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"Fathers for Change"

FathersThe program is called "Fathers for Change." But scratch the surface, and it appears that what has really changed is how the Department of Children and Families (DCF) looks at fathers.

Linda Madigan-Runlett, who oversees the Department's intimate partner violence programs, has been with the Department for 35 years and has seen the evolution first-hand.

"For a long time, neither the Department nor society believed that intimate partner violence (IPV) primary aggressors had an ability to change," Ms. Madigan-Runlett said, adding that child protection systems across the country have traditionally concentrated efforts on working with mothers. "Child protection had primarily held the mothers solely accountable for the children’s safety and responsible for the behaviors of the offender.  Up until recently, the Department opened all cases in the name of the mother. The Department has made tremendous gains in recognizing the role of fathers and the resources they can bring to our work."

The Department's decade-long effort to improve how it engages fathers in its work - sometimes called the "fatherhood initiative” - laid the groundwork for changing the agency's orientation toward serving families affected by intimate partner violence. Ms. Madigan-Runlett said the fatherhood work and the Department's efforts to engage paternal relatives as resources has positively impacted the work.  This new understanding of the role of fathers in the lives of their children marked a shift that opened the door to the still relatively new "Intimate Partner Violence Family Assessment and Intervention Response" (IPV-FAIR) program. The Department began using the program in 2015, which has an annual capacity to serve 320 families per year.
"Fathers for Change" is a component of IPV-FAIR that is used if there is a father in the family who is willing to engage in the treatment. If the father is unwilling, then IPV-FAIR offers a service focused on the mother and children called "Mothers and More," said Ms. Madigan-Runlett.

Yale LogoFathers for Change was developed by Dr. Carla Stover, associate professor and clinical psychologist at the Yale Child Study Center, which piloted the program to local families before the Department began to fund it. Now there are six providers - one in each Department region - offering the service statewide. From January 2016 to February 2020, 373 father/mother pairs were referred by Department IPV Specialists in each regional office, said Dr. Stover.

The private provider in each region assigns a team consisting of a clinician and a "family navigator" who provides case management to the family. The team works with the family's DCF social worker and the family to conduct an assessment of mental health, substance use, and the severity of violence. The assessment also includes an evaluation of the children's needs, Dr. Stover said.

The clinician offers treatment addressing the violence, and the family navigator handles assistance with basic needs, support and referrals to any other services the family may need, she said. The program typically lasts four to six months, which can be extended based on family needs.

StoverDr. Stover said Yale Child Study is now engaged in a National Institute of Health-funded study comparing Fathers for Change to standard domestic violence offender programs. Dr. Stover said Yale is looking for 60 fathers to participate and is inviting Department staff to refer fathers to the study by contacting her at carla.stover@yale.edu. Participants will receive free access to domestic violence offender service.  She said that study is expected to be completed in two years.

Dr. Stover said a recent study published in the Journal of Family Violence showed the program is effective. The completion rate for fathers was 70 percent compared to a more typical rate of 30 to 50 percent, she said. The mothers reported a significant reduction in domestic violence on an Abusive Behavior Inventory completed before and after treatment. Improvements were seen in father's emotional regulation, anger, and mother's and father's level of stress, anxiety and depression.

CT Injury Logo

Ms. Madigan-Runlett said IPV services are vital for any child protection agency because of how common IPV is among families reported for abuse and/or neglect. She said the Connecticut Children's Medical Center Injury Prevention Center, which works with DCF to provide evaluation, consultation and training, conducted a study showing that between 40 to 70 percent of families reviewed in the study had IPV present.  "IPV has a significant impact on the health and welfare of the entire family," Ms. Madigan-Runlett said. “Working with the entire family impacted by IPV, especially including fathers, has made a dramatic difference in their lives.  We needed to be more family and dad focused."