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Family and Children's
Resource Program

Vol. 18, No. 2
May 2013

Strong Fathers in Prevention

Knowing what we do about fathers' contributions to the parenting relationship and to children's well-being gives us great reason to find help for fathers who have a history of domestic violence. Violence puts a father at risk of separation from his children. It jeopardizes his involvement with them, and negatively affects their safety and well-being.

As a child welfare worker or agency, dealing with situations of domestic violence is difficult.

  • How do we keep fathers involved, and still protect children's safety?
  • How can we assess which situations carry the most risk?
  • What resources are there to help these fathers start a healthier pathway in fatherhood?

A new initiative in North Carolina is helping communities find answers for these questions.

The Strong Fathers Model
Begun in Forsyth County in 2009, Strong Fathers is a psychoeducational and skills-building group for child welfare-involved men with a history of domestic violence. Its aim is to help men relate in safe and caring ways to their children, partners, and other family members (Pennell & Rikard, 2011).

Funded by the NC Division of Social Services, the Strong Fathers program is offered through Family Services, Inc. and serves men in three North Carolina counties. The Center for Family and Community Engagement (CFFACE) at NC State University evaluates the program.

Developed by the Center for Child and Family Health and its partners, the curriculum used in the Strong Fathers model draws on other nationally recognized courses that seek to reduce child maltreatment and intimate partner violence.

The Strong Fathers groups meet once a week for 20 weeks. During these sessions participants learn about child development and parenting techniques and talk with other men about how to be good fathers and care for their families. They learn about the effects of domestic violence on families, discuss ways to work in partnership with children's mothers, and they set goals for their own growth as fathers.

Promising Results
A 2012 program report shows that of the 35 men enrolled in the groups, 16 had completed the program, attending at least 65% of the sessions, and another 13 men partially completed the program; a few did not attend any sessions (CFFACE, 2012). In addition to the men's self-reports on parenting and progress in meeting goals, the evaluation also collects and analyzes data from facilitators, the mothers of the children, the social workers, and other community partners.

According to the preliminary findings, the men who completed the program demonstrated:
Increased knowledge of child development;

  • Reduced abusive beliefs toward their partners;
  • Capacity to set and carry out goals for themselves as fathers and partners;
  • Enhanced awareness of their gains and lapses as fathers;
  • Ability to identify and overcome challenges in relating to their children and the children's mothers; and they
  • Maintained or increased the time they spent living with their children.

None of the data sources show increased safety risks for children and their mothers (CFFACE, 2012).

These early results are promising. If longitudinal data becomes available it will be interesting to see what those data show about outcomes for children in these families.

Tools for Workers
In addition to offering support to fathers, the Strong Fathers curriculum offers practical tools for those who work with fathers who have a history of domestic violence. These "Tips for Workers Working with Dads: Men Who Have Been Violent with Their Partners" include:

  • Assessing Levels of Risk--provides checklists for workers in assessing risk and strengths
  • Differential Approaches--offers guidance on engaging fathers in different ways depending on their strengths and level of violence
  • Helpful Things to Say to Men Who Have Been Violent with Their Partners

A handout for use with fathers, "Supporting Your Child's Mother," explains the effects of domestic violence on children and offers ways fathers can show respect and support for mothers.

There is still a lot to learn about how best to help fathers change when domestic violence is involved, but the child welfare community and others are making strides in this area. The Strong Fathers model is one such effort that holds promise for helping fathers and their families.

See a Sample

Visit to see tip sheets and sample pages from the Strong
Fathers curriculum.

References for this and other articles in this issue