Assess readiness for change
You need to be ready and prepared to support change through the case planning process. It is important that all others working with the family are on board too.
Use this time to reflect on your beliefs about the family's ability to change. You can ask your peers and manager to support you. Talk with other people and service providers about their perceptions too. Explore how you can work together to support change.
The family will need your belief and hope. You will need to balance this with realism and evidence of change. This is explored further in the Responding section.
Use the following questions to reflect:
- What is your intuition—your ‘gut feeling’—telling you about this man’s ability to stop using violence?
- Does any evidence support this?
- Do you hold beliefs about whether men who use violence can change?
- How might those beliefs impact on the family’s success?
- Could those beliefs get in the way or cause you to overlook risks?
- How can you maintain hope while staying focused on the safety of the mother and children?
- What do you need to do to be an active and useful partner in the change process?
- How can you help others to be ready?
"Programs sow the seeds of their own failure when they do not accommodate clients’ readiness for change or motivational level… the research shows that failure to accommodate the client’s state of readiness can spell the failure of the most expensive, thoughtful, extensive programs."
Miller, Duncan & Hubble (2004),
Assess the father’s readiness for change
A father's attitude will affect his understanding, readiness and motivation for change. Treat him as capable of being a safe member of the family — with the skills, knowledge and ability to not use violence. Get him to talk about the times he is not violent and what that means.
It is important to explore and assess how ready he is to work on his violent behaviour. The following stages of change model describes readiness to change as a dynamic process, so his readiness may be constantly moving. He may not be ready. It is also possible he may be unable or unwilling to change in the allocated time frame to ensure the child is safe.
Figure out what stage he is at. This will help you tailor the conversation and intervention to his needs and capabilities.
Remember to check in with any other professionals involved. The father may be having conversations with other workers that suggest that he is at a different stage of change to what you have observed.
Examples of conflicting information:
The father does not talk much to you but is engaging well with another worker. They have developed a rapport and he is talking about the impact his violence has.
You believed he had stopped using violence towards his family but police reports show he is still using violence regularly.
Stages of change and how they may appear in practice
Use what you see and hear to assess where a person is at in the change cycle.
|Stage of change||In practice|
What you may see: He does not take part in conversations or meetings with you or other professionals. He ignores the safety plan. He breaches the domestic violence order. He uses threatening or abusive behaviour towards you. He denies, minimises or excuses the violence. His violence may escalate.
What you may hear: It’s no big deal, every couple fights. They’re lying about it. She starts it. There’s nothing wrong with the way I handle situations. I need to control her otherwise she would be out of control. The kids are in their room so it’s not like I hurt them. It’s her fault, she’s the one who …
What to do: Focus on building engagement with him and increasing his understanding that violence is not okay and that children are hurt when violence and control is used against their mother. Listen if he talks about any challenges, violence or oppression he has faced in his life. Talk about his strengths as a caregiver. Ask him what is important to him. Be genuine in your interest about him. Talk about his hopes and dreams for the family.
Use statements like:
Both physically and emotionally, how do you think Sue feels when you … ?
How do you think your children feel when they see or hear you hurting their mum?
(thinking about change)
What you might see: A man who appears unreliable and insincere. He may be inconsistent in his engagement with you. He may tell you he wants to change, but there is no sign he is doing anything about this. He may take responsibility for his violence in some conversations with you but then minimise or excuse it at other times.
What you might hear: I guess I need help with the way I handle things. I don’t want to be like my own dad. I need to change before it’s too late. I don’t want to lose my kids.
What to do: Be curious. Talk about the differences between his hopes for the kids and his current behaviour. Weigh up the pros and cons of change with him. Talk to him about healthy relationships and the fact that violence is a choice, so he can choose to change these behaviours. Help him identify reasons for change and the risks if he cannot do this. Increase his confidence in his ability to change.
Use statements like:
You have talked about feeling like you lose control. Tell me more about that. Do you lose control at other people? What makes it different with Sue? What might it be like if you were in control?You have told me that you don’t want to be like your dad and that he was violent. But I also hear you say you are not worried about the kids knowing that you hit Sue or call her names. Can we talk this through some more?
What you might see: He is starting to show genuine remorse for his violence. He may acknowledge some violent behaviours but not acknowledge others. He is engaging more with you and is open to talking about change and what he needs to do. He is making small steps towards change and starting to commit to it. He has a greater understanding of how his violence harms his children and his partner.
What you might hear: I know I need to stop losing control. I need to have a plan if I start to feel angry. My family means everything to me, I want us to be happy. I’ll do whatever it takes. I will go to a group if that’s what I need to do.
What to do: Help him set achievable goals. Ask him what he feels he needs from you or others to make these changes. Help to find supports that will meet his specific needs. Find people in his network, or build a network around him who will encourage him. Have hope he can change. Be optimistic. Let him know you believe in him. Ask if he has any worries or doubts about his ability to carry out these plans.
Use statements and questions like:You’ve told me that you want to be a good dad and want to change. Who can help you to do that? How can I be of most use to you?
What you might see: He is engaging in an appropriate intervention or is ready to start. He is taking responsibility for his use of violence and control. His attitudes towards mothers, relationships and children are starting to shift. He is attending meetings with you and other professionals and talking about how he is changing. The mother and children are telling you that things are changing.
What you might hear: Even though I get angry, I know ways to avoid losing control of myself. Sue has her own credit card now. I have a plan for what to do if I feel like I’m losing my cool. At group I talk about …
What to do: Set clear goals with him to help him to continue to move forward. Keep holding him accountable for his violence throughout his process of beginning to take responsibility for it. Being vigilant with this is important.
Help him make contact with services and identify supports. Check in with him regularly about how he is going. (It is a good idea to check in with the woman and child separately.)
Be positive and hopeful. Talk about his strengths and what is going well. Talk about what other men who are trying to change find useful. Keep being clear about what you are still worried about and have open conversations about the next steps.
Use statements like:I’m so pleased you’re taking action so that Sue and the kids are safer. How do you feel knowing you’re doing this?
(sticking to it)
What you might see: The mother and children are saying that things are changing and that they feel safer. Other people around the man are noticing the difference. The man is talking about violence being a choice and that there is no excuse for it. He may talk about these changes being difficult but that he is committed to this. He is using the skills that he has learnt. He is engaging in the case plan.
What you might hear: Sometimes I feel angry but I leave the house. I know that it was my choice to hit Sue. I used to blame the booze, but there’s no excuse. I don’t say anything when Sue is disciplining the kids anymore. I don’t put her down. I am doing some of the chores. I am trying to help the kids trust me.
What to do: Keep encouraging him. Continue to check in with the mother to get her opinion of these changes. Help him develop and use strategies to prevent relapse. Talk to him about the possibility of setbacks and talk through strategies, actions or places he can go to for support if this happens or if things aren’t going well. Talk about consequences if he uses violence again.
Use statements like: It is important that Sue isn’t hurt again and I know you want that too. Let’s talk about how we can make sure this doesn’t happen.
What you might see: He and the family may avoid contact with you. Or the woman or children may contact you or someone else to talk about his use of violence. Police may be called because he has assaulted the mother. He may appear defensive and avoidant. He may begin minimising, excusing or denying his behaviour again.
What you might hear: I just lost it—I won’t do it again. I’m sick of this, I want you out of my life. It wasn’t that bad.
What to do: Check in with the mother and children to assess how safe they are and what the mother would like to do as a result. Remember that relapse happens, but violence cannot be tolerated. Talk to him about how his choice to use violence again hurts his children and partner.
Encourage him to be open about any negative feelings he is having about his relapse. Help him to renew the process of contemplation and action. Be non-judgemental and curious about why he used violence again. Help him identify and reaffirm his motivation for change. Talk to him about the positive changes he had made and what he saw the outcomes of these changes were for his family. Brainstorm new strategies and set new goals.
Say things like: I wonder what was happening for you when you decided to hurt Sue again? Did you notice any different feelings in the time leading up to this?
Learn more about working with fathers who use violence and watch this video on the Trans-Theoretical Model of Behaviour Change (Nathan Smith—2013).
Assessing a mother’s readiness to recover
It is not appropriate to assess the mother’s readiness to change, because it is the father’s use of violence that is the problem. Expecting the mother to change blames her and places responsibility on her for his use of violence (which is victim blaming).
If his violence has stopped or she has left the relationship, it may be appropriate to assess her readiness to start recovery work with her children.
Recovery work may include:
- changing parenting practices that harm children
- responding to any child behaviours—trauma, developmental problems and other responses to abuse
- healing any damage the violence has caused to her relationship with her children.
Learn more about Working with women experiencing violence hurt by domestic violence.
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