Features

Young fathers talk abuse

06 June 2017

Domestic violence is a factor in 60% of serious case reviews, and over a third of abuse cases start or get worse when a woman is pregnant. Now, as Siobhan West explains, a pioneering initiative is working with young fathers who have been abusive towards their partners to look at ways of changing their behaviour.

The impact of domestic abuse: Shutterstock

The Hampton Trust, a charity working in Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Gloucestershire, Devon and the Channel Islands to combat violence, abuse and social isolation among individuals and families, recently facilitated a consultation in Hampshire among young people and professionals. A questionnaire sent to professionals by the Hampton Trust found 91% of respondents had worked with people aged 17 to 23 known to be, or suspected of being, victims of domestic abuse.

The Trust had frequent requests from other agencies for support in working with young perpetrators of domestic abuse, and it had funding to work with young people who displayed abusive behaviour in their relationships and needed support to change. Southampton’s Family Nurse Partnership (FNP), a voluntary home-visiting programme for first-time mothers aged 19 or under, responded to the Trust’s call to develop a multi-agency brief intervention to gain a better understanding of how to support this client group. The Saints Foundation, an independent charity aligned to Southampton Football Club that supports education, health and wellbeing for young people and vulnerable adults across the city, also came on board.

The first session The FNP spoke to young men during home visits and asked what would encourage them to attend a focus group. They felt a group that focused on them as young men and fathers, without their partners present, would be help. Some suggested a group incorporating their interests, including football. The Saints Foundation agreed to give them a tour of Southampton FC’s St Mary’s Stadium, and the Hampton Trust funded a supply of pizza to the group.

At the first focus group meeting in January 2016 just one man turned up. He was asked what would encourage others to attend. As a result, changes were made, including transferring the meeting venue to St Mary’s Stadium itself, which was considered more relaxed. Family nurses provided transport to and from the group, and the original flyer was altered so that rather than targeting ‘young parents’ it was aimed at ‘young dads’.

The participants

Invitations went out to young men aged 15 to 20 whose partners were on the FNP programme. They were already fathers, or soon to be, or had become step-parents to their partners’ children. Though the focus for referral was initially on domestic abuse, it was extended to any young man on the FNP programme in order to get a better understanding of young fathers in relationships.

For the men interested in attending the group, the Hampton Trust course facilitator and a Saints Foundation representative arranged a joint visit with the family nurse. The FNP team designed and completed referral forms to register clients as attendees.

A young father: ‘Although it was hard, it helped me think about what I did around my daughter’

Besides being young parents, the men had a range of life experiences. These included learning difficulties such as ADHD and dyslexia, having a child who was subject to an intervention plan by the local authority, being subject to one themselves as children, or being a looked-after child. They had poor attendance at school or in education and had left early, and had experienced unemployment, poverty, homelessness, debt and mental health issues.

One participant said: ‘I tried to commit suicide, I couldn’t cope. That’s part of the reason my daughter is on a child protection plan.’ Other participants reported having a criminal history, health issues, being emotionally and physically abusive to female partners, and displaying controlling behaviour and coercive control. Some had experienced substance misuse, or had been exposed to it as children. Others were involved with gangs and had poor social and support networks among friends and family.

Structure and content

The group met over seven weeks on Monday afternoons at St Mary’s Stadium. The sessions covered perceptions of being a young man and a dad, an introduction to socialisation, life experiences and respectful communication, dealing with conflict, physical and emotional abuse, jealousy and possessiveness, sexual violence, self-esteem, positive self-talk, safety and support.

A solicitor attended one session to talk about young fathers’ rights and parental responsibility. Issues that the agencies could help attendees with included social inclusion and training, and managing anger and aggression. One participant said the group made him realise he was developing anger issues and he did not like how it was affecting his behaviour towards his partner and daughter. The family nurse referred him to a support course.

The number of attendees ranged from two to nine per week, averaging out at three or four. A common reason for not attending was having Job Centre appointments at the same time as the intervention. As a result, discussions between the FNP, the Hampton Trust and the Job Centre will be considered when planning future group sessions.

Besides the intermittent attendance, and despite the FNP providing transport, the initially high attendance rate dropped quickly. This is a problem associated with ‘hard-to-reach’ client groups. Other challenges included ethical considerations when working with young men but not young women, and parallel interventions that might impact greater change.

A young father: ‘It’s been good to talk in a safe place. I learned more about life and relationships. Having a solicitor come in was really helpful. I feel like we can get it all sorted now’

Recommendations

The future of involvement for the agencies needs to be considered – for example, the logistics of regular FNP involvement, which includes co-facilitating the group and bringing participants to every session. Child protection and safeguarding issues also came up, and it was sometimes unclear where parties stood regarding information sharing, consent to do this, and its effects.

Further groups for young men and fathers should be developed to provide more extensive and intensive support and education on safe relationships and self-esteem. With a court mandate this could be an option for those convicted of related crime. Partnership work needs to continue and extend across agencies.

A Coordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (CAADA) domestic abuse, stalking and ‘honour’-based violence (DASH) risk identification checklist should be completed on all partners of the men in attendance (CAADA, 2009). This would clarify levels of existing abuse and act as a risk-level indicator for safeguarding the partners and children of young men who are also abusive or violent.

A multi-agency referral pathway should be developed to include health, children’s services, education facilities and other agencies working with young people. Parallel work regarding healthy relationships and domestic abuse needs to be offered at the same time for young women in volatile relationships.

To conclude, despite fluctuating attendance numbers, it appears a partnership approach is crucial to success in such a group, as is a gender-differentiated approach in securing the commitment of young fathers. This work also highlighted the importance of practical support in encouraging young men to attend, such as providing transportation, identifying their motivations, finding the right setting, and deciding who facilitates the group.

  • Siobhan West is a family nurse. Debbie Willis from the Hampton Trust, Kirsteen Andersson, also a family nurse, and Mike Dixon from the Saints Foundation contributed to the article.

References 

Brandon M, Sidebotham P, Bailey S, Belderson P, Hawley C, Ellis C, Megson M. (2012) New learning from serious case reviews: a two-year report for 2009-2011. See: gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/184053/DFE-RR226_Report.pdf (accessed 23 May 2017).

CAADA. (2009) The domestic abuse, stalking and harassment and honour-based violence (DASH, 2009) risk identification, assessment and management model. See: safelives.org.uk/sites/default/files/resources/Dash%20without%20guidance%20FINAL.pdf (accessed 23 May 2017).

Hampton Trust. (2017) Who we are. See: hamptontrust.org.uk/the-trust/who-we-are (accessed 27 May 2017).

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