Improving our Understanding of How Family Strengthening Programs Can Address and Prevent Domestic Violence

October 9, 2020
| Samantha Illangasekare and Kriti Jain
Woman being consoled by a counselor.

As we observe Domestic Violence Awareness month this October, we renew our commitment to learning how to promote the safety of domestic violence survivors and end violence in the communities we serve. Recognizing the role that healthy marriage and relationship education and responsible fatherhood programs can play in this work, the Office of Family Assistance funded two projects directly aimed at understanding how these programs can address and prevent domestic violence:

The PAIVED study aimed to improve our understanding of the strategies that responsible fatherhood programs use to help prevent and address domestic violence among participating fathers. Researchers observed responsible fatherhood program sessions and interviewed staff at responsible fatherhood programs and partner organizations to understand what these efforts look like in practice. They also reviewed the existing literature, responsible fatherhood program documents, and curricula.

One compelling theme that emerged from discussions with program staff was the challenge of effectively screening for domestic violence perpetration and victimization. Program staff shared that it was difficult to elicit honest responses related to perpetration and survivorship of domestic violence from fathers during the intake process. Their recommendation was to screen for domestic violence later in the program, after participating fathers are more comfortable and have built relationships with the program staff.

“So we meet you and say, ‘Hey what’s your name? Do you beat your wife?’. . . .They don’t even know [us]. . . . It seems like you wouldn't be getting the real story because you don't really know them when you're asking them these questions.

–RF program staff member, from Preventing and Addressing Intimate Violence when Engaging Dads (PAIVED): Challenges, Successes, and Promising Practices from Responsible Fatherhood Programs Visit disclaimer page

The RIViR study also examined screening approaches for domestic violence, but focused on healthy marriage and relationship education programs for both adults and youth. This study compared different approaches for offering healthy marriage and relationship education program participants the chance to share intimate partner violence and teen dating violence experiences and be connected to services. The project partnered with three adult serving and two youth serving healthy marriage and relationship education programs. RIViR examined and compared different approaches to recognizing and responding to intimate partner violence. When trying to determine the most effective means for encouraging adult participants to disclose intimate partner violence, researchers found that questionnaire-style intimate partner violence assessments promoted both reflection and dialogue Visit disclaimer page .

“I don’t want [participants] to feel that impersonal vibe from us…It’s more like, I really care about you, right? And I want to know these answers, too…. It’s more like, how can I help you with this? How can we continue this journey together and help support you to get into a healthier relationship?”

-Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Program Staff Member; from Opportunities for Intimate Partner Violence Disclosure in Adult-Serving Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education (HMRE) Programs

The study of youth programs also highlighted the importance of offering teen dating violence assessments more than once, and using more than one approach. Visit disclaimer page

We hope these findings from PAIVED and RIViR can continue to support and inform the critical role healthy marriage and relationship education and responsible fatherhood programs can play in identifying those who are impacted by domestic violence and helping them get the resources they need.

We are committed in our research to providing information that can help in identifying domestic violence, working with those impacted by domestic violence, and promoting the safety of domestic violence survivors.

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