Creating and developing the Caring Dads programme

Dr. Katreena Scott discusses Canada’s Caring Dads programme, from its inception to accreditation plans  

Father and girl readingWhen I was training as a child clinical psychologist, with children who'd experienced abuse and trauma, we worked with children and mothers to create safety and predictability. But we didn't work with the fathers.

In the majority of cases, fathers had caused the trauma. And the children were still dealing with them, having visits once a week and every other weekend.  

From the child’s perspective, we really needed to talk to fathers.

An opportunity to prevent future violence

We started the Caring Dads programme in response to our community’s need.  

We had well-used programming available for men who had been abusive towards their partners. They touched on issues of fathering, but missed the mark on other parenting issues following domestic violence, such as respectful co-parenting relationships and how to achieve them.

There's a high correspondence between child physical and emotional abuse and child exposure to domestic violence. These issues were not being addressed in perpetrator programmes.  

On a more personal level, Tim Kelly, co-author of the Caring Dads programme and executive director of Changing Ways was seeing the sons of men he’d worked with years before in his men’s groups. This multi-generational experience highlighted to him that we were missing an opportunity to prevent future violence. 

Launched in 2002, Caring Dads has one primary aim – to increase children’s safety and wellbeing.

We also anticipated contributing to efforts to reduce domestic violence: child safety and wellbeing is integrally connected to mothers’ safety.

There have been other “bonus” outcomes.

Child protection services were focused on a mothers’ responsibility for children’s safety – they didn’t focus on having fathers “step up” to their responsibilities. One unanticipated outcome of Caring Dads has been greater visibility of fathers in our system.

We encourage fathers to come to intervention and engage them – this led to another unexpected outcome: training and skill-development in engaging with men for frontline service providers.

The response to Caring Dads was positive and our community was closely involved from its inception. We brought together major stakeholders (women’s advocates, men’s service providers and child protection) and formed a community advisory committee.

This advisory committee guided the program through its first 4-5 years of development. 

There have been many changes since the pilot. Initially, we invited highly skilled and experienced practitioners to run the programme and revised and recreated it from observing and reflecting on their work.

Caring Dads harnesses reciprocal learning from research and practice. For example, the inclusion of individual sessions came from research showing that a combination of group and individual work has greater potential to promote change, and from practice observations that without a clear, individual focus, the need to create change can be lost.

Caring Dads programme and the NSPCC

The NSPCC decided to adopt the Caring Dads programme fairly early on. To be frank, I was surprised. We’d developed a programme to fill a particular gap in our community and I hadn’t realised that the same gap was occurring in other places.

I wanted to learn about the UK system and how Caring Dads might contribute to child safety, and thought the NSPCC, with its focus on children, was a fantastic fit.

Through the NSPCC, some of the unanticipated outcomes we’d seen, including greater visibility of fathers, better appreciation of the risks (and potential) of the father-child relationship and enhanced skills for engaging and changing men, could also spread. 

Accrediting Caring Dads 

Caring Dads has spread to many communities. Variations of the programme were being offered with different lengths and some were still using an old edition of the Caring Dads manual. This wasn’t surprising, because it’s how practice works.

It became a problem when referrers and systems, such as child protection and the justice system, looked to us whenever Caring Dads work was being carried out.

It was time to standardise. We formalised programme standards and launched them at a Caring Dads conference.

We’re now working to expand the conversation about programme standards with a plan for full implementation and compliance by spring 2017.

What's in the future

Caring Dads is at the forefront of work with abusive fathers in North America and around the world. We share our experience intervening with fathers in different contexts and continue to learn from these experiences.

Caring Dads is being evaluated in a cluster randomised control trial with a large child protection organisation in Canada. We’re collecting data on child neuropsychological and executive functioning, observing mother, father and child interactions, tracking families through the system and looking at child safety and wellbeing over time.

The results of the study won’t be available for another 3 or 4 years, but we’re excited that this'll contribute to our understanding of the potential and limitations of working with fathers, to improve child safety and wellbeing.

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More information

Caring Dads: Safer Children

Helping fathers see the impact their violent behaviour has on their children and how they can make positive changes for the future.
Caring Dads: Safer Children service

Evidence, impact and evaluation

How the NSPCC service Caring Dads: Safer Children uses evidence to evaluate its impact. 

Caring Dads: Safer Children - Evidence, impact and evaluation

Gary’s story

Gary talks about his previous abusive behaviour, and his experience with our Caring Dads: Safer Children programme.
Read Gary’s story