Using Desire To Be A ‘Good Dad’ To Curb Domestic Violence
A lot of fathers who have battered their partners, and/or their kids, also witnessed domestic violence in their own homes as children. Many of these men want to do a better job as fathers. A pilot study in North Carolina is trying to tap into that desire to be a “good dad” to curb domestic violence – and the early results show that it is having some success.
Specifically, the Strong Fathers Program uses the concept of being a good father to engage men in an interactive effort to prevent them from committing acts of violence against their children and partners. Men who might shy away from being told what to do are often drawn to the idea of being strong fathers who take care of their children.
A pilot study of the Strong Fathers Program got off the ground in 2009, and three cohorts have now completed the program. Each cohort begins with as many as 10 men, who are asked to attend the 20-meeting course. The participants have been referred to the program by county social services officials because of a history of domestic violence.
“Among active participants in the first three sessions, we have seen decreases in beliefs that rationalize abusive behavior towards intimate partners – such as wives and girlfriends,” says Dr. Joan Pennell. Pennell is the director of NC State’s Center for Family and Community Engagement, which is responsible for evaluating the program and its results. “We’ve also seen improvement in the men’s understanding of childhood development and in their setting responsible goals for themselves as individuals, fathers and partners.” Pennell also stresses that the program in no way increases risks to the children of the men participating in the program.
Pennell has developed a robust evaluation design to track the safety of mothers and their children, as well as the extent to which the men are developing as responsible fathers and partners. The evaluation design draws on data from participant surveys, feedback from program facilitators, some interviews with mothers of the children, and social services data on reports of child abuse and neglect.
However, while the results of the program are promising for men who complete the 20-meeting course, less than half of the men enrolled in the first three sessions have completed the program. That is likely to change, as Family Services, Inc., which administers the program, has now begun accepting men who have been court-mandated to attend the program as a result of domestic violence offenses.
The pilot study – which is being funded by the North Carolina Division of Social Services – is being run exclusively in the Winston-Salem-area of N.C., but the ultimate goal is to expand the program to other localities – and to create a blueprint that can be used to replicate the program in other parts of the country. The curriculum for the program was developed by the Center for Child and Family Health.
Pennell will be providing an overview of the program, and related evaluation data, at the National Conference on Restorative Justice, being held June 8-10 in Raleigh. “We want to share our findings to help inform additional outreach and research initiatives aimed at preventing family violence,” Pennell says.