Fatherhood programs have a fundamental responsibility to:
- Educate and train staff to recognize signs of domestic violence.
- Identify situations where interventions or referrals are appropriate.
- Understand how to respond to disclosures of perpetration and victimization.
- Work with fathers to raise awareness and encourage non-violent behavior.
All staff should consistently and clearly demonstrate that violence is unacceptable in parenting and family relationships and is never an appropriate response to conflict. Some staff, particularly male staff, may not have any prior domestic violence training or might be uncomfortable with the subject. All staff should complete training to ensure the program is equipped to address the issue frankly. Many programs successfully train staff by using the same curricula, materials, or activities that participants experience. This approach enables self-reflection and recognition of any personal “baggage,” understanding of key messages designed for participants, and practice of recommended skills.
“The only way to ask others to grow is to demonstrate that you are also engaged in a self-improvement process.”
Ted Strader, COPES
“Men Stopping Violence has learned that sometimes men who seem to be our closest allies are privately perpetrating abuse toward their partners. Conversely, we’ve found that men who come to us looking to be accountable for their abusive behavior have become some of the most committed and effective advocates for men creating safer communities for women and girls.”
Lee Giordano, Men Stopping Violence
Domestic violence training for fatherhood staff typically addresses:
- Understanding that domestic violence is a pattern of behavior that includes physical violence and non-physical abuse, such as verbal and psychological abuse or economic coercion.
- Acknowledging the role of sexism and traditional male socialization in the complicated problems of domestic violence.
- Opportunity for reflection on personal family history.
- Importance of appropriate community response, including that of fatherhood programs, in creating safety for children, women, and families.
- Exploration of facts and myths, such as anger management classes are not a solution for men who batter and a focus on mutual violence may obscure power and control issues exerted by one partner.
- Recognizing signs that domestic violence may be present in a relationship.
- Implementing and using a formal domestic violence screening tool and/or conducting an informal screening procedure at various stages of the program and capturing information in case notes.
- Identifying situations where interventions or referrals are appropriate.
- Preparing staff to respond to disclosures of perpetration and victimization.
- Knowing who to refer cases to.
- Responding to potential victims or abusers in a supportive, not shaming, way.
- Staff could role-play responses to a father who discloses abusive behavior, helping him acknowledge his actions and be accountable.
- If a father indicates he has been a victim of violence in a gay or heterosexual relationship, staff could practice supportive ways to acknowledge his experience.
- Facilitating interactive activities with fathers to:
- Demonstrate the impact of violence on children and families.
- Build knowledge of non-violent parenting and relationship skills.
- Encourage involvement as role models to reduce and prevent incidents of domestic violence.
- Discussion of healthy masculinity that might cover the positive side of traditional male socialization and what it means to be a man in the context of healthy intimate relationships and parenting.
“Anger management is a ‘pop psychology’ term … most abusive partners are masters at managing their anger … there is an assumption of respect and equality that is missing in violent relationships.”
Lisa Nitsch, House of Ruth Maryland
Some training sessions should include domestic violence agency partners so fatherhood staff have an overview of their approaches and objectives, hear the perspectives of victims and advocates, and understand the importance of encouraging and helping fathers internalize non-violent messages. Training with partner agency staff also should help ensure that they appreciate the barriers (poverty, unemployment, discrimination, violence) that men in fatherhood programs often face and understand the program’s goals and methods. Partner agency staff should understand the value of the fatherhood program in raising awareness, changing behavior, and encouraging nonviolence. Some programs incorporate a panel of women or video or written materials to effectively bring in the perspectives of women to show their support of men in the local community.
Experienced practitioners report that at least 10‒15 percent of participants in fatherhood programs have a history of abuse with their partners or children and some were victims of abuse either as children or adults. Staff training can cover how to spot various warning signs. The National Fatherhood Initiative’s domestic violence awareness materials (designed for direct work with fathers, but useful for staff training) indicate that warning signs of domestic abuse may be found in a person who:1
- Looks and acts in ways that cause fear.
- Acts with jealousy and possessiveness and accuses a partner of infidelity.
- Tries to control how a partner spends their time, who they see, and who they talk to.
- Wants a partner to ask permission to make everyday decisions.
- Blames others for wrongdoings.
- Uses intimidation by destroying property.
- Threatens a partner with violence or a weapon.
- Uses insults, profanity, and name calling to put down the partner.
- Cannot take criticism and always justifies own actions.
In addition to raising awareness of warning signs, staff training should include tips for fathers. The White Ribbon Campaign of men working to end men’s violence against women offers positive steps men can take:
- Educate your children about healthy equal relationships.
- Accept your role as a man promoting gender equality.
- Listen to women and learn from women.
- Be a good role model.
- Demonstrate that you value women as equals and believe in healthy relationships.
- Do not laugh at sexist jokes or otherwise objectify women.
- Speak of the men and women who made a difference in your life.
- Speak out about violence against women and other injustices.
Similarly, the National Fatherhood Initiative2 suggests the following non-violent strategies for fathers:
- Valuing the opinions of others.
- Expressing empathy.
- Being emotionally affirming.
- Accepting responsibility for one’s actions.
- Communicating openly and truthfully.
- Being a positive and non-violent role model for the children.
- Sharing parental responsibilities.
- Sharing equal responsibility in household financial decisions.
- Being willing to compromise and resolve disagreements in a mutually satisfying manner.