Project Title: Increasing the awareness of child-centered fathering in order to reduce the risk of harm to children and their mothers caused by domestic violence.
Project Acronym: Caring Dad
National Agency: EE01 – Foundation Archimedes
Key Action: KA2 – Cooperation for innovation and the exchange of good practices
Action Type: KA204 – Strategic Partnerships for adult education
Start of Project: 01/11/2018
End of Project: t31/10/2021
Project Duration (months): 36
- NGO VAITER / MTÜ VAITER. VAITER Association gathers, develops and applies know-how in the field of mental health both in providing assistance and in carrying out preventive activities with the support of cooperation partners. The NGO develops and implements programs in Estonia aimed at preventing and combating violence and offering services and training to adults, families and specialists.
- Tallinn Social and Health Care Board/ Tallinna Sotsiaal- ja Tervishoiuamet. Ameti tegevusvaldkonnad: Tallinna linnas sotsiaalhoolekande koordineerimine ja korraldamine. Tallinna elanike haiguste ennetamisele ja tervise edendamisele suunatud tegevuse korraldamine ja koordineerimine.
- Miessakit Associataion/ Miessakit RY. Miessakit Association is a non-governmental expert organization established to support the mental, psychological and social growth of men. The organization complements the existing crisis services available for men and promotes nonviolent family life. Miessakit works as a national level link for men’s groups with equal objectives and maintains international contacts in its field. Miessakit has a nationwide network of volunteers as local contacts for information regarding the organization and its activities. Miessakit also publishes literature in the fields of its operations and works actively to promote the male point of view in society.
- Riga Social Service/ Rīgas Sociālā dienesta sociālā. The purpose of the social work service is to help individuals, families, groups of persons and society as a whole to promote or restore their capacity to function socially, to create favourable conditions for this functioning, and to contribute to reducing social exclusion and risk factors by developing personal resources and involving support systems.
- Association for Nonviolent Communication/ DRUSTVO ZA NENASILNO KOMUNIKACIJO. Association for Nonviolent Communication (Društvo za nenasilno komunikacijo) is a non-governmental, non-profit and humanitarian organization dedicated to preventing and reducing violence and its consequences. It was founded in 1996 when it was the first non-governmental organization in Slovenia with programs for victims of violence as well as for perpetrators of violence.
- St Michael’s Fellowship from the UK which aims to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty and underachievement so that children may be healthy, confident and financially independent adults. They offer three main services to help families change their lives: 1. Residential Family Assessment & Support; 2. ‘Jigsaw’: A family contact service to rebuild family relationships. 3. Outreach: A service offering one to one and peer support groups to young us and dads in Lambeth. As a representative of the organization, we partnered with Elaine Gaskell-Mew (outreach in St. Michael’s Fellowship manager) and Dermot Brady (from Kingston University) accredited trainers in Caring Fathers. Both conducted trainings for group chat in Estonia, Slovenia and Latvia and were mentors in the implementation of the program throughout the project.
- Changing Ways supports men to stop their abusive behavior in their relationships, and challenges them to take an active role in preventing woman abuse. Through public education and community leadership, Changing Ways has taken a leadership role in engaging men to take responsibility in their relationships, and to work in partnership with other violence against women organizations to create safe homes and safe communities. Our partner was Changing Ways Executive Director Tim Kelly. One of the organizations in the program is Caring Dads.
Despite the importance of fathers in families, our child protection and child and family mental health service systems tend to work primarily with mothers; a trend that is exacerbated when fathers are deemed to be high risk. Ironically, this means that those fathers who most need to be monitored and helped by our intervention systems are not involved. Those men’s children pay the price with higher rates of aggression, substance use, criminal involvement, suicide attempts, mental health problems and chronic health conditions (https://caringdads.org/).
To address this gap, the project partners in Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia adapted, implemented, evaluated, tried and tested a Canadian intervention program „Caring Dads“. „Caring Dads“ program is integrated into child protection and women’s support services, in order to reduce the risk of harm to children and their mothers.
The activities of the project lasted from 1 November 2018 to 31 October 2021, which were initially planned to be carried out over two years (from 1 November 2018 to 31 October 2020). The project was extended by one year due to the volume of activities, the change of project manager and the late start of the program testing period. At the same time, the quantitative results of the project changed, exceeding initial expectations. We were able to take on more fathers’ groups than planned and, at the same time, involve more cohesion groups than planned (officials and specialists working with fathers).
The global pandemic COVID19, which began in 2020, posed major challenges for project promoters, that we overcame together. The fathers’ groups had to be transferred online, which proved to be a great challenge considering the target group of the program. At the same time, the organisation of online groups provided an opportunity for fathers living in remote areas or working abroad to participate in the program. Based on fathers’ feedback, participating in the online group work is important for them in terms of saving time and ensuring sufficient anonymity.
Result 1: The adapted new innovative program Caring Dads, including training and program manuals.
The main goal of the project was to test and integrate “Caring Fathers” program in Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia. A total of 14 fathers’ groups were trained in the three countries, adapting the program manual, workbook, training process, financial model, communication plan and all other necessary documents for the local circumstances. Problems and topics encountered during the testing period were reviewed with the help of a mentor appointed by the program owner and the program owners themselves. The collaboration was effective and efficient. The necessary discussions, exchange of information and meetings were carried out online using e-mail, Facebook (i.e. Messenger) Skype, Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
Result 2: Child protection protocols and processes to underpin intervention with fathers.
Current child protection practices focus on mothers that require them to protect their children. Fathers, who are perpetrators of gender-based violence, are often absent from child protection planning and are not called out to take responsibility for protecting their children. A local government’s child protection worker is a key player in the prevention and resolution of domestic violence. Appropriate interventions are important to support families with children in order to reduce violence. Child protection workers have acknowledged and welcomed the program and confirmed it’s impact.
In cooperation with the project’s leading partners MTÜ VAITER and Tallinn Social and Health Care Board, a service model was completed, which aim was to integrate the program into the child protection system. Social and child protection workers from eight districts of Tallinn (https://www.tallinn.ee/est/Linnaosad) were involved. Tallinn has been an important partner since about 35% of the Estonian total population lives in the capital (https://www.tallinn.ee/est/Tallinna-elanike-arv). The service model maps the route, needs and risks of the service user. In addition to the child protection system, the whole Estonian justice system was involved including courts, the prosecutors’ offices and victim support.
The program’s adaptation and integration into the child protection system was successful. Although, the lasting effect of a successful program depends on the ability of the child protection system to work with families with children and the ability of both the state and local governments. The program is only one type of intervention for bettering the involvement of fathers, which must be preceded and followed by effective work with parents. Thus, the impact of the program depends mainly on the capacity of each country’s social and child protection system.
During the project period, the ability to offer the program to the corresponding target group, i.e. fathers with child-damaging behaviour, was achieved in three countries. In the course of the project, information groups, involvement and guidance were provided in each country through information days, seminars and a final conference. Thus, the existence of the program creates good preconditions for dealing with the topic, i.e. involving the fathers.
Result 3: Web-based open-source program materials to support professional practice in this field.
During the testing and training of the groups, the guidelines and instructions related to the program were adapted to the local circumstances in each country. The most extensive work was to customise the program manual and other important documents such as: program introductory materials (information leaflets), instructions for group leaders, instructions for conducting a motivational interview, cooperation with child protection workers, client questionnaire, client agreements, application form, final report for fathers. In addition, an analysis of the violence in a relationship, a service model, a communication plan and a training process were prepared.
In Europe, the program is being implemented in various countries, such as England and Germany. As a result of the project, three new countries were added to the list. The joint adaptation of the program through the project was effective for the testing purposes and for the project partners to exchange their experiences. Simultaneously with the testing and implementation of the program, the informative work (seminars, conferences, information days) was conducted among legal groups and in the whole society. Only the owner of the program has the right to publish materials related to the program. An overview of the program can be found at https://caringdads.org/.
The program model tested during the project, that can be successfully used to involve and train parents, has four main objectives:
- Engaging Men
- Child-centered Parenting
- Recognising and challenging abuse / neglect
- Rebuilding trust & planning for the future
Result 4: Publications resulting from the evaluation of the project.
In addition to the model described above and the guidelines for involving fathers, our partner Miessakit RY from Finland, who was involved as an expert, prepared a number of recommendations and guidelines for working with fathers. All the project guides are available to anyone interested on the website www.vaiter.ee and https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/projects/.
Finland has made great strides in improving the mental and physical well-being of men over the past decade. The men-centered approach is valued – the needs of men are understood. It works for men and only men do it. Men’s well-being is supported and improved. Involving men begins with understanding men. In particular, a secure and cost-free counselling environment is provided. Getting help reduces men’s shame and increases trust and involvement. Support centres have been set up across the country to involve and support men.
The work on violent men, that begun in Finland in the 1990s, has proven to be effective. Change starts with recognising the problems. It is not just by supporting the victims that will solve the situation. The work poses a number of challenges for professionals working in the field, which is why resources must be actively sought to prevent and reduce domestic violence.
The results of the project are reflected in the agreement with the project partners on the website www.vaiter.ee
The innovative nature of the project is that, in collaboration with five European countries, a practical model was adapted for working with fathers that covers: involving fathers, supporting child-centered paternity and reducing violence. During the project, guidelines for the involvement of fathers in family life were developed with the help of project partners. Those guidelines include descriptions and recommendations for communication, networking, funding and impact assessment.
The most innovative moment in the “Caring Fathers” program, which is at the heart of the whole project, is the innovative approach to involving fathers who use violence or who are at high risk. Currently, there are some problems associated with approaches that only use punishment and separating fathers from their families (e.g. imprisonment, restraining order, taking the custody of the child, transfer of the child from the father, etc.). Restrictive approaches clearly have their place and can be effective, but a range of other methods might also be used and this is where Caring Dads can play a part in system responses to gender-based violence. In some cases a more supportive approach could be used, which can meet the needs fo fathers, mothers and most their children. Thus, during the project, a number of guidelines for understanding and involving fathers were tested and developed through the training of fathers’ groups and by involving the experts in the field and conducting campaigns.
According to a UNICEF report, 40-70% of men who use physical violence against their partner also use violence against their children. About 50% of women who have experienced physical violence by their partner also use violence against their children themselves. The more frequent and severe the violence between the partners, the greater the risk to the child (Violence against children …, 2005).
The current practice of preventing intimate partner violence has mostly been limited to punishing a man for a criminal offence and separating him from the rest of the family. In addition, the task of protecting and raising children remains primarily on the mother of the children, often without the support of services, with additional responsibilities for other activities concerning safety and the recovery from trauma. Men have been largely overlooked so far and are rarely called to account for their behaviour and their fathering practices in particular. Additionally they are likely to remain isolated, experience depression and this may lead to an increased risk of violence. At the same time, the global experience shows that changes in attitudes and behaviour have been brought along by alternative or custodial measures aimed at re-socialising criminals.
At the same time, fathers who harm children are still looking for contact with their children or forging relationships with a new family: new victims. It has been found that it is often the most brutal episodes of violence (including killings) that have taken place since leaving. The program allows such fathers to be monitored during the implementation of the program, to assess the risk and to intervene if necessary. Impact studies of the program have shown that the risk of violence after passing through the program is reduced, which means fewer victims, less pressure and smaller cost to the social system.
“Caring Fathers” program has a very clear structure. It acquires healthy techniques for coping with frustrating situations, and helps to determine how one’s choices and behaviours as a parent affect children and their mothers. It is about fostering men’s empathy, responsibility, and motivation to change. They will become more aware of the possibilities to regulate violent and negligent attitudes and behaviour, and they will learn to use different techniques to strengthen the relationship between themselves and the child. The program uses combinations of cognitive-behavioural therapy techniques, psycho education, addresses the theory of gender dynamics in a violent relationship, and applies zero tolerance to violent attitudes.
Punishment for domestic violence (or social problems) is not effective in isolation, although it might provide at least temporary respite from abuse for mothers and their children and offer some space for reflection and action. Through punishment, we may change behaviour at a surface level, but might not change the real thoughts and feelings that provoke violent behaviour. It is still profoundly evoked by internal change. In the case of social problems, it is more effective to offer social programs. Unfortunately, there is no magic wand in this situation. The father may be intimidating in some ways, but he still has an important affection for the child. Sometimes fathers see their child as a property, but in reality, it is not so. A child is an opportunity for us. Being a father can be an essential motivation for change.
Non-implementation of interventions may result in:
- The isolation and depression of the father worsens the situation for the children.
- Mothers have a duty to protect their children alone.
- Violent fathers abandon their children and start a new family where these children are now at risk too.
- We lose child’s relationship with the father as well as the opportunity to change him.
Cooperation between the five countries encouraged and supported partner organisations to work together towards a common goal, find solutions and assess the impact. Together, the three countries’ effective child protection systems were integrated into the form of “Caring Dads” social program, which helps to prevent and reduce violence and supports the most vulnerable people in society. Through cooperation and networking, the awareness about the impact of domestic violence increased and more supportive interventions were created. The main focus of the project was to increase the safety of children and mothers.
- Improvement in fathers’ parenting stress. Results indicated significant improvements in fathers’ reported parental distress, parent–child dysfunctional interaction.
- Change in parenting behaviour. Children talked about seeing him more often, feeling happier and more comfortable around him. Children described fathers demonstrating more child-centred behaviour, e.g. taking an interest in their school work, playing with them, praising them and treating them appropriately for their age.
- Improvements in fathers’ controlling behaviour towards their partners.
- The project partners acquired new skills and approaches to working with fathers in situations of domestic violence.
- Through various project activities, important contacts were made in order to develop the partnership in the future as well.
- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have a new intervention program that is directly aimed at increasing the safety of children and reducing violence.
- Children of the fathers participating in the program will have a greater sense of security and the opportunity to grow up with their father, or at least a way to communicate Positive effects on children’s mental and physical health.
- In this way, fathers’ partners can make a greater contribution into caring for their children, both emotionally and materially. Parental stress is reduced.
Other relevant stakeholders:
- Other important partners were non-profit organisations and professionals (psychologists, family therapists, etc.). The impact of the activity was reflected in awareness about how to recognise the signs of domestic violence and in increased awareness over the places to refer victims and perpetrators.
- In the course of cooperation, joint collaboration projects and informative work were developed.
There is a widespread perception in society that a person who has used violence must be able to be punished. This way of thinking strains close relationships and does not usually lead to the desired changes. Instead of punishing, we can focus on the causes and the consequences. For example, if a parent is violent towards their children or partner, this can make their relationship with their loved ones even more strained or even broken. However, children miss their parents even when they are violent, absent or in control.
Alternatives to aggressive behavior must be found. The Caring Fathers Program: A Safer Life for Children is one way to create a safer life for children.
The structure of the conference plan was based on the four main goals of the program “Caring Fathers: Safer Life for Children”. Involving the person who has used the violence is central: talking about the violence, motivating it, bringing about change and planning for the future.
The conference took place at the same time in Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia. The conference presentations can be viewed HERE.
- Overview of different programs in Finland and their approaches (download pdf)
- Child protection services and domestic violence prevention (download pdf)
- Data collection and evaluation of effectiveness (download pdf)
- Dissemination of information about program, with discussions about goals and target groups (download pdf)
- How to get fathers to programs? (download pdf)
- How groups are used in different programs? (download pdf)
- How to get men involved and to participate? How to talk to men about their problems? (download pdf)