Australian fathers play an important role in their families. A clear link exists between the positive involvement of fathers in their families and improved outcomes for children (Baxter and Smart, Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2011). Unfortunately, fathers’ contact with their children cannot always be assumed to be beneficial. In Australia there are over 50,000 substantiated cases of child abuse each year, with over half involving fathers and step-fathers as perpetrators (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2014). It is well established that fathers represent the vast majority of perpetrators of family violence in families with children. Children pay a high price from exposure to family violence, experiencing elevated rates of substance use, depression, unemployment and offending (Australian Institute of Criminology, Issue Paper 419, 2011; domesticviolenceroundtable.org, accessed 12/01/2017).
In Victoria the Royal Commission into Family Violence (State of Victoria, 2014-2016) highlighted the inadequacies of a service system that works predominantly with mothers, with limited assistance options available to fathers who use violence. Existing men’s behaviour change programs have largely focussed on the relationship between men who use violence and their partners, rather than harnessing men’s motivation to be good dads. In her submission to the Commission, Katreena Scott (Ph.D. C. Psych), co-creator of the Caring Dads program, emphasised that “…fathering is a very strong motivator overall, so it tends to be easier for a system to engage men in the project of becoming better fathers than it might be to becoming better partners” (Royal Commission into Family Violence: Report and recommendations, 2016).
There are numerous advantages to a more father-inclusive approach to improving the safety and wellbeing of children, including the potential to improve father-child relationships, offer a different path to ending violence against women, model accountability and reduce the chances of fathers repeating abusive patterns of behaviour in future relationships.