Attorney General Eric Holder affirms that children’s exposure to violence is nothing less than a national crisis. With this public health issue comes serious ramifications for the future of our country and the young men and women who will soon be called upon to build that future.
In response to these troubling statistics and others, Holder launched the Defending Childhood Initiative in 2010, which has since resulted in a report on prevalence of childhood exposure to violence and recommendations to address it.
Throughout the month of July we’ll take a closer look at some of the recommendations, what is being done and what you can do to help.
One of the recommendations of the Task Force recommendations is to “ensure that parenting programs in child- and family-serving agencies, including fatherhood programs and other programs specifically for men integrate strategies for preventing domestic violence and sexual assault and include reparation strategies when violence has already occurred.”
A father’s engagement with their children is associated with positive cognitive, social, and emotional development from infancy to adolescence. The father’s role is more than that of economic provider and includes nurturing, caregiving, and emotional support in both obvious and subtle ways.
Positive family relationships between a child and his or her caregivers—whenever it is safe—with siblings and other caring adults are important protective factors in a child’s life that may buffer him or her from the impacts of exposure to violence.
Historically, fathers have been excluded from most programs and agencies. A rule of thumb is that fathers should be engaged whenever a program or agency involves the mother, except in cases where there are safety issues. Providers in all programs play a critical role in engaging fathers.
The following are suggestions to engage fathers in interventions to prevent and reduce the impact of exposure to violence on their children:
- Develop protocols to respond effectively to men, fathers, and father figures. In cases of domestic violence, programs and policies regarding engaging fathers must ensure that the strategies do not cause further or undue harm to non-offending caregivers and children.
- Use self-generated cultural values to help men heal, learn parenting skills and change their behavior. It is important to help each father find aspects of his cultural values that support responsible, violence-free, family behavior.
- Use “fatherhood” to motivate men to expand their parenting skills. Most men want to be good fathers. Helping men understand what an irreplaceable role they play in the development and lives of their children can lead them to make a deeper commitment and investment in their family.
- Provide skill-based parenting education and support for fathers to help empower them in their role as caregiver and build and reinforce healthful connections between fathers and their children.
- Make your environment trauma-informed. Unfortunately, some fathers—especially those involved in the child welfare system—have their own histories of childhood and/or adult exposure to violence. If untreated, this exposure can continue to affect fathers’ ability to regulate emotions, maintain physical and mental health, engage in relationships, parent effectively, and maintain family stability.
- Offer fathers who have completed batterer intervention programs—and have renounced violence—ongoing support and parenting skills. These men can be helped to achieve constructive and healing relationships with their children.
- Establish meaningful relationships with community-based organizations to better serve fathers and their families.
The Safe Start Center has developed several resources to provide trauma-informed care to fathers and male caregivers, including the Trauma-Informed Tip Sheet for Engaging Men and Fathers.