"I am proud that you are my Dad"
“I love coming home, sober, and just as important, even more important, ~ they want me home,” said Oscar Miguel, reflecting back on his turbulent lifestyle of excessive drinking and violence that nearly cost him his family.
Oscar Miguel and Ana Andres Ascencio were born in Mexico and have three children ages 10.5, 6.5 and 1 year old. Domestic violence has been prevalent in the Miguel-Ascencio home, exasperated by excessive alcohol use and unresolved childhood trauma. Mr. Miguel bore witness to generations of family violence from what he explained to be a male-dominated culture. He felt that he was contributing to that culture of violence in his own role as a husband and parent, and he knew that he wanted to change the narrative and save his family.
Mr. Miguel felt defensive in most situations — as if the world was against him, and he needed to fight to be respected. These feelings created a hostile and toxic relationship between him and his children, yet, Mr. Miguel was willing to accept the help he needed to keep his family together. Department of Children and Families (DCF) social worker Peter Schiopucie said, “I quickly learned after being assigned to this case that language was a barrier. I know that to work with a family you have to make a connection, and I wondered how I would be able to make that connection if we could not understand each other.”
With the help of Martha Mazon, an interpreter hired to help build a relationship between DCF and the family, Mr. Schiopucie was able to alleviate the language barrier. Most important, Mr. Schiopucie was able to see the depth of commitment this family had to working through their issues. According to Mr. Schiopucie, “As the weeks passed, and during one conversation with Dad, he told me that he is so happy and feels that his relationship with his wife and even his children were getting better.”
Mr. Miguel recalled a turning point when his son told him, “You are a different person and I am proud that you are my Dad.”
Mr. Schiopucie said, “Dad did all the work,” adding that DCF and the intimate partner violence (IPV) service provider were “just here to provide the support and guidance they needed.” Mr. Schiopucie noted that this case came to the Department right as the COVID-19 pandemic was distancing people from one another and creating stress for even the healthiest of families. However, what could have been devastating for this family was, in reality, an opportunity to focus and change the narrative. Mr. Miguel acknowledged that arguing and physical aggression were his way of dealing with family situations that caused him to feel uncomfortable. With intensive work through the IPV service providers and DCF, he focused on sobriety, learned how to improve his communication skills with his wife and children while also learning to set shared goals and co-parent his children. He developed skills and an understanding of the value of family, learned to establish trust with his wife and children, and find healthy ways to deal with stress.
Mr. Schiopucie said, “The family worked through the pandemic with the IPV team, both parents learning at their own pace but feeling stronger and better about their relationship as the days went on. The Department was even able to assist the family with their financial issue and provided food and diapers for the baby — as father was not able to work during the pandemic and the family did not qualify for any financial assistance.”
The family’s clinician, Nicole Lapointe, IPV-Fair, from the Child Guidance Clinic for Central CT, Inc. said, "This family deserves everyone to know how hard they worked.” IPV-FAIR generally lasts six months. For families whose fathers wants to engage in treatment, it incorporates a component called Fathers for Change, which uses the fathers’ desire to connect with their children as motivation to change patterns of intimate partner violence and improve physical and emotional safety in the home.
"The program extended their time with the family because of COVID-19, however, the families engagement made it easy to continue the work,” Ms. Lapointe said adding that the interpreter and Mr. Schiopucie created a powerful network for this family.
“Ana and Oscar started the program shy and unsure”, explained Ms. LaPointe, which was made only more difficult due to the language barrier. “They both opened up and trusted in the process and were able to follow through the program to a very successful close despite all of their challenges. They were engaged, and their attendance was excellent throughout.”
When establishing goals in the beginning of the program, “Oscar had no problem specifying what he wanted to focus on within the anger, communication and parenting categories,” said Ms. LaPointe. “His most important goal was that he wanted to learn about what made him angry, and skills to manage those triggers.” Ms. LaPointe added that Oscar wanted to learn how to communicate better with Ana and with his children to be a better father.
Ana's big goal was communication. According to Ms. LaPointe, “She identified struggling with communication and wanted to learn how to communicate her feelings, resolve arguments and co-parent better. She also created a goal around understanding emotions, building awareness of her anger and building her confidence in herself.”
“Oscar’s restorative father-child session was the most heartwarming therapy session I have had thus far,” said Ms. LaPointe. The Fathers for Change program ends with the father writing a letter to his children. The dad then reads the letter to their children and asks if they have questions, “Oscar put thought into his letter, was open about how nervous he was, and how important healing his relationship with his children was,” Ms. LaPointe shared. “Oscar came to the session that Thursday stating he was so nervous he barely slept, and that he had been practicing out loud all week as he was nervous about being able to read through the whole letter.” He read the letter to his children in Spanish while the interpreter and LaPointe sat as observers. Despite the language barrier, Lapointe said that she could hear the emotion in his voice “as he apologized to his children for his violence, explained what he learned with me, and the future he wanted with them.” He read his letter despite his tears and his voice breaking. “Oscar was crying, the interpreter was crying, his kids were crying, and so was I”, said LaPointe.
Oscar said the words "I love you" to his children in that letter multiple times. “And I sat there as the clinician knowing that he had never had the confidence to say that to his children before, and share his love openly with them, due to how he was raised and the lack of confidence. It gives me goosebumps thinking about it,” Ms. LaPointe said.
Carmen Figueroa, a member of the IPV –FAIR team, utilized the Circle of Security (COSP) protocol with the family, as well as significant case management. Both Ana and Oscar attended sessions describing how excited they were to use the skills they learned in COSP, often with a sense of wonderment that they could see and understand the concepts that were explored in session. Ms. Figueroa said, "The family was motivated to change and provide a healthier environment for their children. We provided the tools, but they did the hard work."
Ms. LaPointe said, “I enjoyed our work together and the changes I could see happening before me. They worked HARD. But, as I told them, I was very excited to release them into the world to become even better parents and improve their relationship patterns even more. A huge success for IPV-FAIR. I hold this case close in my heart.”
When Mr. Miguel was asked to share words of advice to another dad, struggling with the same issues he once had, he eagerly offered, “I would gladly tell any father that it is never too late to fight for your family. Please, look at me as an example. Look around at what is happening to your family. Your actions are affecting everyone around you. Look, seek help, understand what is causing the problem and accept that there are issues we all need to work on.”
Ms. Ascencio is now taking a computer course to help her children with distant learning responsibilities while Mr. Miguel is cleaning the house and cooking. The two are co-parenting their children, utilizing the skills they learned through the dedicated IPV-FAIR team, and sharing their day to day life together.
With the memories of rage, violence and alcoholism behind them, the commitment to each other and their children has taken front and center. Ana and Oscar's new reality is life filled with love, understanding and confidence that they can meet life's challenges together for the better of the next generation.