Covid-19 has had a huge impact on families with rising incidence of domestic abuse. Even more challenging is rebuilding previously broken relationships at a time of social distancing. In 2020, responding to the initial COVID lockdown, Hertfordshire charity HACRO (Hertfordshire Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders) launched a new service, Dedicated Dads, to help fathers improve their relationship with their children. In 2021 HACRO has launched a new phase, responding to demand and keeping support available during the latest restrictions.

Dedicated Dads is open to Hertfordshire fathers who are alleged to have abused or neglected their children or exposed them to abuse of their mothers. The one-to-one programme, usually lasting six to eight weeks, helps fathers create and commit to a plan for change.

HACRO Chair Valerie Beale says: “Preventing domestic abuse has become a national priority during Covid restrictions as rates rise. HACRO has kept services running and our new Dedicated Dads programme has the potential to prevent harm and stop cycles of harm continuing long beyond Covid”.

The context: rising cases of domestic abuse and family conflict:

 ONS data shows that the rate of domestic violence rose by 9% April to June 2020, compared to the same quarter a year before. In June 2020 calls and contacts to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline were nearly 80% higher than normal, according to charity Refuge. Reports from organisations such as the NSPCC and UNICEF  show a rise in calls to helplines and highlight the increased risk to children of abuse during the lockdown. These trends are also seen in Hertfordshire, where HACRO is based. At the end of May 2020 Hertfordshire Constabulary reported that Domestic Abuse crimes in the county were up by 8.1% on the same period last year, domestic non-crimes incidents up by 23.4%.

In most cases of domestic abuse children will have been present either in the room or in the property when domestic abuse has taken place. Valerie Beale explains: “Witnessing the abuse of a parent is emotionally and developmentally damaging to children. It is critical we stop damaging cycles of behaviour – men who have been abusive in one relationship often go on be abusive in other relationships. Many such fathers have not had good enough parenting themselves so do not know how to be a positive role model and instead can be controlling and aggressive. In turn, their children will not benefit from an appropriate role model, thereby continuing the cycle of abuse.”

The Dedicated Dads programme:

The programme is based on a detailed assessment of needs and the support package uses methods including cognitive behavioural therapy. The dads learn about areas like anger management, child development, how to understand emotions in oneself and others.  Where more complex needs are identified such as persistent alcohol abuse, the plan will include referral to a third party to tackle complex causes of breakdown. Dedicated Dads is not suitable for addressing relationships with a history of violence.

Impact:

 19 dads have completed the programme with a further eight currently involved.

Dedicated Dads Case Studies:

‘Rob’ has a criminal history related to his alcohol and drug misuse issues. His children were on the Child Protection Register.  Children’s Services referred ‘Rob’ to HACRO because they wanted him to become child-centred in his parenting approach, to develop problem solving strategies and become aware of child development and milestones. They also wanted him to understand the impact of emotional abuse and neglect on his children.

Rob took part in HACRO’S Dedicated Dads programme attending weekly support sessions end with a review of progress made against his personal action plan. At the end of the intervention Rob said: “The biggest change for me is accepting I had a problem with drink … It’s made me want to prove to everyone that I can be proud of myself and want to make the kids proud of me too. The practical changes I’ve been taught have helped me to manage my emotions … the course has helped to keep me balanced and taught me to keep calm and remember what’s the most important thing in my life, and that’s my children and my role as their dad.”

Just before Christmas HACRO received news that another recent participant was now in regular one to one contact each week with his children and has time booked with them alone over Christmas and the other holidays. He said: “after spending so much time over the last years feeling like there was no hope, I am excited and hopeful about life again”. He puts his success down to understanding how to manage himself, his life and his relationships and being open to understanding and accepting other people’s needs and views. HACRO played a major part in developing these skills, allowing him to rebuild family communication openly and safely.

Joining Dedicated Dads – referrals:

Referrals can be made by a social worker or a Probation officer for Hertfordshire residents. Self-referrals to HACRO can be made following a recommendation from a Family Court case or from CAFCASS.  Neither the court nor CAFCASS will make a direct referral.  A self-referral will only be accepted once a ‘Section 7′ CAFCASS report from the court case has been passed to the Caring Dads Office and the case has been reviewed by the Caring Dads Professional lead.

The Dedicated Dads course is suitable for Hertfordshire fathers unable to attend HACRO’s traditional 17-week in-person support group Caring Dad’s courses which are also continuing through 2021′