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Engaging fathers

Developing relationships with fathers who use violence is critical

Talk to the father about his hopes of being a better parent and see just how able and willing he is to change his behaviour. This a part of being respectful in your practice while still holding him accountable.

Engaging men is crucial in keeping the child and mother safe. When you engage the man who uses violence in your work you:

  • recognise his important role as father or caregiver
  • enhance the safety of the woman and child by creating a network of accountability around the man
  • hold him to account for his violence
  • place responsibility on him to end the violence
  • link him to support to create the changes he needs
  • make his patterned use of violence more visible. This helps us better understand how his violence has hurt the child (or may hurt them in the future)
  • help build understanding about how he responds to the violence
  • let him know that it is his behaviours that are the focus.

Learn about how his violence towards women harms the child in the working with children part of this practice kit.

Practice prompt

Some men who use violence will be able to change with the right interventions and may want to change. Seeing men as having a capacity to control violence and who hold hopes of being a better parent is respectful and can assist in the behaviour change process.

Worry and apprehension—how this shapes your responses

You may feel anxious and lack confidence about engaging with a father who uses violence. This may lead you to avoidance. You may worry that he may use violence against you, and some female practitioners may feel intimidated by a gender power imbalance that is magnified by his use of violence.

You may feel that you don’t have experience of having these conversations with fathers, because our focus has historically been on interventions with mothers. This is indeed challenging work, but it is important to remember that by not engaging with the father, you place the burden of responsibility (and consequences) on the mother to have these conversations with him. As the professionals, we must bear this responsibility.

Practice prompt

Ask yourself: Am I feeling anxious about engaging with the man? What can I do to alleviate this and build confidence? Draw on a ‘critical friend’ or supervisor to work out how you can respond to this power imbalance. Ask yourself, How can I keep myself strong for this child?

Listen to his experiences

It is important to ask about, and genuinely listen to, father’s 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.

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