A new study has found that contact between children and their fathers in families with a history of domestic abuse can “facilitate” the continued abuse of women and children.
The research, conducted at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, raises the question about whether visits with their fathers should automatically be considered to be in children’s best interests where there has been a history of domestic violence.
The challenge is to promote contact in a way that delivers benefits to children while not jeopardizing their safety or wellbeing, according to Dr. Stephanie Holt, an assistant professor at the School of Social Work and Social Policy at the college.
For the study, survey questionnaires were completed by 219 mothers regarding their 449 children. The researcher also conducted face-to-face interviews with 61 children, mothers, fathers, and legal, health, and social care professionals.
The findings highlight clear evidence of post-separation contact facilitating the continued abuse of women and children, according to Holt. It also highlighted a lack of attention from support services to the parenting of abusive men who were struggling to realize their fathering aspirations, she said.
The type of father-child contact reported by participants ranged from overnight and non-overnight visits, telephone calls, texting, email, and the sending and receiving of photographs and letters.
According to the researcher, 68 percent of mothers who participated in the study expressed concerns for their children who engaged in contact with their fathers. The predominant concern was for the emotional welfare of the children, according to the study’s findings.
Participants described children’s continuing exposure to the verbal abuse and denigration of their mother when contact was being arranged, at hand-over points and during contact, Holt noted.
Four of the six fathers who participated in the study acknowledged their abusive relationship with their child’s mother. Their responses ranged from guilt and shame at what they had exposed their children to, to a sense of injustice and indefensible marginalization from their children’s lives.
According to Holt, it’s more important to focus on the “reality of abusive men’s behavior rather than an ideology of involved fatherhood in children’s lives.”
“This demands a significant paradigm shift to prioritize the construction of fathers as ‘risk’ in the context of post-separation father-child contact,” she continued.
“Doing so does not mean finding ways to exclude fathers from children’s lives, rather what is critical is to find ways to ensure and be assured that children are safe and that abusive men can be ‘good enough’ fathers.”
The study was published in the journal Child Abuse Review.
Source: Trinity College Dublin