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Young people want their violent fathers to make amends, new study finds

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Study: “The message I got from my research is that children really want to undergo reparation with their fathers after violence – both from children who wanted to have nothing further with him, as well as those children who did want to maintain a relationship into the future.”

CHILDREN of fathers who use violence want their dads to understand the significant impact that it has on their lives.

A new study by a University of Melbourne researcher Dr Katie Lamb has led to children recording their stories, so they can be replayed to their fathers to get the message through.

Dr Lamb (pictured), a criminologist and now a human services management consultant, said her study showed it was most important that children’s voices be heard.

She found that children and young people wanted their fathers to make amends by hearing about their past actions – to acknowledge they had done wrong, recognise the harm caused, and to apologise.

“I actually spent time with children and young people aged nine to nineteen years asking them ‘what it’s like having a father using violence, what they would like their fathers to learn if they attended a program to address their violence, and whether they would like to be involved in their father’s change process’,” Dr Lamb said.

“The message I got from my research is that children really want to undergo reparation with their fathers after violence – both from children who wanted to have nothing further with him, as well as those children who did want to maintain a relationship into the future.

“Either way they did want to go through a process of repair where their father apologised and acknowledged the harm he had caused and made a commitment to changing his behaviour and rebuilding their trust.”

Dr Lamb’s study is part of the University of Melbourne’s broader “Fathering Challenges” research project that is funded by the Australian Research Council.

She said the feelings of these children and young people were seldom listened to – and through her research, she discovered that when asked, these children had plenty to say, some of it a harrowing insight into what it was like to fear your father.

Following her initial research findings, Dr Lamb set about giving an opportunity for children’s voices to be heard.

“The children made their messages to fathers into digital stories of about three minutes long,” she said. “They wrote the scripts, they recorded the voice-overs and they picked the music.

“The digital stories are a really great, practical tool that are now freely available for people running programs for fathers who use violence.

“There are eight stories and the children have given their permission for those stories to be used.

“I think that is the exciting part about this research.

“Not only does it have findings, but it has something that can be used straight away.”

Dr Lamb said her study and the use of children’s digital stories was attracting interest in Victoria and other states as agencies tried to build better programs to address family violence.

She is about to travel to the United Kingdom to talk about her research.

“It seems to be a universal message that is useful,” she said.

“I think it would be great to start the conversation in Queensland.”

However, a number of the young people interviewed for the study, saw the need for fathers to admit they had done something wrong as a significant challenge.

“They described their fathers as being ‘deluded’ and in ‘denial’ about their behaviour,” co-author of the report “Your Behaviour has consequences” and professor of Social Work Cath Humphreys said.

“One young person described her father as being certain that the reason his children did not want to see him was because their mother had encouraged them to feel negatively towards him.

“This was a source of frustration for the young person who felt her mother had been unfairly demonised within their family’s social networks.”

The research also showed that young people did not want to hear excuses from their father about why the violence had occurred.

“One young person said that their father often stated that he was only violent ‘when they deserved it’,” Professor Humphreys said.

“It took some years before she realised this was not an acceptable justification.

“Another young person said that her father used his history of growing up around violence as an excuse for why he was abusive.

“While she had some sympathy for the negative environment he had grown up in, she objected to him trying to justify his behaviour.”

Types of abuse and domestic violence

Physical abuse: Physical abuse happens when a person uses physical force against another person. Physical abuse can start slowly and inconspicuously, for example with throwing an object, or a slap, and get more intense or worse over time.

Financial abuse: Financial abuse can be subtle, with a perpetrator gradually taking control over bank accounts and financial transactions. Financial abuse can also be obvious, violent and threatening.

Emotional abuse: A person can experience abuse and violence without being physically hurt. Emotional abuse does not leave physical scars but it can have a big impact on a womanís mental health and wellbeing.

Verbal abuse: Verbal abuse is a key feature of emotionally abusive relationships. The perpetrator consistently makes statements that negatively label a person, for example: ìYou are a terrible motherî.

Social abuse: Perpetrators of social abuse prevent a person from spending time with family and friends, and participating in social activities.

Sexual abuse: Sexual abuse is any form of forced or unwanted sexual activity.

Stalking: Stalking happens when a person intentionally and persistently pursues someone against their will. The stalker does this to control, intimidate and create fear in the person they are stalking.

Spiritual abuse: Spiritual abuse is the denial or use of spiritual or religious beliefs and practices to control and dominate a woman.

Image-based abuse: Image-based abuse is when someone shares, or threatens to share, intimate photos without the consent of the person in the photo.

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