Engaging Fathers

shutterstock_66261436Both DV and CPS systems may see men who use violence as only a source of danger – both may struggle to understand why so many mothers think their partners are sometimes good dads, despite their worst behaviors. CPS is commonly critiqued for emphasizing a mother’s responsibility for children over their father’s, including when the father’s use of violence and coercion is the primary reason that children are at risk of harm. CPS agencies are now working to more routinely engage fathers, but struggle to balance that with rigorous assessment of risk and solid, individualized case planning when DV is a concern.

Men who use violence and coercion can change. Skillfully engaging them as fathers and through explorations of cultural norms against family violence can be effective for helping some men to envision a different role for themselves with their children – one that is based on love and nurturance rather than fear. While not all men will choose to change, DV advocates can help make the case to CPS that fathers and father-figures who use violence and coercion must be engaged, their dangerousness assessed, and that they be held accountable for behaviors and offered appropriate services and resources to reduce or end their abuse and become better fathers and partners.

Considerations:

  • Do staff see value in, and actively promote, opportunities for partners of the women who use their services to become better partners and parents?
  • Do CPS and the DV program operate from a rigorous analysis of how race impacts which men are arrested and incarcerated for domestic violence? Of which families become involved with CPS for these reasons?
  • Do staff identify a range, among men who use coercive control, in dangerousness, connection to children and capacity to change? How are CPS staff helped to understand these differences?
  • Does the DV program have a working relationship with men’s programs that support cessation of violence and responsible fatherhood? How can they be invited into the collaboration with child welfare?

Strategies for working together:

  • Jointly advocate, with batterer intervention and responsible fatherhood programs, for a CPS focus in case plans on changing behaviors of the DV perpetrator, and establishing expectations of fathers for routine parenting tasks
  • Develop a range of accountability mechanisms for men who use violence, that go beyond criminal justice responses
  • Develop cross-system referrals and feedback loops between CPS, dependency courts, BI and responsible fatherhood programs
  • Advocate for CPS funding to support indigent men’s participation in BI and responsible fatherhood programs
  • Advocate for funding to expand the service array to promote healthy, responsible fatherhood programs and violence prevention efforts