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FATHERING IN THE CONTEXT OF FAMILY VIOLENCE FATHERING IN THE CONTEXT OF FAMILY VIOLENCE Challenges, interventions and collaboration towards child protection



This paper gives an overview over challenges, themes and interventions regarding the fathering if men in therapy for IPV.
Challenges, interventions and collaboration towards child protection
Author: Henning Mohaupt
Year of publication: 2020
Editors: Alessandra Pauncz, Sandra Jovanović Belotić
This publication has been produced with the financial support of the
“Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme 2014-2020” of the
European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole
responsibility of the authors and can in no way be taken to reflect
the views of the European Commission.
With financial support from the
“Rights, Equality and
Citizenship Programme
2014-2020” of the European
Fathering in the context of family violence. Challenges, interventions, and collaboration
towards child protection ......................................................................................................................... 2
I. Theoretical perspectives on fathering in the context of family violence ........................ 3
a. Attachment perspective .............................................................................................. 3
b. Social learning perspective .......................................................................................... 3
c. Gender perspective ..................................................................................................... 3
d. Family Systems perspective......................................................................................... 4
e. Interactionist perspective ............................................................................................ 4
II. Detrimental behavioral patterns and structural risk factors ........................................... 5
a. Problems with perception and regulation of emotions .............................................. 5
b. Aggressive and insensitive parenting .......................................................................... 5
c. Undermining of the child’s mother as parent ............................................................. 6
d. Alcohol and Substance use problems .......................................................................... 6
e. Problems with taking the child’s perspective .............................................................. 7
III. Implications for interventions ......................................................................................... 7
a. Safety ........................................................................................................................... 7
b. Accountability .............................................................................................................. 8
c. Intergenerational trauma ............................................................................................ 8
d. The transition to fatherhood ....................................................................................... 9
e. The father-child relationship ....................................................................................... 9
f. The co-parenting relationship ................................................................................... 10
g. Multi-agency work ..................................................................................................... 11
IV. Types of interventions ................................................................................................... 12
a. Making fathering a theme ......................................................................................... 13
b. Individual therapy programs ..................................................................................... 14
c. Group interventions .................................................................................................. 14
d. Family interventions .................................................................................................. 15
e. Integrative approaches .............................................................................................. 16
V. What works for you in the context you work in? A checklist for what you can offer
based on the opportunities you have ............................................................................................... 17
Check 1: How many people work at your agency? ............................................................. 17
Check 2: Do you collaborate with a victim’s support service? ........................................... 17
Check 3: Do you collaborate with the local child protection agencies? ............................. 18
Check 4: Does your agency employ people with training in children’s mental health? ..... 18
Check 5: If you have very limited resources, are a perpetrator-only service and can offer
individual or group sessions .......................................................................................................... 18
Check 6: If you have a good and stable budget, and a stable and specialized staff ........... 18
VI. Summary ........................................................................................................................ 19
References ............................................................................................................................... 20
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
Fathering in the context of family violence.
Challenges, interventions, and collaboration towards
child protection
Growing up with intimate partner violence (IPV) typically exposes children to three detrimental
conditions at the same time. First, they are often physically and emotionally abused (Hamby,
Finkelhor, Turner, & Ormrod, 2010). Second, they experience that one important caregiver threatens
and hurts the other. Third, they experience emotional neglect as both parental figures become
unavailable and often less responsive in the aftermath of violent episodes (Humphries et al., 2018;
Levendovsky et al., 2018). In addition, they may experience both their caregivers as protective, but
also as failing to protect. This may lay the ground for a generalized insecurity in the child’s
relationship to others later in life.
Minimizing contact with violent fathers may be the only viable choice in cases of chronic and
serious abuse. However, many men are also important attachment figures for their children, and
lasting separation from these fathers after violent episodes may result in a twofold trauma for the
child: First, the violence, then the separation. Therefore, it is important to offer therapeutic
interventions to men who want to end their use of violence, and who are fathers. There are
interventions that focus on the father-child relationship after violence, which have shown promising
The aim of this paper is twofold. First, I want to present common challenges in the parenting
and co-parenting of men who are violent toward intimate partners. I will discuss these challenges
from different theoretical perspectives and conclude with implications for therapeutic practice.
Second, I will present different ways of how to make fathering and co-parenting a theme in
interventions with violent men. Here, I will offer suggestions that can be applied in different
contexts. As perpetrator programs across Europe are differently funded, agencies will have different
possibilities to engage with the fathering of men who use family violence. Therefore, I will provide
examples of how agencies can intervene with limited resources and describe intervention programs
that demand more resources and offer intersectional co-operation, multi-therapist involvement, and
long-term follow-up. The main goal is to encourage agencies to make fathering a theme in their
work with men who are violent toward partner and children.
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
I. Theoretical perspectives on fathering in the context of family violence
In this section, I will outline different theories on the etiology of IPV, family violence, and of
problematic fathering. Trying to understand men’s use of violence should not reduce holding
perpetrators of IPV accountable for their actions. Since this paper is on both IPV, family violence,
parenting, and intergenerational processes, I will present relevant theories on these themes.
a. Attachment perspective
Insecure representations of attachment relationships have been associated both with
perpetration of intimate partner violence (Fonagy, 1999; Gormley, 2005) and with harsh, insensitive,
and role-reversed fathering in non-clinical samples (Madigan, Benoit & Boucher, 2011). The rationale
is that early experiences with dependency, protection and care are internalized as working models
for intimate relationships. Early experiences with abuse, rejection or neglect may predispose those
who live through them to develop poor regulatory mechanisms (Golding& Fitzgerald, 2019; Schore,
2017) and hostile biases in social-information processing (Murphy, 2013). There is strong evidence
for the association between adverse childhood experiences and heightened risk for a range of
detrimental behaviors in adulthood, such as perpetration of IPV, alcohol and substance use, and
mental health problems (Anda et al., 2005).
b. Social learning perspective
Social learning theory states that aggression is transmitted from family-of-origin via differential
reinforcement, imitation, and perceived rewards for being aggressive rather than non-aggressive
(Sellers, Cochrane, & Branch, 2005). According to this theory, children learn to use aggressive
patterns of interaction and conflict resolution through observation, particularly observation of
significant others. There is evidence for the association between growing up with harsh parenting,
perpetration of IPV, and holding attitudes that support male dominance in the family (Heward-Belle,
2014; Mohaupt, Duckert, & Askeland, 2020a).
c. Gender perspective
Sociological perspectives stress that fathering does not appear in a vacuum, but relates to
socially defined givens, such as gender differences in who takes on paid and unpaid work, engages in
childcare, and takes responsibility for children’s emotional development and social integration
(Doucet, 2013). It has been pointed out that social factors such as class, race, health status, economic
status and acceptance of hegemonic masculinity norms combine to form partner-violent men’s
identity as fathers (Heward-Belle, 2014). Adherence to hegemonic masculinity ideals has been
related to severe partner violence and insensitive fathering (Heward-Belle, 2014). Hegemonic
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
masculinity ideals have traditionally included dominance, goal-directedness, physical strength, and
power. Gender-based power dynamics are assumed to be socially constructed and re-constructed
(Hearn, 1996; McCarry, 2007). These dynamics are also assumed to affect the fathering of violent
men (Freeman, 2008; Josephs, 2007).
d. Family Systems perspective
There has been increased focus on partner-violent men’s co-parenting abilities and strategies
as factors that influence their relationship to their children. The quality of co-parenting has been
highlighted as a main area for clinical intervention for fathers in treatment for IPV (Scott, Thompson-
Walsh, & Nsiri, 2018). It has consistently been found that men’s parenting compared to women’s is
more affected by the quality of the interparental relationship in non-clinical and non-violent samples
(Cummings & Davies, 2010; Sturge-Apple, Davies, & Cummings, 2006; Teuber & Pinquart, 2010).
When using family-systems theory to understand the dynamics of IPV in families, it is
important to make a clear distinction between IPV and couple conflict. Couple conflict implies
symmetry between the involved individuals, IPV implies asymmetry. It has been pointed out that
there is a grey area between what has been termed “high-conflict” couples and couples where
psychological violence and other forms of partner violence are employed (Scott et al., 2018). Co-
parenting is an important area for intervention also in separated couples, as partner-violent men
who live separated from their children’s mother tend to use undermining co-parenting practices
(Thompson-Walsh, Scott, Dyson, & Lishack, 2018).
e. Interactionist perspective
Commonly, a clinical encounter with a man who has been violent towards his partner and
children can be understood from all the mentioned perspectives, as phenomena related to these
perspectives co-occur and are interrelated. An interactionist perspective integrates the individual’s
personal characteristics with the social and cultural ecology to highlight how distal and proximal
factors interact toward a specific outcome, like a violent episode.
A typical case involving a partner-violent man who also is a father may thus be described as
follows: The man has more than one child and some form of regular contact with the child. There is
high conflict and risk for new violence toward the child’s mother, often related to visitation
arrangements or child-rearing practices. The man often has a history of growing up with emotional
neglect, emotional abuse, or physical abuse. These childhood experiences were often tied to
interparental violence or parental alcohol- or substance use problems, but also to the public sphere,
like bullying experiences at school. His adverse childhood experiences cause him considerable
psychological distress, but he rarely has talked about this to others. He has a limited close social
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
network and feels insecure in the parenting role. Often, he does not experience his (ex-)partner to be
a good parent and is overtly critical toward her parenting. He also often experiences her as
controlling and as a threat to the father-child relationship. He may experience emotional closeness
between mother and child as rejection and exclusion and may actively try to curtail such contact.
Also, he claims a dominant position in the family and often acts rigidly toward his children. He often
uses harsh and insensitive parenting strategies that he was exposed to as a child. He understands this
way of parenting to be supported by cultural expectations toward men and fathers.
We will now turn some common risk factors for children’s safe development that are tied to
the fathering of men who have violence problems. It is important to note that these problems often
are present even after men have ended using IPV or family violence.
II. Detrimental behavioral patterns and structural risk factors
In this part, I will give a short overview over the most typical and demanding challenges
regarding the fathering of men who use IPV. These are the men’s problems with perception and
regulation of emotions, their harsh and insensitive parenting practices, their undermining style of co-
parenting, alcohol and substance use patterns, and their tendency to disregard or underestimate the
negative impact of IPV on the child.
a. Problems with perception and regulation of emotions
Men who have used IPV often have problems with making meaning of their own and their
children’s emotions (Mohaupt et al., 2020a; Stover & Kiselica, 2014; Stover & Spink, 2012). They may
misperceive children’s facial expressions, typically with a negative bias (Francis & Wolfe, 2007).
Especially children’s expression of anger, fear and sadness tend to be experienced as overwhelming
and difficult to adequately relate to (Maliken & Katz, 2013; Mohaupt et al., 2020a; Stover & Spink,
2012). Typically, men tend to react with wanting to shut down the perceived “negative” emotion in
the child rather than to engage with it, regulate it and help the child to understand it. This is a major
developmental risk, especially for young children. Consistent failure to acknowledge and safely
respond to children’s emotions can be termed emotional neglect. This impacts on children’s
emotional and social development, sense of self, and consequently their mental health.
b. Aggressive and insensitive parenting
Connected to emotional neglect is the issue of aggressive and insensitive parenting in men
who have violence problems. Men who have used IPV tend to use physical punishment of children
more often than men who are not abusive toward their partner. They also tend to use more concrete
parenting strategies, such as punishment and reward, and less abstract strategies, such as reflecting
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
around emotions and mental states (Fox & Benson, 2005). They often have a focus on controlling the
child’s behavior rather than exploring the child’s intention or experience underlying behavior
(Mohaupt et al., 2020a; Stover & Kiselica, 2014). Often, men who use IPV may generally reject the
idea that physical punishment of children is positive. However, they will justify their use of physical
punishment by pointing out how the child was exceptionally difficult or provoking (Veteläinen,
Grönholm, & Holma, 2013). They may also compare their own childhood experiences of having been
physically abused to their own harsh parenting practices and find that their behavior does not
“qualify” for being abusive. This seems to be particularly true for men who have been exposed to
severe physical child abuse (Mohaupt, Askeland, & Duckert, 2020b). Further, many men who use
family violence may not consider forms of psychological violence like yelling, name-calling, threats of
punishment or abandonment, or stonewalling to be forms of abuse.
c. Undermining of the child’s mother as parent
The use of violence against the child’s mother undermines the function of the mother as a
caregiver and attachment figure for the child (Levendovsky et al., 2018). Men who use IPV often
actively undermine their (ex-) partner as parent, even in the absence of other forms of e.g., physical
violence (Scott et al., 2018). This involves the devaluation of the mother’s opinions and rules
regarding childcare, the disregard for her values and goals as a parent, the creation of alliances with
children against the mother, and the active involvement of the children in interparental fights or
conflicts (Teuber & Pinquart, 2010). In many families, the undermining co-parenting style of men
who use IPV is an integral aspect of the everyday-life use of violence. Undermining co-parenting per
se is detrimental for children’s social and emotional development (Edwards & Cummings, 2010), as
children lose a sense of their parents as a safe unit, and because it forces the child into conflicts of
loyalty. It is important to note that undermining co-parenting also continues after separation
(Thompson-Walsh et al., 2016) and in the context of custody disputes.
d. Alcohol and Substance use problems
Many men in treatment for intimate partner violence qualify for an alcohol- or substance use
related diagnosis (Askeland & Heir, 2014) or have elevated, although subclinical levels of alcohol use
(Mohaupt & Duckert, 2016). It has been pointed out that alcohol and substance use problems may
contribute to IPV, be a consequence of perpetrating IPV, or that certain personality traits may be
associated both with use of IPV and problematic alcohol and substance use (Stover, Urdahl, &
Easton, 2012; Wekerle & Wall, 2002).
Men’s problematic use of alcohol correlates with harsher and insensitive fathering (Eiden,
Chavez, & Leonard, 1999; Eiden & Leonard, 2000; Eiden, Hoyle, Leonard, & Chavez, 2004). It also
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
relates to trait-hostility in fathers (Stover & Kiselica, 2014). High levels of trait-hostility are common
in men who use violence against their partner (Birkley & Eckhardt, 2013). Spousal conflict has been
found to mediate the association between paternal alcohol / substance abuse, and child
maladjustment (Finger et al., 2010). In partner-violent fathers with substance-abuse problems, the
capacity to infer meaning from the child’s behavior and feelings seems to be negatively correlated
with the severity of substance abuse (Stover & Kiselica, 2014).
e. Problems with taking the child’s perspective
Several studies have demonstrated that men who use IPV struggle with understanding the
negative consequences of their use of violence for the child (Bourassa, Letourneau, Holden &
Turcotte, 2016; Perel & Peled, 2008). Often, they show limited concern about the effects of their use
of violence against their partner on their children (Rothman, Mandel, & Silverman 2007; Salisbury,
Henning, & Holdford, 2009). In clinical samples (Mohaupt et al., 2020b; Rothman et al., 2007;
Veteläinen et al., 2013), as compared to non-clinical samples (Salisbury et al., 2009) fathers have
been more willing to acknowledge the negative impact of IPV on their children. However, even in
therapy they often shift between acknowledging the negative effects of their use of violence on the
child, and rejecting it (Mohaupt et al., 2020b).
III. Implications for interventions
Here, I will describe how theory and research may inform clinical interventions with men who
use IPV and are fathers. This part is about themes that, in my opinion, should be covered in any
intervention with the aim of ending the use of violence in the family, and to create safe relationships
between fathers and their children. Note that ending violent behavior often is not sufficient if the
aim is to establish safe and sensitive fathering. Rather, ending violent behavior is a prerequisite for
the demanding work of helping the father in treatment for IPV to develop basic caregiving
a. Safety
Safety work is at the heart of any work with perpetrators of IPV. However, it is particularly
important when children are involved, and when parenting is a main theme for intervention.
Working with the father when he has a violence problem and has contact with children should ideally
not be done independently of contact with the child’s mother or other caregivers. After all, it is the
mother who may be the only person who reliably can evaluate whether the father’s therapy leads to
more sensitive and safe parenting and respectful co-parenting. Children may often attune to the
father who has been unsafe for them in the past. Therefore, the father may experience the child as
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
content, not scared, and even supportive of his needs and position. Typically, the child reacts
emotionally in the absence of the father, for example at school, after visitation, or when alone with
the mother. Information on children’s reactions after father-child contact while their father is in
treatment is vital. Also, the dynamic of the therapy may contribute to the therapist running the risk
of disregarding warning signs, overestimating the client’s potential for change or their own
therapeutic abilities, thereby prolonging a potentially dangerous and damaging situation for the child
and their mother (Josephs, 2007). Consequentially, therapy should also have a clear framework
regarding when other agencies, such as child protective services, or the police, be involved.
b. Accountability
The degree to which men take responsibility for their use of IPV and its impact on the child is
connected to safety (Scott et al., 2018). One should be cautious giving men who do not acknowledge
their use of violence the opportunity to work on their fathering. Perpetrators of IPV may sign up for
therapy for various reasons that might bring them gain, such as a stronger position in a custody case
or less involvement with child protective services. The genuine wish to end violent behaviors and to
become a more sensitive and safer father are not always present or are not the man’s main priority.
Where motivation for engaging in therapy is unclear, it needs to be elaborated and clarified (Lømo,
Haavind & Tjersland, 2018). Ideally, a fathering-focused intervention with men who use IPV should
be rooted in collaboration with a stable third party, for example child protective services, the family’s
GP or some other professional that is trusted by the involved parties, and who can routinely evaluate
the effects of the intervention on the family (Sammut Scerri, Vetere, Abela, & Cooper, 2017). The
need for such interventions should be clearly stated and be connected to the man’s use of violence
and the affected family members’ need for safety and support.
c. Intergenerational trauma
Trauma, violence, abuse, and related problems such as alcohol abuse tend to run in families
across generations. Therefore, an individual’s parenting may be affected by his or her family history
regarding traumatic events or relational problems. There may also be a genetic component to
susceptibility for environmental impact, such as relational stress early in life, which seems to affect
quality of affect regulation and caregiving later in life (Belsky &Beaver, 2011; Beaver & Belsky, 2011).
Further, cultural trauma such as war, forced displacement or separation, or experiences of state
oppression or structural racism may affect the degree to which a family develop or inhibit norms for
expressing and tolerating emotions, needs, and thoughts. These norms can be upheld across
generations (Lieberman & Van Horn, 2011). It is therefore important for the therapist to get an
overview over important events in the father’s life, including his childhood, but also how these
events may be rooted in the larger family and cultural-historical context (Cowan & Cowan, 2019).
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
Parenting often needs to be understood against the backdrop of own childhood experiences of
having been parented (Mohaupt et al., 2020b). These childhood experiences, in turn, become more
meaningful if contextualized with the previous two generations’ life conditions (Cowan & Cowan,
d. The transition to fatherhood
Becoming a mother has culturally and scientifically received more focus and interest than
becoming a father. This is understandable, as pregnancy, childbirth and the early years of a child’s life
are biologically tied to the mother more than the father. However, men also seem to undergo
considerable psychological and biological change during the transition to parenthood. Depression,
for example, is twice as high in expecting first-time fathers compared to childless men of the same
age in the general population (Burgess, 2011). Men are more vulnerable for developing depression
during the transition to parenthood the less they are relationally involved with the child’s mother, if
the child has not been planned, and if the mother develops post-partum depression (Burgess, 2011).
Further, pregnancy and the perinatal period associate with increased risk for mild to moderate IPV
from both men and women (Trillingsgaard, Fentz, Simonsen, & Heyman, 2019), which again can lead
to more serious and lasting patterns of IPV (Finnbogadottir, Dykes, & Wann-Hanson, 2016). Men who
grew up with interparental violence or child abuse may be particularly vulnerable for developing
mental health problems and for using forms of IPV during the transition to parenthood (Mohaupt et
al., 2020b). The child’s vulnerability, but also being a father and experiencing the female partner as a
mother may function as trauma reminders that can trigger anxiety and aggression (Josephs, 2007).
e. The father-child relationship
The father-child relationship is a vital aspect of interventions aiming at establishing safe
fathering in the context of family violence. Ideally, descriptions of this relationship should be
gathered from as many qualified observers as possible. The father’s experience of the father-child
relationship is important to understand, but equally important are the child’s mother’s impression of
this relationship, and other family member’s perspectives and experiences. Kindergarten- or
schoolteachers may also often have valuable information regarding the child’s experience of the
father. The child can be consulted if this is safe and if the risk for the child being questioned or
punished for sharing her experience is deemed low.
The therapist wants to get as broad a picture as possible regarding the risks, downsides,
problems, but also strengths of the father-child relationship. Often the child’s experience of the
father is contradictory and shifting. For example, a 10-year-old boy can express that he is afraid of his
father because he saw how he hurt the child’s mother but he may equally miss him after visitation
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
has been stopped, be sad because he did not show up for his birthday and remember the fun times
they had when they played together. These shifts may be accentuated by everyday life events like a
fight between child and mother. The child’s experience of the father may therefore be contradictory,
which may also contribute to children feeling overwhelmed and confused. We underestimate and
reduce children’s experience if we relate most of their emotional problems to the fact that their
father has been violent.
To assess the father’s capacity to understand the emotional world of the child, interviews like
the Parent Development Interview (PDI- R2; Slade, Aber, Berger, Bresgi, & Kaplan, 2003) or the
Working Model of the Child Interview (WMCI; Zeanah& Benoit, 1995) may be used. Where safety
permits, observation of father and child interaction in a playroom, at home or on a playground may
reveal many of the interactional challenges men who use IPV often present, but which are difficult
for the father to describe (often because he might not even be aware of them). This includes the use
of gesture, body language, tone of voice, or eye contact, and how they affect the child. Such
observations can often inform the therapist’s judgement regarding safety and triggers for insecurity,
both in the child and in the father, while the father may not notice such shifts.
As therapy evolves, it is important to raise awareness around how the father’s presence may
be a source of fear and insecurity for the child, and how this may relate to the child’s experience of
violence in the family. Focus should be on the necessity to change not just attitude, but style and
behavior to provide an experience of safety and understanding for the child. In other words, it is
necessary, but often not sufficient to help the man formulate that he knows that he has done
something bad, scary, and hurtful to the child and her mother. Such an acknowledgement is the basis
from which to work, but it is not sufficient. The goal for therapy should be to help the father change
his being a father in everyday life. This includes how he acts toward the child’s mother, how he treats
himself, how he generally expresses his emotions, and how he allows the child to be a subject with
own feelings, thoughts, and intentionsall with an awareness of how his choices and actions may
affect the child.
Finally, it is important to help the man understand how his ideas regarding parenting,
fathering, mothering and being a child are influenced by his personal childhood experience, and by
the culture he lives in (Mohaupt et al., 2020b).
f. The co-parenting relationship
In family-systems theory, the co-parenting relationship is considered as a distinct system, and
as something else than the adult’s couple relationship (Teuber & Pinquart, 2010). It is important to
note that co-parenting focus in the context of IPV sometimes can be interpreted as supporting a view
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
that holds both parents accountable for interparental conflict and negative outcome for the child.
There is a rising problem of using these concepts to diffuse men’s responsibility for violence toward
partner or children by analyzing women’s roles in the partner or co-parenting relationship, especially
during custody disputes (Scott et al., 2018). Including a focus on how the violence affects co-
parenting and mothering, and how women’s and children’s reactions to men’s use of IPV can
contribute to and reinforce patterns of IPV are not meant as a diffusion of responsibility, but as a
description of how men’s use of violence affects the family system (Denzin, 1984).
The quality of the co-parenting relationship affects children’s psychological well-being directly
and indirectly (Edwards & Cummings, 2010). There is evidence that conflict and negative affect
stemming from the couple relationship “spill over” into the parent child relationship (Sturge-Apple et
al., 2006). While this in general seems to be truer for men’s parenting than women’s (Edwards &
Cummings, 2010), in the context of IPV the mother-child relationship is often negatively affected by
the traumatizing effects of being exposed to IPV (Levendovsky et al., 2018). There have also been
described and documented “crossover” effects, when problems in e.g., the father’s relationship to
his parents or at work cause problems in the mother-child relationship. In the context of IPV, the
perpetrator’s relational problems outside the closest family context may heighten vigilance and
stress in the mother, and thus affect the mother-child relationship negatively. Men who use IPV
often express how they feel excluded from the intimacy and closeness of the mother-child
relationship (Mohaupt et al., 2020a), without taking their use of violence and dominance into
account as a contributing factor for that alienation. In the context of IPV, there are many reasons
that mothers intuitively want to protect their children, and therefore also guard and control the
father’s contact with the young child. However, as these processes seldom are reflected upon by the
perpetrator, it is important to examine these family dynamics in therapy.
g. Multi-agency work
Working therapeutically with the father-child relationship in the context of IPV demands that
service providers collaborate toward children’s and mothers’ safety. Working with families affected
by IPV may often start out with several involved agencies that are not necessarily coordinated. In
addition to a perpetrator program, there may be involvement from child protective services, and
children’s mental health services due to children’s mental health symptoms associated with being
exposed to interparental violence (but not always understood as such). In addition, the legal system
may be involved regarding visitation or prosecution after IPV. It is not uncommon that parents who
are separated after IPV are offered some form of shared psychoeducation regarding parenting or co-
parenting. This means that parents often must relate to everything between 2 and up to 5 or more
different services dealing with the consequences of IPV (Cowan & Cowan, 2019). As part of a
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perpetrator program, therapists should aim to meet the other service providers together with the
parents (separate or together depending on safety), and to agree on goals for the family with the
children’s safety at heart, an agenda for reaching these goals, and a coordinated timetable for
implementation of services (Scott et al., 2018). Such intervention plans should state who is
responsible for follow up, regular evaluations, and how to ensure exchange of information across
service providers.
IV. Types of interventions
In this section, I will present different formats of interventions aiming at strengthening the
father-child relationship in the context of IPV, and where available, refer to specific programs with an
evidence base. This is not meant to be a comprehensive overview of the best-practice programs but
a description of several interventions that illustrate the diversity of ports of entry toward addressing
fathering in IPV treatment. For the interested reader, Labarre and colleagues (Labarre, Bourassa,
Holden, Turcotte, & Letourneau, 2016) have described and analyzed 10 interventions dedicated to
working with perpetrators of IPV and their fathering. Toone (Berry Street, 2018) has also published a
detailed report on four interventions suitable for working with fathering in the context of IPV.
Interventions differ based on theoretical conceptualizations of IPV. They may also have
different goals and scope based on the developers’ aims. Roughly, IPV interventions can be divided
into two main categories:
The first is mainly (psycho-) educational and based on an understanding of IPV as a socially
constructed and reinforced phenomenon. Uncovering how the violent individual is affected by
socially determined beliefs regarding masculinity, sexuality and fatherhood is assumed to help the
person change toward non-violent modes of relating. This implies that interventions can be group
based, and that the same themes are relevant for most men.
The second is mainly psychological-relational and based on an understanding that the
individual’s psychological make-up, including trauma exposure, attachment style and mental health
issues are determining the use of IPV. Here, the individual’s experience of his current relationship as
formed by past relational experiences is central. This implies that individual interventions are most
suitable, and that there is variance regarding why men use violence against women and children.
Regarding fathering, these issues are similar. Fathering can be understood as a socially
determined construct tied to gender roles, expectations, and gender-based dynamics (Doucet, 2013;
Lamb, 2013), but also as an attachment process that is influenced by relational dynamics (Steele &
Steele, 2005).
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
None of these approaches is rejecting the validity of the other, but interventions typically tend
to weigh one approach more than the other. Ideally, a service provider should have knowledge and
methods covering different understandings and approaches of how to intervene in the context of
IPV. In any case, it is important that before the father-child relationship can become the main theme
in an intervention, there should be done some work to end violence and establish safety. Some
programs integrate the father-child relationship from the start; others work with fathering as an
individual module that can be added after completion of a perpetrator program.
a. Making fathering a theme
When making fathering a theme in interventions with men who are violent toward their
female partner, it is important to do the groundwork of ending violent behavior and establishing
safety first. In practice, this often means that the initial sessions are devoted to safety, identification,
recognition, and regulation of violent behaviors, and understanding the impact of violent behaviors
on others. However, already during these basic interventions, father-child relationship can be used as
a lens in violence-prevention therapy. How may the child have experienced the father’s use of
violence? How may the child have attempted to make meaning of father hurting mother? How may
the child try to appease and adapt to the father as a potential threat? How do the child’s behaviors
and emotions relate to the father’s experience of loss of control and aggression?
There are several providers of therapeutic interventions for men who use IPV that offer a
thematic focus on fathering and effects of violence on children as part of their curriculum (Labarre et
al., 2016). These are often time-restricted and mainly psychoeducational or socio-educational
classes. Commonly, they include one or several of the following themes: education on parenting,
how parenting may be affected by adverse childhood experiences, how IPV may affect co-parenting
negatively and how living with IPV is detrimental to children’s development. While sharing such
information with men who use IPV is necessary, it may not be sufficient. Men who use IPV often
describe how they struggle with turning what they understand theoretically during therapy into
practice in everyday-life situations involving their children (Mohaupt et al., 2020a).
Research suggests that many men who perpetrate IPV often have several challenges related to
early life experiences of parental neglect, violence, mental health, or alcohol and substance use
issues (Askeland & Heir, 2014; Mohaupt et al., 2020b). From this perspective, aggressive and non-
sensitive fathering can be understood as stemming from the absence of models for stable, nurturing
relationships (Mohaupt et al., 2020b). The combination of experiencing a social pressure to act the
socially defined father role while lacking the lived experience of a safe child-adult relationship may
contribute to the enactment of rigid, paternalistic father-stereotypes, like claiming that being the
man in the family entitles the father to respect, regardless of his behavior (Josephs, 2007; Mohaupt
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
et al., 2020a). An experience of alienation from the emotional bond observed between mother and
child may ensue (Freeman, 2008), and may heighten the risk for IPV and undermining co-parenting.
Therapy should ideally also involve some sessions on affect regulation (Pascual-Leone, Gilles,
Singh, & Andreescu, 2013), trauma and trauma reminders (Taft, Schumm, Marshall, Panuzio, &
Holtzworth-Munroe, 2008), and how perception of the child and co-parenting may be affected by
early life experiences with having been parented (Mohaupt et al., 2020b).
b. Individual therapy programs
Fathers for Change (F4C; Stover, 2013; Stover et al., 2020) is a manualized, module-based
intervention for men who have used IPV, who want to end violent behaviors, and who want to repair
the consequences of their use of IPV on their children. The intervention is offered as an individual
treatment with modules where the child’s mother can participate in sessions on co-parenting, and,
where safety permits, there is the opportunity for dyadic sessions with father and child. The
intervention has shown high adherence, with completion rates between 67 and 80 % across studies
(Stover et al., 2020). It has also shown good outcomes, with a reduction in men’s abusive behaviors
measured by the Abusive Behaviors Inventory (ABI) from a mean of 21.71 pre-treatment to a mean
of 7.42 post-treatment (N = 272; cutoff for abusive relationship ≥ 9) as reported by the exposed
partner (Stover et al., 2020).
Alternative to Violence is a Norwegian based therapeutic service for adults who use IPV and
has been active since 1987. Fathering and how violence affects the father-child relationship is an
integrated theme in any therapy where men in treatment are fathers and have contact with their
children (Askeland & Råkil, 2017). Further, two therapists work systematically with the perpetrator
and the exposed parent toward inviting the client’s child(ren) to at least one private, planned
session. This manualized intervention is called “Si det videre” (my translation: “tell someone”) and
consists of a therapeutic manual and materials (Alternative to Violence, 2018). The goal of this
session is to give the child information about IPV, how children often can be affected by IPV in
different ways, and their father’s specific treatment. This routine also allows the therapist to get to
know the client’s child(ren), which facilitates the therapeutic focus on the father-child relationship.
c. Group interventions
The Caring Dads program (Scott & Lishack, 2012) is an example of an effective group-
intervention to improve fathering with men who have used IPV. It is manualized, each of the 17
sessions has a specific theme and focus, and there are a workbook and homework assignments
related to each session. Agencies offering this program also routinely reach out to the participant’s
(ex-)partner and stay in contact with her on matters of safety and co-parenting. The Caring Dads
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
program is widely used in Canada and the UK, and has a good evidence base, demonstrating small to
medium effect sizes regarding reduction in participants’ aggression toward children and medium
effect sizes regarding improved co-parenting when comparing measures pre- and post-treatment
completion (McCracken & Deave, 2012; Scott & Lishack, 2012).
d. Family interventions
For Baby’s Sake (Domoney et al., 2019) is a manualized long-term intervention framework for
couples who are expecting a baby, or have very young children, and where the father has used IPV
against the mother. The intervention is multi-agency based, and involves individual treatment
sessions for the father, the mother, and co-parenting sessions tailored to the safety needs of the
family, regardless of whether parents live together or not. The intervention also includes home visits
and safety work, psychoeducation, and routine follow-up of the child. The intervention is designed to
last for between 18 and 24 months from pregnancy throughout the child’s first years of life.
The Abuse Clarification Process (Lipovsky, Swenson, Ralston, Saunders, 1998) involves parallel
work with the exposed children and their exposed caregiver in one therapeutic process, and with the
perpetrator in another. The perpetrator work centers around formulating and rephrasing a letter to
the affected family members where the perpetrator works toward clearly stating the nature of his
violence use, accepting responsibility for his violence, acknowledging the impact on the other family
members, and outlines how he will work toward safety in the future. The work continues until both
therapists, based on all family members’ descriptions of the violence, agree that the man’s letter is
covering all aspects in a way that will be helpful for the affected family members to hear. Then, a
session is prepared where the perpetrator reads his letter to the affected children, and where
children and perpetrator receive a debrief in private with their therapist.
Child-Parent Psychotherapy (Lieberman & Van Horn, 2011) is framework for dyadic trauma-
focused therapy with children 0-6 years old, and their caregivers. CPP aims to help young children
heal from trauma, including domestic violence, through strengthening the natural attachment
processes between child and caregiver. Where safety permits, this work can and has been done also
with the parent who has been abusive, and who has exposed the child for trauma. It is important to
underline that this work demands thorough training, supervision, assessment, and preparation.
A Family Systems Approach to working with IPV has been formulated and described (Sammut
Scerri et al., 2017). This work is based on attachment theory and family systems theory, and includes
thorough safety planning, where the use of a stable third party who is acknowledged by both
perpetrator and exposed is a vital element. The stable third may be a family member, a GP, a helper
at CPS, or any person who commits to participate in working toward the family’s safety and non-
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violence. The relationship to children, understanding how children are affected by living with IPV,
and co-parenting are central themes in this approach.
e. Integrative approaches
To some extent, all approaches I have mentioned are integrative in the sense that they entail
work with perpetrators and their partners through one or several agencies. These programs have
been primarily designed to work therapeutically with parenting in the context of IPV. In this section, I
describe two programs that primarily work toward ending violence, but which by means of
integrating work with perpetrators and work with exposed women and children also address
perpetrator’s parenting.
The Caledonian System is an integrated approach to addressing domestic violence. It combines
a court-ordered program for men who have been violent toward their partner with support services
for women and children. It applies a family-systems approach to domestic violence, and its multi-
agency-collaborative model is in line with the system’s roots in ecological theory (Ormston,
Mullholland, & Setterfield, 2016). The Caledonian System is based on three separate, but co-
operating services: The perpetrator program entails a minimum of 40 sessions of individual and
group work. The women’s service focuses on reducing risk through information work, advice,
support, and safety work. Finally, a children’s service, which may or may not involve children directly.
The main goal of the children’s service is to uphold the rights of children in the context of domestic
violence. Evaluations of the Caledonian System are positive, and men report that participation also
led to a change in their fathering (Ormston et al., 2016).
Alternative to Violence provide an example of how integrative work can be done within the
same organization. They offer structured group therapy for men who use IPV, while the man’s
partner or ex-partner is reached out to and offered counselling regarding safety, the dynamics of
violence, and follow-up. This intervention is widely used in Scandinavia and the Nordic countries.
Groups are open, meaning that new participants are included continuously, and finish continuously
and typically include between 5 and 8 participants at any given time. Each participant commits to
participate for a duration of 24 weekly 2-hour long sessions, covering 8 modules á 3 sessions. One
module is devoted to fathering and the father-child relationship (Veteläinen et al., 2013).
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V. What works for you in the context you work in? A checklist for what you
can offer based on the opportunities you have
In this final section, I want to honor that agencies involved in perpetrator work across Europe
have different possibilities for focusing on the father-child relationship in the context of
IPV.European service providers differ regarding staffing, funding, and system infrastructure, among
others. Based on the principles outlined in this paper, I will try to provide a checklist for how to work
toward including a father-focus in any perpetrator work.
Check 1: How many people work at your agency?
Interventions that go beyond individual or group therapy and involve the man’s (ex-)partner
and child(ren) also demand more staff. It is not advisable that the same therapist meets different
family members over time, as perpetrator work and work with women and children exposed to
violence often demand different ports of entry and therapeutic techniques. Ideally, two therapists
may work in parallel and have regular contact regarding the participants’ development on agreed
upon themes. This ensures that the violence-exposed parent can describe her experiences in a
confidential setting. She is kept informed on whether her partner participates in treatment or not,
and her and her partner’s therapists can compare descriptions of violence, change, and dynamics,
thus enhancing safety and ensuring adherence to a violence focus that includes the exposed
children’s experience. This also means that fathering and family focused interventions demand a
minimum of four full-time employed therapists at an agency, given that safe therapy requires a
reflective team and regular supervision.
Check 2: Do you collaborate with a victim’s support service?
Working systematically on fathering in the context of IPV should include contact with the
exposed partner and mother. Either by collaboration with a specialized service that offers support
and follow-up of women exposed to IPV, or by offering both perpetrator work and work with
exposed women in the same agency: Try to collaborate on families. Perpetrator work informs the
work with victims, and vice versa, and working with children who have experienced interparental IPV
informs both. Safety work, understanding of therapeutic needs, and timing of interventions are often
improved by establishing contact with all affected and involved family members. Wherever possible:
reach out to the child’s mother or other caregiver when making fathering a theme in IPV treatment.
This is also in line with articles 16 and 20 of the Istanbul convention that state the need to work, also
across agencies, on toward men embracing non-violence, and supporting women exposed to
violence. For many women exposed to violence from their partner, his fathering and co-parenting is
WWP EN Expert Paper: Fathering in the context of family violence
part of the violence exposure. Access to the exposed mothers’ experiences and needs will often
improve the interventions given to men and fathers.
Check 3: Do you collaborate with the local child protection agencies?
Along the same logic as sketched out in point 2, it is important to ensure contact with or some
access to the violence-exposed child(ren)’s experiences. It is imperative that the agency can connect
to a third party (child protection, police) that can commit to ensure children’s safety during the
process. Father-child work in the context of IPV should start first when a solid structure for the safety
of the (ex-) partner and child(ren) is established.
Check 4: Does your agency employ people with training in children’s mental health?
Interventions that involve working with father and child in the room demand that the therapist
has relevant training in children’s mental health, particularly trauma-work. This is important, as many
men in treatment for IPV may not be aware of or misinterpret their children’s trauma symptoms.
Involving a child in a therapeutic process therefore demands some qualified assessment of the child,
and ideally some sessions with the child’s mother or other caregiver. If you do not have this
competence at your agency, it is encouraged to collaborate with a service provider that does.
Check 5: If you have very limited resources, are a perpetrator-only service and can offer
individual or group sessions
Make fathering and the father-child relationship a theme from early on. For many men in IPV
treatment, becoming a better father for their children is a main motivation for change (Stover, 2013).
Often, exploring the child’s perspective and making the man aware of how he might have scared his
child can also serve as port of entry for opening-up about the man’s adverse childhood experiences,
how they have formed him, and how they may have contributed to his use of violence. The
important point is that the sessions around the child’s possible experience is structured. This can be
achieved by devoting several sessions on exploring how the child may have been affected by the
violence, and how these experiences may continue to impact on the child’s perception of the father.
Check 6: If you have a good and stable budget, and a stable and specialized staff
Consider training some of the therapists in manualized interventions for groups, families, or
individuals. Our experience is that the spillover of doing this work systematically is positive for an
entire organization, as it opens new perspectives on when and when not to intervene with a family
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VI. Summary
Fathering and the father-child relationship in the context of IPV has become an important
aspect of perpetrator treatment. The child’s development and safety should always be at the heart of
these interventions. This means that only focusing on ending the use of the father’s violent behaviors
may often be insufficient. Therefore, the development of basic caregiving capacities should also
become a theme. This can be achieved by adding sessions to already existing programs. These
sessions should be systematically planned and administered and cover as a minimum the themes
outlined in this paper. There also manualized and tested individual, group, and family interventions
for working toward safer fathering, co-parenting, and child safety.
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A substantial number of families are involved with the child welfare system because of children’s exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV), which has significant impact on the health of the entire family. This study presents a program evaluation for a statewide implementation of a fatherhood focused individual and family treatment for men referred by the child welfare system and provided by six community mental health agencies. Data from 204 fathers and their coparents referred to Fathers for Change (F4C) were analyzed to assess a) the feasibility of F4C and b) the impact of the intervention on IPV as measured by mothers’ reports on the Abusive Behavior Inventory, children’s exposure to conflict on the Coparenting Relationship Scale, and fathers’ symptoms. Completion rates for the program were 73%. Age, race, severity of IPV and alcohol misuse were not associated with drop out, but those with significant drug use problems were 2.3 times more likely to drop out. Among treatment completers, mothers reported significantly reduced IPV and children’s exposure to conflict, with medium to large effect sizes. Fathers reported significant improvements in their emotion regulation, parental reflective functioning, as well as anger and hostility. F4C was feasible with high completion rates and significant reductions in IPV and children’s exposure to conflict.
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Men who use intimate partner violence (IPV) often have challenges as caregivers such as poor understanding of children’s needs and emotions. There is little knowledge regarding their everyday-life experiences of being a parent. We interviewed 14 men in therapy for intimate partner violence on how they experienced their relationship to one of their children (mean age 4,5 years). We performed a descriptive phenomenological analysis. Informants seldom explored their children’s experience. They found that their fathering was influenced by past relationships and negative expectations for the future. The informants’ bodily experience of emotional arousal was described as difficult to control and understand and was a limited source for meaning making in the father-child relationship. The experience of being a good father was connected to presence and control of the child’s behavior. Informants felt that what they experienced as good parenting lacked others’ recognition. Interventions for partner-abusive men should address their fathering and focus on fathers’ life-experience and context as influencing their fathering. Therapeutic interventions should strengthen partner-abusive fathers’ awareness of and meaning making from their emotional arousal. Where safety permits, dyadic interventions aiming at re-establishing the child’s experience of safety in the father-child relationship should be considered by therapy providers as a complement to established interventions with partner-abusive men.
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For Baby’s Sake is an innovative whole-family intervention that works with parents from pregnancy to two years postpartum to break cycles of domestic abuse and improve outcomes for children. The programme launched in 2015 across two community settings in England, with an independent evaluation led by King’s College London. This paper aims to (1) summarise the process of developing For Baby’s Sake and how it has been embedded within two different settings and (2) describe the evaluation design using early data to illustrate successes and challenges. The programme was developed following a review of the evidence and extensive stakeholder engagement. Three experts co-designed the content in partnership with the Stefanou Foundation and the programme delivery teams have been integrated into two local authorities. The evaluation uses mixed methods to assess abuse victimisation/perpetration, mental health, parenting and child outcomes, alongside service user experiences of early engagement. Forty individuals (27 women and 13 men) have been recruited to the evaluation. Early findings suggest that parents value the novel approach of For Baby’s Sake and their relationships with practitioners. Data on parents’ mental health and childhood adversities supports the decision to create a trauma-informed intervention. Interventions for domestic abuse are necessary to improve health and behaviour outcomes for families and prevent intergenerational transmission of abuse and developmental trauma. For Baby’s Sake addresses limitations of existing interventions, through its trauma-informed, attachment-based, whole-family approach. Early data from the evaluation suggests that the programme is reaching its intended audience and that service users appreciate the supportive approach.
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In this article, we examine family‐based interventions designed to increase parenting effectiveness, fathers' positive involvement, and couple relationship quality, all with the goal of enhancing children's development. We focus on the fact that government funding policies, service delivery systems, and research evaluations of interventions to benefit children and families typically operate in separate silos. We provide a theoretical model, along with empirical evidence, to argue that a more integrated, collaborative perspective is likely to produce more optimal outcomes for parents and children than current siloed attempts to improve child and family well‐being. We discuss some of the obstacles to using evidence to guide policy decisions. We offer suggestions for policy makers and service providers in an attempt to describe a more integrated approach to supporting family well‐being, and to encourage the increased use of systematic data in making decisions about how to allocate scarce resources for family support.
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In the aftermath of children’s exposure to domestic violence, professionals are often rightly concerned about the extent and nature of fathers’ ongoing relationships with their children. In addition to considering the extent and impact of fathers’ past abuse, child welfare workers need to make judgments about whether he has become safer and more able to parent his children. We reviewed a range of literatures to identify changes in DV fathers that are predictive of father-child relationships that are free from abuse and predictive of healthy child outcomes. Hostile/over-reactive parenting and difficulties with co-parenting emerged as the most promising targets for change. Fathers’ gender role stress, depression, and substance abuse were also identified as potentially important predictors of better child outcomes. Level of father involvement and father-child emotional closeness showed more complex relations to child safety and well-being and, as such, were not considered promising as general targets for parenting interventions with fathers who have exposed their children to domestic violence.
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It is well known that children exposed to intimate partner violence are at high risk for mental health and behavioural problems. Numerous studies have examined mothers’ perceptions about the influence of exposure to violence on their children, but very few studies have examined the views of violent fathers. Our study sought to identify how fathers, participating in batterers’ intervention programs, perceive the consequences of their violence on their children and how they protect them and mitigate the destructive effects of their violence on them. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 21 fathers involved in BIP. A qualitative approach was utilized to analyze the interviews. The findings highlight the need for a specific intervention for fathers.
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Background: Domestic violence (DV) is a global health problem as well as a violation against human rights. The aim of this study was to explore prevalence and incidence of domestic violence during pregnancy and 1 to 1.5 years postpartum as well as to explore the history of violence among new mothers in the southwestern region of Sweden. In addition, the aim was to explore the association between domestic violence postpartum and possible risk factors. Methods: This is a longitudinal cohort-study including pregnant women ≥ 18 years of age. 1939 pregnant women were recruited to the study and requested to answer three questionnaires (QI-III) during pregnancy and postpartum. Statistical analysis were descriptive statistics, logistic regression and multiple regression with Odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI). Results: The response rate for those who received the Q-III (n=755) at a Child Welfare Center was almost 97 % (n = 731). When all three questionnaires were answered the prevalence of domestic violence during pregnancy irrespective of type or severity was reported by 2.5 % (n = 40/1573). At 1 to 1.5 years postpartum the prevalence of domestic violence had increased to 3.3 % (n = 23/697). The incidence was 14 per 1000 women during pregnancy and 17.2 per 1000 women postpartum. The strongest risk factor for domestic violence reported at1-1.5 years postpartum was a history of violence whereby all of the women (n = 23) who had revealed their exposure to domestic violence postpartum also reported a history of violence (p < 0.001). Being single/living apart gave a 12.9 times higher risk for domestic violence postpartum (AOR 12.9; 95% CI: 4.5-37.1). Having several symptoms of depression and a low score on the SOC-scale gave a 3.5 and 3.0 times higher risk respectively (AOR 3.5; 95% CI: 1.2-10.4) and (AOR 3.0; 95% CI 1.1-8.3). Conclusion: Domestic violence increases as the pregnancy develops and postpartum. A history of violence and being single/living apart may be strong indicators for domestic violence during pregnancy as well as postpartum. Also, having symptoms of depression are associated with domestic violence both during pregnancy and postpartum. Collaboration between health care providers at Antenatal and Welfare centres is essential.
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