Caring Dads: Safer Children Evidence, impact and evaluation

We are evaluating the Caring Dads: Safer Children to see if helping fathers to address their violent behaviour can reduce the impact of domestic abuse on children. We’ve found promising evidence that Caring Dads: Safer Children can contribute to reducing risks to children.

How domestic abuse affects children

Around 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse (Radford et al, 2011). A survey from the Association of Directors of Children's Services reported that nearly every local authority identifies domestic abuse as a significant safeguarding matter (Brookes and Brocklehurst, 2014).

Witnessing domestic violence is a form of child abuse. Living with domestic abuse can have a significant impact on a child's development, health and well-being. It can also damage the relationship a child has with their abused parent.

The effects of domestic abuse can persist into adolescence and adulthood, with significant costs for society as a whole (Guy et al, 2014).

Read more about domestic abuse.

How Caring Dads: Safer Children is helping prevent child abuse and neglect

Living with domestic abuse can have a significant impact on a child's development, health and well-being.  Case reviews often highlight the need for a better understanding of the risks violent fathers can pose to their children. There are particular issues after parents have separated, when children often want or are subject to contact with violent fathers (Mullender et al, 2002). There is little known about the impact of perpetrator programmes on the father/child relationship.

Caring Dads: Safer Children is based on the model originally developed in Canada by Katreena Scott at the University of Toronto.

It seeks to reduce the impact of domestic abuse on children by working with fathers to address their violent behaviour. It focuses on men’s role as fathers and aims to motivate them to change their behaviour and reduce the risk of them further harming their children. Our learning could help inform the agenda regarding safe contact for children with violent fathers.  

How we're evaluating this service

We're evaluating Caring Dads: Safer Children internally to understand and assess the effects of the service on the behaviour of abusive fathers.

Caring Dads: Safer Children is evaluated using a mixed method design that included a pre-test and post-test element. This examined the extent to which the service’s intended outcomes for fathers, partners and children are achieved.

Fathers, their children and the children’s mothers completed psychometric measures that assessed:

  • the father’s relationship and behaviour towards his children and partner
  • the effect of any changes in his behaviour on their wellbeing.

Where available, partners and children completed equivalent versions of the questionnaires so that the evaluation was not reliant on the fathers' self-reports. 

The evaluation also aimed to learn more from the perspectives of children and partners, and the experiences of delivering the programme across different settings in the UK.

Data was analysed from:

  • face to face surveys with partners and children
  • qualitative interviews with family members and practitioners
  • routinely gathered service data and case notes.

Evaluations of programmes aimed at perpetrators of domestic violence can be particularly challenging. They’re often weakened by a lack of engagement with the service or the research process.

Many of the fathers referred will drop out prior to or during Caring Dads: Safer Children. So we were keen to ensure that the evaluation wasn’t reliant upon the fathers’ self-reports and included data provided by family members. 

This presented our practitioners with a number of practical and ethical dilemmas. They were trying to collect robust data in a context while also trying to retain engagement with vulnerable families and work with fathers who posed a risk to their children and partners.

As most of the practitioners' concerns were centred on the use of standardised measures we carried out a review of data collection after the first set of programmes to explore the issue further. Questions that were felt to be potentially distressing or could open up problematic issues for the child or mother were of particular concern.

Despite the advantages that the standardised measures brought to informing practice and measuring change, practitioners felt that in some cases the measures could have a negative impact on resources, engagement with the programme and their relationship with the service user.

We reduced the number of measures used with the fathers and provided further guidance on when to use standardised measures with the fathers’ family members. Practitioners were able to use their judgement if they felt that participation in aspects of the evaluation was inappropriate.

This evaluation was carried out internally by the NSPCC evaluation department. It used the following tools:

  • Parenting Stress Index (stress experienced in fathering role)
  • Controlling Behaviour Inventory (father’s behaviour towards partner)
  • Acceptance and Rejection Questionnaire (father’s behaviour towards child)
  • Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (child’s wellbeing)
  • Adolescent Wellbeing Scale
  • Adult Wellbeing Scale (partner’s wellbeing).

Find out more about the tools used to measure outcomes

Contact Nicola McConnell for more information.

What we've learnt so far

Our evaluation provides promising evidence that Caring Dads: Safer Children can help to improve the welfare of children who've lived with domestic abuse.

Read our evaluation report.

What we're doing next

We're sharing our learning from delivering Caring Dads: Safer Children in 5 NSPCC centres in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. 

The learning in our service delivery report can inform other organisations delivering the Caring Dads programme or similar programmes. 

Read the service delivery report.

Impact and evidence hub

Find out how we evaluate and research the impact we’re making in protecting children, get tips and tools for researchers and access resources.

Our impact and evidence

Your donation can take a child anywhere

Our services help children and families who need support. With your help, we can make sure even more children are free from abuse and free to dream. 

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  1. Brooks, C. and Brocklehurst, P. (2014) Safeguarding pressures: phase 4 (PDF) . Manchester: Association of Directors of Children's Services. 

  2. Guy, J., Feinstein, L., and Griffiths, A. (2014) Early intervention in domestic violence and abuse (PDF). London: Early Intervention Foundation.

  3. Mullender, A. et al. (2002) Children’s perspectives on domestic violence. London: Sage.

  4. Radford, L. et al (2011) Child abuse and neglect in the UK today. London: NSPCC.