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Walking with dads: a step towards safety for women and children Posted: Tuesday 4 July 2017

“I was dreading having the hard conversation with this dad. He is very difficult and takes every opportunity to criticise us or his partner. WWD’s support meant I was more prepared and helped me come away feeling he had taken some responsibility as a parent.” (STL)

Walking with Dads (WWD) is equipping those working in child protection with the tools to better address cases where harm is caused primarily by fathers who abuse their partners and children. Developed by the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, this intervention program also helps these fathers to take responsibility for the harm their violence causes.

A four-year trial program, WWD had its genesis in both the child protection reforms to better engage fathers and the domestic and family violence (DFV) reforms to hold perpetrators to account. It places a specialist worker in Child Safety Service Centres and has been operating in Caboolture, Caloundra and Gympie since October 2016, and Mount Isa since February 2017.

WWD draws on David Mandel’s Safe and Together approach to bring a domestic violence informed lens to child protection casework. WWD workers are experienced child safety staff who have undergone specialist training and, in Mount Isa’s case, a respected local Kalkadoon father who will bring additional cultural competency to the role.

Principal Program Officer, Steve Lock, says WWD practice is founded upon two principles: the safety of mothers and children is paramount; and partnership with mothers is the foundation from which to plan family safety and effectively intervene with fathers.

“Walking with Dads experience strongly indicates that safe and effective work with fathers is built on a foundation of partnership with mothers. This means that WWD work is as much about improved work in supporting victims as it is about improved interventions with fathers,” Steve said.

“It’s unfair to put the burden of responsibility on to mothers to keep their children safe from the father, when this is often outside of their control.

“WWD works with mothers to help them realise their strengths, what they’re already doing to protect their children, and try to repair some of the damage the father has caused to a mother’s ability to be the parent she wants to be.

“So far, all feedback from families, particularly mothers, partner agencies and child safety staff has been overwhelmingly positive about the value WWD brings.”

Though still in its infancy, the program is showing promise. At its six month progress report, of the low number of cases which had reported, at least 30 per cent of fathers had demonstrated motivation to change, in an especially tough area to gain traction.

Particularly promising is the high level of engagement with mothers, which is up to 85 per cent. This partnership approach allows for much better planning for family safety and interventions.

“The way that WWD built the partnership with the mother completely changed the way that mother related to us. Previously she had been angry or evasive but once she knew we were there to help her keep her kids safe — her whole attitude changed. It was amazing how she opened up to us.” (CSO)

WWD is also helping to inform stronger practice with emergent themes being fed back into the system to continue to strengthen how we support families and keep children safe.

Steve says a large part of the WWD approach, and the Safe and Together model, is to set sufficiently high expectations for domestic violence-perpetrating fathers and establish what they need to do differently to fulfil their responsibilities as a father.

“WWD defines how the father needs to be accountable to his family and what his children need from him to be safe and properly develop,” he said.

“We set out what the father needs to stop doing and what he needs to start doing to be a safe parent, and a safe co-parent to support rather than sabotage his partner’s parenting. We fine-tune these goals on a family by family basis.”

WWD is being trialled where a men’s behaviour change program exists. WWD practitioners will work closely with these programs on risk assessments, information sharing and case reviews. They plan to take a joint approach to set goals for their clients to develop a safe parenting capacity.

While WWD is developing local pathways for referrals, Steve says it’s more than just sending fathers over to these programs.

“The intent is for the WWD or other child safety practitioners to work with the father to prepare him for the program, build his motivation to attend, and support his attendance. This preparation is vital to maximise the likelihood that the man will actually get to the program and will participate earnestly.”

WWD has just started an independent three-year evaluation which will include a strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective focused on the Mount Isa trial. The evaluation will capture men’s engagement as well as the impact WWD has on changing Child Safety’s approach to partnering with mothers and non-offending parents.

WWD will also benefit from being part of the ANROWS Invisible Practices project, which is establishing communities of practice across the country to support quality practice in addressing DFV in child protection.

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