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Perpetrator pattern-based approach

A perpetrator pattern-based approach to domestic violence cases involving children is the foundation of the Safe and Together Model and domestic violence-informed child protection practice. It has the following characteristics:

  • the perpetrator’s pattern of behaviour and choices are identified as the sole source of the harm to children caused by domestic violence,
  • It recognises that the father is exclusively responsible for his behaviours and choices. 
  • It applies high standards for men as fathers.  
  • It understands that the foundation of good child-centred domestic violence practice rests on the ability to describe the specific behaviours of the domestic violence perpetrator and their impact on child and family functioning.

This is more than a ‘perpetrator engagement’ approach, which has a limited focus on the practice of finding and meeting with the father. A perpetrator pattern-based approach is applied regardless of whether the father is engaged or not. It influences the entire case practice, including engaging with the mother, risk assessment and case planning for the children. 

A perpetrator pattern-based approach can help reduce the influence of race, class and ethnic stereotypes by focusing on patterns of behaviour. It can also help avoid inaccurately identifying mothers as perpetrators.  Female violence is often different and retaliatory in the wider context; it is not normally within a pattern of coercive control and it is not usually in a climate of threats, fear and intimidation. Female violence is less likely to be life threatening (for example strangulation) and much less likely to include sexual assault. A Perpetrator Pattern approach and the related tools has a focus on naming specific individual behaviour. Therefore the approach can be utilised regardless of the gender of the perpetrator or victim.

Intervening with fathers

Intervening with fathers is one of the practice principles of the Safe and Together Model to hold the father accountable for his violence, and to encourage behaviour change. If the father does not engage, there are other interventions that can be used to promote safety and wellbeing of the mother and children.

These interventions can occur whether the father is residing in the home or not, or whether the family stays together or not. Interventions are focused on producing behaviour change that is meaningful and dependable and can include:

  • criminal justice and/or dependency court focused
  • engagement focused
  • service related including behaviour change programs.

High standards for fathers

This is a concept that is central to domestic violence-informed practice and the Safe and Together Model.

At times domestic violence—destructive practice (Destructive practice increases the risk to mothers and discourages them from seeking professional support and services) is intertwined with unexamined gender expectations around parenting in heterosexual relationships, for example, that mothers are more responsible than fathers for children’s daily care.

Domestic violence-informed practice requires higher standards for men as parents and aligns with most legal systems’ understanding of parental responsibility, that is, that both parents are equally responsible for meeting children’s basic needs.  

High standards for men is based on the following simple premises:

  • Father’s choices and behaviours matter to child and family functioning.
  • Mother’s and children’s situations are tied to these choices.
  • Interventions with families can often benefit from the inclusion of fathers, whether they live in the home or not.

Any assessment of the family must include an assessment of how the father’s behaviour is impacting on child and family functioning in positive and negative ways. Set high standards for fathers’ based on a definition of ‘a good father’ that is explicit about the need to treat the children’s mother with respect, whether the couple is together or not.

Mapping perpetrator patterns of coercive control

Using a Perpetrator Pattern Framework means identifying, articulating and recording the behaviours that are the source of harm to the mother and child. To map a perpetrator’s patterns of coercive control, we need to:

  • look at the father’s behaviour, not the relationship or the mother’s behaviour, as the source of the domestic abuse, child risk and safety concerns.
  • look beyond the current relationship to take in the whole picture (360 degree assessment of perpetrator pattern)
  • recognise the strong link between the father’s behaviours and child safety and wellbeing
  • highlight that choice(s) to be violent, abusive and controlling are parenting choices.


Take a look at an example of perpetrator mapping.

Multiple pathways to harm

Domestic violence-informed practice reflects the reality that the father’ behaviour has a direct impact on the whole of family and harms children through multiple pathways.

The ‘Multiple pathways to harm’ approach

  • builds on the foundational focus of physical safety and trauma associated with incidents of physical violence
  • expands the understanding of ‘intersectionality’ to include the impact of the perpetrator’s behaviour pattern on the family functioning and the functioning of the other parent.

This perspective discourages the historic practice of holding mothers more accountable for problems in the functioning of the family and the wellbeing of the children than fathers. The result is more responsibility for the perpetrator for the impact of their behaviour on child and family functioning.

This sets the stage for more effective case planning, including behaviour change expectations for the perpetrator and better partnerships with the adult survivor.

Video: Multiple pathways to harm.

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