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Principles for engaging with fathers who use violence

Working with violent or dangerous people requires you to plan for your safety and the safety of others. You need to think about what you are going to say before you say it. Also, you need to ready yourself for manipulation or aggression. Follow these 7 principles for working with men who use violence.

1. Make sure you are safe

You can do this by meeting in a safe place, making sure that there is a colleague with you, and having a clear plan about how to end the conversation if you feel threatened.

2. Make sure the woman, children or other victims of his violence are safe

You can do this by:

  • not using information provided by his partner or children. (Instead, share information you have received from other services or other professionals working with the family.)
  • being clear that you believe he has the skills to choose not to use violence
  • clarifying how you will follow up with all members of the family
  • talk about what you will do if you are concerned he has used violence
  • take steps to make sure he does not leave the interview angry or fired-up and at risk of escalating his violence at home
  • consider whether the safety of the family has been compromised by the intervention and adjust the safety plan accordingly.

3. Use carefully planned and structured conversations

Try to focus your conversations with a father on how he is accountable for his behaviour.

4. Consider how culture or other factors might impact his behaviour

These can include cultural norms or perceptions about such things as gender roles and marriage. Ensure that these are not used to excuse his violence. Using a perpetrator pattern-based approach will help to focus on his behaviours. Always seek appropriate cultural consultation from a cultural practice advisor or an independent person.

5. Focus on engaging with empathy, but be careful not to collude

Try to separate the father from his behaviour. Ask about, and genuinely listen to, his own experiences of violence, oppression and adversity. Demonstrating interest and empathy, while staying aware of any ‘violence-supporting narrative’, will help them feel listened to and respected.

A father is more likely to be engaged in participating in further conversations and making change if he feels he is valued as a whole person—beyond his behaviours.

6. Focus on the children

Get the father to focus his attention on how his violence is impacting on his parenting and affecting the children.

7. Remember your feelings may be different to the feelings of his child and partner

Your feelings towards a father may be different to those felt by his children and partner.

You may feel anger and hostility towards a father who is violent to his partner and children, or feel afraid of him. But if he has used mother-blaming and maternal alienation to split children and mothers apart, his children may think he’s a great dad and feel their mum is at fault. Be mindful of this and talk sensitively and respectfully to the children about both of their parents.

It is also likely that the mother has some positive feelings towards him, and would like the violence, rather than the relationship, to end. In some communities, divorce and separation may be culturally frowned upon or considered a risk to a woman’s and her children’s visa status. This may affect how women and children express their feelings about him.

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