Our Caring Dads program in the South Coast of NSW works with fathers who are perpetrators of domestic and family violence (DFV),whose children have witnessed DFV and are still in contact with them. It helps dads to see the impact their behaviour has on their children and what they can do to be better dads. We asked Brett Fahey – a staff member and a dad himself – about Caring Dads and what qualities are most important in a dad.

“Often perpetrators of DFV don’t show any empathy for their victims. In fact, they often blame the victim for their behaviour, ‘it’s her…she brings the worst out in me,’” Brett explains.

“However, the evidence is emerging that fathers’ children can be a motivating factor for change. Caring Dads works through the impact that exposing their children to DFV has on their children and helps the men realise that their children are victims of DFV too. From this, we work with them to improve the relationship they have with their children’s mother, restoring the relationship with their children and becoming a “child-focused” parent.”

Brett explained his own approach to parenting and how his family interact and connect.

“It’s about being with your kids, spending time with them on their interests and even sharing some of your interests with them. In our house, that means I may have to go to a musical, but we all also love all things Marvel and see all the movies together. None of us are perfect parents so it’s also about admitting when you’ve made a mistake too and letting them see that. Sometimes we even have to say sorry to our kids.”

The 17-week program is based on four goals:

  1. To develop trust and motivation to engage men in the process of examining their fathering
  2. To increase men’s awareness and application of child-centred fathering
  3. To increase men’s awareness of the impact DFV has on their children and to take responsibility for this
  4. To help men rebuild trust with their children and plan for the future

Brett has seen the positive impact of the program on both the dads and children the team has worked with, like Henry and Steven:

“Henry* is taking part in Caring Dads, and is starting to build a positive relationship with his son Steven*. He’s recognised that he needs to be available and calm for Steven to feel safe and for him to feel comfortable talking about his life, without his dad becoming judgemental or reacting negatively.

Henry has given recent examples of Steven confiding in him and has identified that this is a new thing. Henry believes that in the past he would have reacted angrily and looked to punish Steven.

He has also been reflecting on the fact that he had an abuse-filled childhood and acknowledges he was following the same path with Steven. Henry has discussed how society has changed, and that discipline when he was growing up was acceptable in society. He has linked his lack of relationship with his father as a result of his father not being available and ruling by fear.

Henry is grateful for his engagement with Mission Australia’s Caring Dads program, as he feels he was going down the same path with Steven.

He speaks about the skills he has learnt to remain calm and to look at different situations through the eyes of his son, a concept we call child-centred fathering. He says he no longer takes things as a personal attack, but rather as a chance to gain a positive emotional connection with his family.

As a result of these changes, Henry has recognised that Steven is getting into less trouble at school and seems more stable at home. He says his family is much happier and he is looking forward to improving the family’s relationship and maintaining his progress, with the help of another parenting program called Tuning into Teens.”

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