fathers who use violence continue to live with the family or continue to have extensive contact with children. We recently published a paper on this topic; the paper is available on the CFCA website and we will send you a link to access it at the end of today's presentation. Before I introduce our presenters, I have some brief housekeeping details. One of the core functions of the CFCA information exchange is to share knowledge; we'd like to invite everyone to submit questions via the chat box at any time during the webinar.

We will respond to as many questions as we can at the end of the presentation. We'd also like you to continue the conversation we being here today. To facilitate this, we've set up a forum on our website where you can discuss the ideas and issues raised in today's webinar, submit additional questions for our presenters and access related resources. We will send you a link to the forum at the end of today's presentation. Finally, as you leave the webinar, a short survey will open in a new window; we would appreciate your feedback.

Please remember that this webinar is being recorded and that the audio, transcript, and slides will be made available on our website and on our Youtube channel soon. It is now my pleasure to introduce today's presenters. Cathy Humphreys is a professor of Social Work at the University of Melbourne and co-chair of the Melbourne Research Alliance to end violence against women and their children. Her extensive research in the domestic violence area includes projects on substance abuse, mental health, child abuse, strengthening the mother-child relationship, multi-agency work in reform, and working with fathers who use violence.

Dr Monica Campo is Education and Engagement Coordinator with the Women's Legal Service Victoria where she develops training and curriculum in family violence. She previously worked here as a senior research officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Monica also undertakes consultancy work for community and not-for-profit organisations such as Our Watch and lectures in sociology at the Australian Catholic University. This research was a close collaboration between the University of Melbourne and the Australian Institute of Family Studies and this will be reflected in today's joint presentation. So please join me in giving Cathy and Monica a very warm virtual welcome.

CAMPO: Thanks, Jess. Hi everyone. So I'll just go through an overview of – this is Monica Campo, sorry. Thank you for having me here today. So we'll start off with an overview of our paper. So we'll be looking at the current integration of the service system and then the rationale for working with families where there is still close contact with the perpetrator and women and children. We'll quickly then go over some key messages that have come out of that review. Before looking more closely at the results of the literature review and the five bodies of research that emerged from that review and we'll finish by talking about some practice considerations that have out of this review.

But before we move on, I should just note that we situate our understanding of domestic and family violence as contextualised within the wider social context of gender equality and sexism and violence supportive attitudes. But it was clear that some of the authors in the studies that we reviewed for this project held contrasting views and understandings of domestic and family violence. So for instance in the couple counselling literature, it was sometimes referred to as a problem of high conflict communication. We just wanted to be clear that this is not our position. And in keeping with the dominant patterns of domestic and family violence throughout this report, victim-survivors are referred to as women and children, while perpetrators are referred to as men.

We recognise that this isn't the – that this is the dominant but not the only pattern of domestic and family violence and we recognise that women can be perpetrators and that domestic and family violence also occurs within LGBTIQ+ relationships. However, these are not minority patterns in this presentation; we'll reflect the majority pattern in domestic and family violence. So the current configuration of the service system in domestic and family violence; we're responding to a challenge that has continued to frustrate workers in the current configuration in attempting to intervene to support women and children with domestic and family violence.

This is that – the intervention system is largely structured around women and their children separating from men who use violence and this is a pattern that has developed in both the specialist DV sector as well as statutory child protection. Alongside this work, there has been work with men as perpetrators and that's focussed primarily on justice responses and men's behaviour change programs. So the received wisdom has been that specialist men-only interventions provide safer practice with fewer risks to women and children. But only a minority of men attend and complete men behaviour change programs and the fathering issues for men who use violence are often not adequately addressed in these programs.

So the current service configuration also relies on women separating from their abusive and violent partners. But the rationale really for this – for undertaking this review was that many women and children may not be in a position to separate and some women and children's wellbeing and safety may not be enhanced by separation and we'll come back to that in a moment. So there are several reasons why women may not be in a position to leave; homelessness and poverty can result from separation, particularly acute in the current rental and housing crisis. In rural and remote areas, geographical and social factors and lack of support services makes separation difficult.

For refugee and newly migrant women, resident status may be dependant upon the violent partner. For women with disabilities, their abuser may also be their carer. For Indigenous women, leaving a partner may mean leaving their land and community and for some women, it may be the case that they may still be emotionally attached and loving towards their partners despite the abuse and may not be willing – ready to separate at this current time.

HUMPHREYS: So this is Cathy Humphreys speaking. We just wanted to emphasise at the start of this presentation that we were very concerned about the service system in relation to a very significant group of women who are not in a position to separate and a very significant group of children whose lives are not necessarily improved with separation either; that post-separation violence is real and we need to take into account of this in our service system. So I guess that's our starting point, is thinking about the fact that we've conflated separation with safety and that that's not real for many women and that our service system hasn't been structured to look at what do you do when there hasn't been a separation.

There's also been some further work done about fathers in this space, because there is an emerging knowledge base that indicates that men who use violence in the home, continue to have a very significant fathering role with their children or step-children. So the notion that separation means that there's going to be an end to violence is not real for many of the children that are involved. You know we say to women, why doesn't she leave? But we never say to children, why can't they leave? And that many of these children now have extensive contacts with fathers who use violence. So how are we intervening to make a difference in the lives of these children and to make a difference to the way in which – in which we manage and intervene and engage with men as fathers and think about the fathering issues for them.

Because we've got a disjunction often between a pro-contact culture in many of our family law decision-making; not totally, as we understand. There are changes in this space. But overall, the culture has been very supportive of a notion that with separation, children should be allowed to see as much of their fathers as they like in spite of the violence that may have occurred or continue to occur. There are also quite a lot of issues then about the child protection space, where they're seeing separation as safety. And so we're sort of sometimes caught in this disjunction and we wanted to address some of those issues.

SMART: So back over to you, Monica.

CAMPO: So in light of that, our research questions were focused around two of those issues. So what we wanted to know, what the practice evidence existed? Is there any practice evidence for working with families, where the perpetrator remains in the home or within close contact with children? Are there safe ways to work with women and children living with a perpetrator of domestic and family violence or for children who still have significant contact? And in particular, we were interested in fathers who use violence and whether there are strategies for working that engage and address the issues for children, women, and men who are continuing to live with family violence.

So we undertook a literature review, it was a scoping review to firstly map the existing research on working with families, where a perpetrator remains in contact and secondly, to establish current practice and practice guidelines. So we examined a wide range of scholarly literature as well as grey literature and we found that there wasn't really a definitive approach to intervention in this space, but we identified five bodies of literature. And that was home visiting by nurses, restorative justice, couple counselling, child protection, and "Whole of family" interventions with vulnerable family approaches.

HUMPHREYS: So we wanted to shift right to the messages that we would want to be giving at the end of this presentation. We put them up front so that it structures the way in which you might be hear – able to hear what we're talking about so we're almost doing this in a somersault way; where we're giving you the key messages now and we'll then follow up with those at the end as well. So some of our key messages out of this research review were one, the one that we've already talked about; that women are not always able to separate from a violent and abusive partner for some very good reasons. Secondly, and this may be very disappointing to many of you, that there is very little evidence of effective safe practice where this domestic and family violence and mothers and fathers remain living together or co-parenting children.

So there are some, "Whole of family" approaches that engage each member of the family where there is domestic and family violence and focussing on parenting and that represents some emerging practice with some promising developments. So I guess what we're saying about that bit, is that in summary there is little evidence out there but there's a lot of work being done; a lot of experimentation to look at whether you can do things differently in this space. And so, what did we find when we looked into these five bodies of literature? And overall you'd have to say that in any one of these areas, in one of these five bodies of areas – four of the bodies of areas, services have very stringent conditions and restraints to support safety for all parties including workers when working with fathers who use violence.

The exception is statutory child protection workers who are required to work with families, even where there are risks of harm. All other workers in the interventions reviewed have their work circumscribed through risk assessment processes. So basically its saying if you're going to do this work in which the perpetrator of domestic violence remains living in the home or where he has a lot of contact with children, that it's not a one size fits all; it's not available to all families because in fact there are some situations – in fact, a significant number of situations where it's very inappropriate and may increase danger, rather than mitigate it.

And so the other thing that came through very clearly are that the approaches focus on parenting and not talking about couple or joint counselling as the key issue that you'd be looking at in this space. All of the programs talk about workforce development as critical. This is really skilled work and it isn't just oh well, we've been told that we've got to see men who use violence now as part of our work and therefore anyone who is untrained is going into this space; none of the programs that we looked at suggested that that was the way forward. All of them were about skilled work in this area.

Another theme that was coming through is that most of them are centre-based or program-based. They weren't generalist family services workers going out into this space and doing work; it was about having a program of work which meant that you did look at how you undertook the safety planning and the risk assessments and then the ongoing engagement and work that was to happen. The other issue that arose was looking at the documentation of evidence of domestic violence and the specific detail of the impacts of poor fathering and the undermining of the mother-child relationship as crucial aspects, particularly for child protection investigation and ones which haven't necessarily had great deal of development to date.

There's also – so moving on. Those are our key messages and then let's just look then at the body – different bodies of work quite quickly. So in the home visiting area, it was really – so this is about nurse home visitors. We thought that maternal and child health nurses, there could be quite a lot of development of the work in this space because many of those workers, particularly on the enhanced maternal and child health workers, are going to visit in the home and often the fathers who use violence are still in the home. But when we looked at 120 – well, we didn't look at all 126 articles; what we did look at was a lot of the synthesised data from those – from 126 different articles and really they were all focused on mother-child and not on perpetrators and that's in terms of the evidence base.

What we do know is there's some experimentation in this space but very little evaluated work at all that gets into the literature. So there's – so things like a huge barrier for home visitors in addressing violence is the presence of the male abuser in the home. So there isn't a notion in that area of work of engaging – of doing a developed engagement with fathers who use violence. So generally in that literature anyway, that home visiting was managed by avoidance of the fathers who used violence. There was an exception with a Dutch health visiting program, which worked with 460 disadvantaged young women. They did an RCT and it did indicate that it was effective in reducing domestic and family violence during pregnancy and in two years following the birth of the baby. But really, that was the only one that we found that was very clearly evidence-based in that space.

So then moving onto couple counselling because actually there's a lot of work in this area. What we noticed was that in the area of couple counselling where there is domestic violence, there's been a lot of controversy and so there's a lot of attention to this issue. The literature in this area does grapple a lot with the dilemmas, risks, and possibilities of intervening where there is domestic and family violence and where the perpetrator of violence often remains in the home. One of the clear things that came through was that there many caveats to the practice in this area.

Let me just go through a couple of them because they are probably – they relate to all the other areas of work as well. So particularly the issues that came through was the lack of attention to the socio-cultural context more generally. It's a primary criticism of couple counselling approaches and places it at odds with evidence of the gendered patterns of domestic and family violence. That domestic and family violence has often been understood within the couple counselling discourse as a problem of individual behaviour of men, rather than derived from the socio and political context of the wider issues of dominant patters of gendered-based violence and gender inequality.

As such, the focus of counselling lies in – often lies in improving communication through skills development, de-escalating conflict and problem-solving the day-to-day issues that can escalate to violence. So while any one of those skills can be appropriate, there are issues when you've got a pattern of coercive control that's not being addressed. And another major critique of couple counselling was its potential to hide men's responsibility for violence by overemphasising the sequence of interactions and communications leading toward a violent incident. In this process, women are constructed as complicit in escalating conflict to violence and thus, eschewing the man's choice to use violence and constructing the violence as a relationship problem. And as such, there's a dual problem of implicating women in their own abuse as well as diluting the men's responsibility of the violence.

The socio-cultural context as well as the accountability for violence may be lost in this process. So what we noticed in that literature is that the couple counselling discourse has often been very good at being it's own – as providing a very good critique of why and how you might be constrained about the work in this area. There was also quite a lot of – a sense in which there could be some undermining of safety in the couple counselling and that we did find that the research shows some women experience retaliation and some continuing low level aggression in some of the evaluations that were done. And there were concerns about whether women could really speak about their fears.

What we noticed and I won't spend too much time on this because we will be talking about it as we pick up the points at the end of this presentation, but there's really very rigorous assessment about which couples should be excluded from counselling in this space and you would notice if you looked down this list, that actually there would be a lot of men and women that you see or potentially that you might see where there's domestic violence who would be excluded under the criteria that's been developed. The program features of working in domestic and family violence, that could be addressed would be couples assessed individually to explore safety. So things like how do you make safe?

Well firstly, you do need to assess individually, that the zero tolerance of ongoing physical aggression and threat, that there's a very clear contracting of the treatment goals and including the goals around stopping violence, and that you've got therapists – (again this comes back to the workforce issues) you've got therapists who are trained in both couples counselling as well as domestic and family violence intervention, and that the program is well connected to other organisations which address domestic and family violence. So that rather being standalone private counselling, how is this part of a wider suite of services that can be used to address domestic and family violence.

CAMPO: This is Monica again. So another area that came up in our review was that of restorative justice. So restorative justice has been used in other sectors but has been developed and adapted specifically for gendered violence, including sexual assault and domestic and family violence. And restorative justice in this space differs from standard restorative justice models in that they often involve therapeutic intervention specialist expertise and significant preparation and engagement with all parties involved. But the evidence base and appropriateness of restorative justice models in the case of gendered violence does remain contentious, for many of the same reasons that couple counselling does.

So proponents of restorative justice argue that it's victim-centred, it allows for greater perpetrator accountability and there are some evaluated programs; the best evidence comes from a program in Austria called the Victim Offender Mediation model. And that was – but the success at the – it was found that the – so success of that model lay not with men getting better or changing their behaviour, but with women becoming stronger and more protected from other services and being able to make that resolution to live without violence with the help of services. And there was some other evaluated programs in New Zealand but the results were not really equivocal.

Again as with couple counselling, there's not really much mention of children or as people as parents. There's not much talk of perpetrators as parents in restorative justice, with the exception of family group conferencing which there's been an evaluated model in Canada. So just quickly some of the problems with restorative justice may be similar with couple counselling, that is doesn't necessarily result in harm reduction but can pose an ongoing risk. And overall, the evidence base is pretty undeveloped in using restorative justice in cases of gendered violence.

HUMPHREYS: Can I just add one more thing that's come out in the last week or so around restorative justice, is that in Victoria, the Department of Justice commissioned a paper on restorative justice and I think it's a very good paper looking at how you may think about a victim-centred response to restorative justice in ways that resulted out of a widespread consultation as well as looking at the literature in the area. So for those that are interested in restorative justice, I think there's quite an important paper that's been recently produced.

So moving on from restorative justice to thinking about child protection practice. It was much more difficult to summarise the literature in this area; it wasn't as discrete as in the areas of restorative justice, in the area of health visitors, or in the area of couple counselling. Because it was more amorphous with quite a lot of papers around how child protection excluded fathers and the fathers absence from child protection more generally, not just in relation to domestic and family violence. Issues around safety concerns for workers and issues around the gendered practices which often focussed on women, rather than men and another body of literature within the child protection practice literature, which looked at organisational change and workforce development.

The failure to work effectively with fathers will not be solved necessarily by focusing on the practice of individuals within the child protection organisation. It was a very clear message coming through from most of that body of literature. The framework developed by David Mandel and the Safe and Together approach more generally does provide a set of principles tailored to statutory child protection and intensive family services engaged with vulnerable families living with domestic and family violence. The framework moves beyond a critique of practice to constructive ways forward. So I think that one of the really interesting parts of the Safe and Together model is that it goes beyond critique to say where could you take an organisation to give a more constructive direction?

It is primarily a model of training, supervision, and coaching for workers, supported by clearly enunciated principles which can help shift the entrenched and often destructive child protection intervention into a family violence intervention. And so I think that that's been a very helpful approach, to look at how you might move – about training the workforce to intervene differently, specifically with a focus on fathers who use violence and it requires a commitment of resources across the whole organisation and doesn't just look at individual child protection workers.

So just briefly – and there is a very good video that you could link to at the – as part of the resources associated with this webinar, which is the Safe and Together intervention and it looks particularly at this continuum of organisational practice and moving from an organisation that may be domestically violence destructive; that is, that it tends to close down help-seeking particularly for survivors and victims of domestic violence including children and may in fact sometimes do quite harmful work in terms of focusing only on women and their protection – and their potential to protect, rather than pivoting to the perpetrator of domestic and family violence.

So moving on. I'm going to pick up on – there are some issues that emerged for child protection workers which are very similar in terms of their constraints to the ones where we're looking at "whole of family" approaches. So it's "whole-of family" in inverted commas. The pile of evidence is just emerging. So there's no really definitive evidence base in this area. The strongest area is emerging in the work where there is infants and particularly in the area of infant mental health and I have to say, there are a range of different models developing from different sectors and I thought it would be interesting just to talk quickly through some of those models; to say look, none of them have strong evidence but some of them are doing some very interesting things where you would think that the ways in which they are evaluating the practices, the constraints that they're looking around practice in this area, do point the way forward.

For the most part, they are based around separate sessions for men, women, and children. But some of them are doing quite a lot of joint work as well. So moving on. So I'm just going to talk quickly through a couple of these programs and you will know of more as well because anytime I raise these issues, they go – and people say, what about this one and this one and this one? We've picked out ones where there is some evaluation that's occurred but we recognise that there are other programs where we've certainly not covered the full area of practice developments that are happening.

So this one, Family Foundations, it's a U.S program by Kan and Feinberg and there's been actually quite a lot of evaluation of these – of this program. It's – they did an RCT of 169 couples and they did find there was reduced psychological aggression by fathers and reduced parent-child physical aggression by mothers. It is based around couple psychoeducational sessions, eight of them, four sessions antenatally, and four sessions postnatal. So I think that this is a really interesting program because often we're doing programs of work which are either antenatal and then you get a separate service system postnatal.

So doing something that works both across before and after the birth of a baby, is a very – is a very good model and we're trying to do some piloting of this model in Victoria at the moment. Its aim is to strengthen co-parenting and parenting in parent-child adjustment. It's not specifically focused on domestic and family violence but it did have some promising results in relation to domestic and family violence and that's why they wrote it up and that's why we've picked it out as something of interest. Probably the strongest area of development has been with the child-parent psychotherapy programs.

Some of you may have heard of the programs developed by Alicia Lieberman. Out of that work with Alicia Lieberman, some of the people that she worked with have developed thinking about how you might work with a program they call Fathers for Change. And again, this has – and has some promising results. It's 16 weeks, it's manualised sessions; it works with couples focused on parenting. It's designed for fathers with alcohol and other drugs as well as domestic and family violence and there are some early signs of evidence of effectiveness. The programs divided into three parts.

So there's extensive individual counselling and assessment beforehand, then you have some sessions focused on co-parenting where it's appropriate and where the risk assessment suggests that workers – that there's been enough change to be able to focus on co-parenting. And lastly they do in some cases again but only in some cases, some father-child sessions.

Moving onto another program. So this is then now moving to some of the Australian programs. This one at Jannawi Family Centre is I think a really interesting one because – they've got a 15 year history of working in this space. They do an enormous amount of multicultural work because Lakemba is probably one of the most diverse and rich centres for multicultural families – sorry, for families from different backgrounds, different ethnic backgrounds in Australia. And so they've really been challenged to work and develop the work in this space. I think that they've got a very interesting model that's been developed.

The safety of women and children is at the heart of the intervention and each family member including the children are invited to participate in the family work. When the primary concern is identified in the referral to the family program as domestic and family violence, the couple are jointly invited to attend the first assessment session and that – what they argue is we want to talk about the man and his importance as a father. This affirms his role and it affirms the role of both of them as parents; no information should jeopardise the women's safety and that none of that is divulged and there's a very clear structure provided to workers for this session.

So this is about this issue about have you got a framework in which you are working? So Jannawi has developed a framework over about 15 years. Every other program we looked at always do a lot of assessment pre-ever seeing the mother and the father together. Jannawi is a little bit different in this space; but they would argue that their work has been very well developed and they've got a very clear structure about saying and affirming the father in his role in relation to his children and the impact of violence on the children. What they say is they can’t do then the individual work with men and with women without having had that joint work, that joint session in the first instance.

So I think Jannawi's got an interesting model, it's a little bit different from anything else that we've seen, but I would say that it's a well-developed model though not a well-evaluated model. Working with Vulnerable Families, this is a new program developing in the U.K and again it's in the infant space. It's manualised training – it's a manualised program, it's working with highly trained workers. Most sessions are separate for mothers and fathers but there is some couple counselling where appropriate and the focus is all on parenting. Burnside Uniting has also developed and started some interesting work on a model of intervening with domestic and family violence. They've got several different modules of work that they've developed and they've had some initial evaluation.

As with other programs, the recruitment to this program was slow. So they called it the Family Domestic Violence framework. The evaluation showed significantly improved scores in the family safety domain compared with controls. But there really wasn't much evidence about the development around parenting capacities and some of that was to do they think with the way in which there wasn't much fidelity to the model of doing the module parenting by the workers. So that the workers were more able to do the one module on safety planning, rather than the ongoing work on how you work with parenting in this space.

There's also been some developments in the refuge sector, particularly in the Netherlands again, where they were looking at how they worked with the whole family – when the woman came into the refuge, they also offered a worker to work with the father where there were children. Now a lot of it was based on having done a risk assessment first. It was interesting that every member of the family was well supported through this intervention. A much higher rate of separation in this group than for the refuge sector as a whole. So I thought that was an interesting finding and it's also a finding from another area of work and that there's some suggestion that working with different members of the family, mothers, fathers, and children with a focus on parenting, you may be able to separate more safely, could be one of the outcomes that would be worthwhile exploring in any future evaluations of work in this area.

So then returning to – or what are the findings from this evaluation? So Monica and I, when we put together – well, what do the five bodies of work look like when we look particularly at the take-home messages? First of all the review demonstrates there's a paucity of evidence for effective approaches for responding in – to domestic violence in families where the perpetrator remains in the home or in regular contact with women and children. So aside from the statutory child protection work, other practice areas emphasise the need to restrict the work with fathers and mothers together to very specific circumstances.

The child protection context as we mentioned earlier is different in that they're required to visit under all circumstances to establish whether children are at risk of harm. So while many of the considerations that we're looking at are generic to all workers, that are some that are quite specific and additional ones which apply to child protection workers. So some of the – I want to just go through some of those particular practice issues. Firstly and I guess foremost, focus on safety. Most programs will only work with men and women together when prior foundations for safety have been established through separate interventions with each of them.

And that means I guess separate assessments, risk assessments, risk management, and then thinking about how you manage the ongoing worker safety as well as the safety for all those involved. Again as I mentioned earlier, centre-based programs; there were very few that are home-based programs and potentially for good reasons because workers feel safer but also the family may feel safer, including the men. There's something about the restraining influence of being within a known program of work which seems to provide a network of safety or a framework of safety around workers and each of the individual family members.

The third thing, worker safety; a commitment to providing training for workers to upgrade their skills and knowledge base prior to embarking on this complex family work is emphasised in all bodies of knowledge examined in our literature. And I guess providing and this is why it's important to be working within a quite well-developed framework; so that you don't just have a policy about worker safety, because there's no organisation I think in Australia that doesn't have a worker-safety policy. Some of it is specific to domestic violence, sometimes not. But it's about how that's implemented and how it's actually incorporated into supervision, into practice, and into making every member of the work team feel safe and competent in what they're doing.

Other issues that were always mentioned as important were the assessment processes and the fact that not all men are suitable for these programs. And so working out how to run those risk assessments and how to work out the issues of safety that need to be addressed, to understand who is suitable for work in engaging in this area are really important. The notion that this isn't really about family therapy or couple counselling; that parenting is the focus and I think that is one of the take-home messages about how do you look at galvanising both mothers and fathers, about how the focus – about how they might make a better environment for their children and the raising of their children.

We do know that many men are much more focused and motivated by wanting to be good fathers and so concentrating on that area is really important. We do know also from the Mirabal project in the U.K that mothers, when they were asking about what did they want out of mens behaviour change programs, three of the issues they mentioned related to they wanted men to be better fathers. So I think that when we're looking at this space, it's a very important way of holding onto that message. There was also a strong notion that this isn't about individual counselling and individual counselling programs but it's about how are you connected to a multiagency effort in this area around domestic and family violence.

There were certainly some considerations that were over and above this for child protection practice, which could also relate to all the other working areas including maternal and child health nurses, including family services workers. And that's about working with the police and having good working relationships with police and MOU's or protocols in place, which meant that police understood the work that was happening and was supportive of it and could be referred to. It can't be underestimated the issues around cultural safety and support. Indigenous families, newly arrived migrant and refugee families; all have very particularly issues that they want to be seen to have addressed in this area. And we do know that just forcing these families into mainstream services is not very helpful and that we do need to look at particular developments in each of these spaces to make sure that the needs of men, women, and children in these areas are addressed and that their community issues are also taken into account.

The final issue was that building the relationship with victim-survivors remains an important area of both advocacy and practice; that sometimes in this area of domestic and family violence we've developed a practice which is looking at how we assess the women's protection or failure to protect and that there's a shift in practice to go how do you work alongside women as survivors and develop a strong alliance with women as survivors, (and sometimes with men where they are the victims as well) to look at how we build that alliance so that it's part of the supportive practice and part of the good practice in going forward.



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Slide outline

1. Fathers who use violence: "Whole of family" approaches where there is ongoing contact with children

Professor Cathy Humphreys The University of Melbourne and

Dr Monica Campo Women’s Legal Service Victoria

2. Presenters

  • Prof. Cathy Humphreys 
    Professor of Social Work at the University of Melbourne, and co-chair of the Melbourne research Alliance to End Violence Against Women and Their Children (MAEVe)
  • Dr Monica Campo 
    Education and Engagement Coordinator with the Women’s Legal Service Victoria

3. Overview

  • Current configuration of the service system
  • Rationale for working with families living with DFV
  • Key messages
  • Results of review of 5 bodies of literature
  • Practice considerations

4. Current configuration of the service system

  • Support for women in the process of leaving and post-separation
  • Limited mother-child work
  • Separate men’s services
  • Men’s Behaviour Change
  • Healing programs; fathering programs (a few focused on fathers who use violence)

5. Rationale

  • Safety should not be confused with separation
    • Violence often escalates
    • Children may be no safer due to shared parenting orders
    • Women may not be in a position to separate for a variety of reasons
      • For example: disability – reliant on carer; resident status may depend on staying with partner; Indigenous women may not want to leave land/community; poverty/homelessness may result

6. Fathering and DFV

  • Fathers as a ‘risk or a resource’ (Featherstone, 2013).
    • For example: ‘pro-contact’ family law culture vs child protection practices
    • Positive fathering presence enhances the lives of their children (Lamb, 1997), hostility and ongoing DFV between parents strongly correlated with poorer outcomes for children (Featherstone & Peckover, 2007).
    • Research shows perpetrators of family violence have poor parenting skills, over-use of physical violence, poor understandings of child dev, self-centred attitudes (Bancroft & Silverman, 2002; Fox & Benson, 2004; Harne, 2011; Scott & Crooks, 2007)

7. Research Questions

  • What is the practice or evidence base for working with families where the perpetrator of DFV remains in the home or in contact?
  • Are there ways to reduce harm for women and children living with a perpetrator of DFV, or for women and children who still have significant contact with a perpetrator post-separation?

8. 5 bodies of literature

  • Home visiting by nurses
  • Restorative justice
  • Couple counselling
  • Statutory child protection
  • Intervention with vulnerable families/whole of family approaches

9. Key messages

  • Women not always able to separate from a violent and abusive partner.
  • Little evidence of effective, safe practice where there is DFV and mothers and fathers remain living together or co-parenting a child/ren.
  • 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.

10. Key messages

  • Services have stringent conditions to 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.
  • Approaches focus on parenting not couple/joint counselling.

11. Key messages

  • Workforce development is critical.
  • Work is usually Centre based or Program based.
  • 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.

12. Nurse Home Visitors

  • 126 articles on HV and DFV – all focused on Mother -child, not perpetrator (Sharps et al, 2008)
  • “A huge barrier for home visitors in addressing violence is the presence of the male abuser in the home.” (Bullen, 2011 speaking about the DOVE project)
  • Generally, home visitation managed by avoidance of fathers who use violence

13. …Nurse Home Visitors

  • A Dutch home visiting program (Mejdoubi et al, 2013) worked with 460 disadvantaged young women.
  • RCT indicated it was effective in reducing DFV during pregnancy and in the two years following the birth of the baby.

14. Couple counselling & DFV

  • Based on a (problematic) notion of different forms of DFV – focus on ‘situational couple violence’ (Johnson, 1995)
    • Has potential to construct women as complicit in their own violence
    • Lack of attention to socio-cultural context of DFV
    • Evidence base developed but highlights strict criteria for couple counselling
    • Little discussion of children

15. The value of separate services

  • Research indicating safety and wellbeing of women is undermined and the power of the perpetrator is enhanced through couple counselling (Shaw et al, 1996; Jory, Anderson, & Greer, 1997; Condonis, Paroissien & Aldrich, 1989).
  • Research showed some women experiencing retaliation and continuing low level aggression (Simpson, Gattis, Atkins & Christensen, 2008).
  • Women don’t necessarily speak of their fears (Jory et al, 1997).

16. Couple counselling guidelines

Rigorous assessment to exclude couples where:

  • one partner is fearful;
  • the perpetrator of violence takes no responsibility for the violence and blames the other partner;
  • one partner fears counselling will escalate violence;
  • couples characterised by intimate terrorism rather than situational couple violence;
  • serious substance use/MH issues are present.

[Cartoon showing battered woman being asked “Tell us about your husband’s troubled childhood” while her husband is being comforted.]

17. Program features of working with DFV

  • Couples assessed individually to explore safety.
  • Zero tolerance of physical aggression and threats.
  • Treatment goals are set, contracted and include goals around stopping violence.
  • Therapists trained in both couple counselling as well as DFV intervention.
  • The program is well connected to other organisations which address DFV.

18. Restorative Justice

  • Models of restorative justice specific for gendered violence.
  • Differ from standard restorative justice models: therapeutic intervention, specialist expertise, significant preparation & engagement with the parties involved (Stubbs, 2014, p. 201; Gavrielides, 2015).
  • But appropriateness of restorative justice models in cases of gendered violence remains contentious.

Venn diagram showing Offender, Community, Victim circles intersecting with Restorative Justice circle. 
(Image credit: http://www.vwscoconino.org/programs-and-services/program-and-services/dui-and-dv-impact-panels

19. Restorative Justice

  • Victim-centered and offers an alternative to justice system (e.g. less traumatic).
  • Perpetrator accountability.
  • Best developed evidence from Austria – evaluation by Pelikan (2000, 2010). Not so much men changing but women stronger, better protected and more assertive.
  • Family group conferencing in Inuit communities (Burford and Pennel, 2002).
  • Some NZ models evaluated.

20. Problems with restorative justice & DFV

  • May not necessarily result in harm reduction, but:
    • pose an ongoing risk for women’s physical and emotional safety (Stubbs, 2004; Proietti-Scifoni & Daly, 2011).
    • Family Group Conferencing focuses on children, otherwise little mention of children.
    • Evidence base undeveloped.

21. Developing evidence base

  • Stringent guidelines to guide the process;
  • Risk assessments to exclude those who do not meet the specified criteria;
  • Other interventions offered to the family which go beyond the restorative justice process
  • Participation must be entirely voluntary;
  • The process is victim-centered;
  • Facilitators are well trained and highly skilled. (McMaster, 2014; Gravielides, 2015).

22. Child protection practice

  • Literature harder to summarise/condense – wide range of issues
    • Exclusion of fathers: fathers absent from CP practice
    • Safety concerns for workers
    • Gendered practices:
    • low expectations of fathers and undue focus on mothers (e.g. Rivett, 2010; Mandel, 2014)
    • Organisational change and workforce development

23. Child Protection: Organisational change

Safe and Together Framework the most developed (Mandel, 2014)

  • Focus on the perpetrator
  • Build an alliance with women (advocacy)
  • Explore and document protective factors
  • Keep children safe and together with the non-offending parent (usually mother)
  • Keep a focus on the child (Mandel, 2014)

In the UK a lot of work developing with Signs of Safety

24. A continuum of organisational practice

  • Domestic Violence Destructive
  • Domestic Violence Neglectful
  • Domestic Violence Pre-Competent
  • Domestic Violence Competent
  • Domestic Violence Proficient

25. ‘Whole family’ approaches

  • Pilot evidence emerging – no definitive evidence.
  • Strongest evidence emerging in the work where there is an infant (Toone, 2017 forthcoming; Stover, 2013).
  • A range of models developed from different sectors.
  • Most have separate sessions for men, women & children.

26. Examples of approaches Infant mental health sector

Family Foundations (Kan and Feinberg, 2014), U.S

  • Couple psycho-education sessions x 8 with 4 sessions ante-natal; 4 session perinatal. Sessions in the home - new model being trialled.
  • Aim is to strengthen co-parenting, parenting and parent and child adjustment.
  • Manualised; didactic session; video, homework, group discussion.
  • DFV is not the focus.

27. Infant mental health sector

Fathers for Change (Stover, 2013), U.S

  • Highly trained therapists – DV & infant psychotherapy
  • 16 weeks manualised sessions
  • Works with couples focused on parenting
  • Designed for fathers with AoD & DFV
  • Evidence of effectiveness

28. Working with vulnerable families

Jannawi Family Centre, Lakemba NSW

  • Centre-based
  • Jannawi developed practice over 15 years
  • specific approach with assessment
  • initial joint session
  • separate mother and father sessions
  • joint work is sometimes possible (towards end of program only)

29. Working with vulnerable families

Healthy Relationships, Healthy Baby (Stephanou Foundation, 2015

  • Works with mothers and fathers
  • Manualised and highly trained workers
  • Most sessions are separate for mothers and fathers
  • Couple work following extensive individual work
  • Focus is on parenting (http://www.stefanoufoundation.org/)

30. Working with vulnerable families

Working with families experience DV Practice Framework (Burnside Uniting, NSW), NSW

  • Home-based
  • Harm-reduction model
  • The initial evaluation showed that workers were more diligent in providing the short, structured safety planning module (Module 1), rather than the parenting module (Module 3) (May, Shackleton, Avdagic, Wade, & Michaux, 2016)

31. Refuge Sector

The Orange House, Netherlands

  • Refuge based but address not secret
  • following risk assessment with the woman in the refuge her partner is offered a service
  • One worker per family and sessions are individual and couple and focused on parenting
  • Additional support for children at the refuge
  • 40% of fathers engaged
  • Much higher rate of separation than for refuge sector overall (19% reunified vs 40%) 

32. Practice discussion

1. Focus on safety: most programs will only work with men and women together when prior foundations for safety have been established through separate interventions with each of them. 
2. Centre-based programs: very few home-based programs. 
3. Worker safety: A commitment to providing training for workers to upgrade their skills and knowledge base prior to embarking on this complex family work is emphasised in all bodies of knowledge examined in our review.

33. Practice discussion cont.

4. Assessment processes are important. 
5. Not all men are suitable for these programs: stringent assessment process providing separate assessments of safety, fear and the issues of violence and abuse is designed to recognise suitability. 
6. Parenting is the focus: not couple counselling: e.g., whole of family programs. 
7. Multi-agency working: no single service can work effectively alone.

34. Practice considerations for child protection practice

8. Working with police. 
9. Structuring of interviews with domestically violent fathers. 
10. Cultural safety and support: Indigenous families, newly arrived migrant and refugee families. 
11. Building the relationship with victim survivors.

35. Invisible Practices: Working with fathers who use violence

  • New ANROWS project
  • CSOs and CP exploring “pivoting to the father who uses violence”
  • 4 states
  • Support from the Safe & Together team

36. Questions?

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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.

Dr Monica Campo is Education and Engagement Coordinator with the Women’s Legal Service Victoria, where she develops training and curriculum in family violence. Monica previously worked as a Senior Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) in research and knowledge translation in the areas of family violence, family law, and child welfare. Monica also undertakes consultancy work for community and not-for-profit organisations such as Our Watch, and lectures in sociology at the Australian Catholic University.