Caring Dads program to help men break cycle of family violence and abuse

·4 min read
Caring Dads program to help men break cycle of family violence and abuse

A program meant to help men break out of a cycle of family violence is coming to Prince Edward Island.

Caring Dads is an intervention program for men who self-identify as having abused or neglected their kids, or exposed their children to domestic violence.

"In P.E.I. there was not a program like this," said Yoshi Takano with the psychology department at the University of Prince Edward Island. He helped develop the program and train facilitators who will administer it.

Takano said he implemented the program when he worked in other provinces and saw the need for it on P.E.I. too.

Group sessions of 10-12 men will be held once a week for 17 weeks, starting this fall. Men will be referred to the program or required to take it through Corrections or Child and Family Services, but people who are interested can also step forward and come to the program on their own.

"Part of these group sessions is having really in-depth discussions about how to be the best father," Takano said. "When the fathers come into the group, we talk in depth about … how can we [be] the best dad? And how can we contribute to the health of the children?"

Becoming a 'child-centred parent'

The idea, Takano said, is for fathers to focus on the wellbeing of their children rather than themselves.

"How can fathers become the child-centred parent rather than the parent-centred parent?" he said, adding that this involves "really understanding the children's experience and how to listen to the children and how to work together with the children and how to nurture the children, instead of using, you know, violence and an abusive approach."

The modules or steps ask the men to examine how they were fathered when they were children themselves, compared to what kind of fathers they wish to be, and work on building skills to achieve that.

There's the big stereotype that you know, men can't or won't change. —Danya O'Malley

The program is used in other provinces including British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta as well as in the U.S., England and Australia.

Takano said it has been shown to be effective in reducing recidivism or reoffending.

'Works to repair the relationship'

Danya O'Malley, executive director of P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services, is excited about the program. In fact, she was one of about 50 people who took the training to be a facilitator for Caring Dads, as did some of her staff.

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

"It is definitely an evidence-based program that works to repair the relationship in the family when a dad has caused harm, either by abusing the children directly, or the children have been exposed to domestic violence against the mom," she said.

She calls the program unique, in that there's no other program that has this goal. It's also a program designed to help, rather than being punitive.

"The people who go through this program are given insights into their own behaviour and insights into the value of maintaining positive relationships with their children," she said.

"They confront in a very respectful way the consequences of their abusive actions. And this is done in a skill-building way in order to have that not happen anymore."

'Generational impact'

The men will not only end up parenting in a different, more loving way, she said, but their children will also have a different blueprint for the way they will act as parents eventually — breaking the cycle of learned family violence.

"That has a generational impact as well as on the children in those families."

"There's the big stereotype that you know, men can't or won't change," she said, but "many of them in fact do want to change — they just don't really have a road map to get there. Nor do they sometimes believe that it's possible for them to change."

Caring Dads was developed 20 years ago. O'Malley said programs like this have really been shown to work.

"It's heartening, and I'm glad that it's getting more attention."