Stories to Inspire

Caring Dads co-founder conducts training at GA

December 2017—Recent Caring Dads facilitator training at the General Authority brought one of its founders, Tim Kelly, to Winnipeg from London, Ont., to conduct a two-day course with about 20 people – who included workers from several GA agencies, shelter workers, social workers, counsellors, probation officers, supervisors and managers. Kelly says the Caring Dads program is becoming
increasingly popular and has expanded to include programs all over the world.

Last year, Kelly’s company, Changing Ways, trained the GA’s two inaugural Caring Dads facilitators, who are now conducting Caring Dads training through Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba.

The Caring Dads facilitator training is “appropriate for any professional interested in working with fathers (including biological, step, or common-law fathers) who have physically abused, emotionally abused or neglected their children, or exposed their children to domestic violence, or who are deemed to be at high-risk for these behaviors.”

“This is a basic training to really orient people to the content and the basic skills on running a Caring Dads program,” said Kelly.

The December training session was extremely popular. “We are scheduled to come back and do a second facilitator training in February. This one filled up pretty quick,” he said.

Kelly sees Caring Dads becoming more in-demand in many Canadian provinces, as well as in the United States, the U.K., and Australia, because more practitioners are using the Safe and Together domestic violence training program around the world. That program is a child-centred approach to help victims of domestic violence and to put the onus on the perpetrators for their actions.

However, once a family in a domestic abuse case has been part of the Safe and Together program, often workers are looking for a “what’s next” program for the fathers, he said. That is where Caring Dads fits in nicely, Kelly said.

“All of a sudden people see this hole in the system with Safe and Together. How do you work with families? How do we work with this father, now?”

Kelly and Caring Dads co-founder Dr. Katreena Scott, an associate professor of applied psychology at the University of Toronto, launched the program in 2001 because “it fit a need for people,” said Kelly. “That piece [support for fathers in domestic abuse cases] was missing.”

Over the past 17 years, as the program has grown and developed (it is now running across Canada, along with a quarter of States in the U.S., the U.K., Sweden, the Netherlands, Japan and most of Australia), numerous studies have been done on its effectiveness in helping change the behaviour of abusive men.

Kelly noted a recent five-year study of Caring Dads done by the national child protection agency in the U.K. (The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children or NSPCC) found that one of the major outcomes was a reduction in harm toward children over time, along with a reduction in hostility toward the child’s mother.

Another study by the Canadian Child Welfare Institute and Dr. Scott found there was a reduction in hostility toward family support workers by fathers who participated in the Caring Dads program.

“The other pretty common piece of this for men who are perpetrators is isolation, so part of what we are targeting is breaking through isolation, encouraging health-seeking behaviour,” said Judie Powell, a social worker with Children’s Aid Society in Toronto, who conducted the GA training with Kelly.
Powell said, similar to the study by the Child Welfare Institute, in her work as a facilitator, she sees many fathers she works with start to develop a relationship with their workers, where none existed before.
“A lot of these fathers would say, ‘Well, who is my worker?’ And we’d say, ‘Well, it’s the same worker for your children or the mother of your children.’ And they’d say, ‘Well, who’s supposed to be sticking up for me?’” said Powell.
“So it’s really hard to see that you are still part of that constellation though now you may be separated due to criminal conditions or court orders, it’s still your family worker.”
She said it’s crucial for fathers to learn that they still have a needed function in the family—“we just need to make that function more positive.”
Throughout the time fathers are participating in Caring Dads, said Kelly, facilitators are working on creating stability for fathers, and not just emotional stability. They outsource assistance to provide fathers with stable housing, client services, identifying mental health issues and finding them counselling.
Another goal of the 17-week program is to teach fathers about managing their behaviour.
“What we find one of the common threads of the men we work with is a hostile attribution of a child’s behaviour – for example, saying ‘A child is doing this or that to get me,’” said Kelly.
“We really work to rattle that sort of idea. So by the end of the program they are involved with the children and figuring out what are their child’s needs,” he said.
It also teaches fathers that “your kids are always listening, your kids are always watching, even when you thought they were asleep. That really changes things. They become more aware of their actions and how their actions affect their wives and children,” said Kelly.

Kelly noted that over the years he has been running the program, he has found that for facilitators, it’s important to be very clear and honest with the fathers, because sometimes what they are going through is overwhelming. “If we go to a dad and say you are a risk to your children, he starts hearing ringing in his ears and nothing else. We need to be really clear.”

He said that means giving fathers simple, attainable goals to reach, such as not calling your child stupid. If they are attained, that provides the father with a list of things that are evidence that he is changing his behaviour.

Powell said in her own experience, the number of fathers who return to the system after completing Caring Dads is extremely low. She has trained about 50 men, and only two have ended up with a new charge relating to domestic violence.

Kelly said he recognizes that those involved in facilitator training, and the workers who will eventually be working with fathers in Caring Dads, must undergo a shift in thinking.

“What we are asking in a child welfare setting is for workers to work differently. That becomes pretty disruptive to people,” he said. While many workers are comfortable doing things the way they have always done them, which is, to remove the father from the family’s lives, “that doesn’t stop him from starting new families.”

Another important aspect to facilitator training, said Powell, is to be cognizant of the overrepresentation of the populations being served. Thus, during the GA training, discussions were held while taking into consideration the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the Manitoba child welfare system.

Up next for Caring Dads

Next steps for Kelly and Caring Dads are a new project working with a leader in the Muslim community (meetings are set for January 2018 in Dubai), working with very young fathers (ages 16-18) and a project in Ireland looking at Caring Dads as a bridge program for men exiting the prison system.