Starting early with dads

The statistics on domestic and family violence are stark. The consequences of ongoing violence directed at women and children place the onus on all professionals to not turn a blind eye but to take action to prevent the violent behaviour.

For early childhood educators, the call to action is complex and not easily taken up. Family violence often presents when a parent, usually the mother, discloses that the violent behaviour is occurring. Special skills are required to provide an effective service to address the situation. In early childhood education services, it will most often be the children’s behaviour that will alert staff to the possibility that a family may be struggling with violent behaviour, physical, psychological or otherwise, and educators will often not have had training in addressing family violence.

On top of these considerations, most family violence is carried out by men. And men, fathers in particular, are typically less engaged with early childhood services. Therefore the opportunity for educators, leaders and other staff to develop a relationship and raise any concerns with male family members is restricted.

Across the domestic and family violence field it is recognised that simply supporting the mother and children who are victims of the violence is insufficient. All services that have dealings with families are being urged to include fathers in their practice so that the violent behaviour can be brought into the open and stopped. For early learning services this means taking steps to improve contact with all fathers, not just fathers suspected of abusive behaviour.

For many, this starts with professional learning and increasing knowledge. I present the first Early Signals. First Responses webinar with Janet William-Smith. It’s free to register.

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) has been developing resources to assist services apart from Family Violence services to start ‘bringing fathers in’ to be part of the solution to violence in families.

Before trying to address suspected violence in the families that you may see in your centre, kindergarten or family day care practice, ANROWS recommend building confidence in working with men in general. The aim is to strengthen the connection of the whole family to services where both fathers and mothers recognise that they can get help.

ANROWS propose a set of questions to ask of yourself and your colleagues:

  • What kind of parenting strengths have you seen in men?
  • What kinds of conversations are you having in your service related to working with fathers?
  • Are you talking to women about the men in their lives?
  • Are you talking to children about their father’s role in their lives?
  • What might you learn about engaging fathers from families where there is no violence that might give you more confidence to engage with fathers in families where there is violence?
  • What are the hopes and fears fathers have for their children?

The ANROWS organisation has resources and offers workshops on the range of family violence issues; explore further here.

It’s important to remember that you are just one part of a complicated situation that may involve a number of parties, but you are in a unique position to support vulnerable children who enter your setting. For the period that you are present with each child you are able to offer a nurturing, supportive attachment figure and a ‘whole of child’ perspective on their situation. Engaging with both parents – and the extended family as appropriate –  is an important part of developing strong relationships based on respect and trust. Strong relationships are an essential basis for addressing violent behaviour.

This article was written by Associate Professor Dr Richard Fletcher. Richard Fletcher leads the Fathers and Families Research Program (FFRP) within the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle and was the project lead for SMS4dads (, a service which provides new fathers with information and connections to online services through their mobile phones.

You may consider further professional learning resources;