This paper examines the current state of knowledge on the impact of domestic and family violence (DFV) on parenting. It considers how often DFV occurs among parents; the impact of DFV on parenting; the methods and behaviours used by perpetrators to disrupt the mother-child relationship; and interventions used to strengthen and support a healthy mother-child relationship.
The paper finds that approximately one third or more of parents in the general community experience DFV, but there is limited evidence on DFV among marginalised parent populations such as Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD), rural, disabled and same-sex parents. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, women and children suffer considerable DFV, but the true prevalence of abuse among parents is hard to determine due to a lack of reporting, limited screening for DFV, and methodological issues.
Most evidence suggests that DFV during pregnancy can result in poor pregnancy outcomes and reduced attachment. It also impacts on an abused woman’s ability to parent effectively; women will attend to their abusive partner’s demands and needs, and control and discipline children to keep them safe. Attachments/relationships can improve over time, and parenting and child health outcomes also improve once DFV stops.
There is limited information on the parenting style of abusive fathers, but researchers and victims have characterised them as authoritarian, under-involved, self-centred and manipulative. They aim to isolate, control and undermine women’s authority to parent and have meaningful relationships with their children. The paper recommends supportive care for mothers experiencing DFV and their children as an alternative to reporting all DFV to child protection services.
Home visiting programs have been shown to be effective in reducing child maltreatment, improving parenting skills and children’s behaviour, but not necessarily effective in preventing or reducing DFV. New programs with an additional DFV focus are currently being assessed. Victims of abuse need more intense and targeted therapy; the paper recommends psychotherapeutic interventions with combined mother-child sessions as they have shown good results. Interventions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families show client satisfaction but are yet to show other effective outcomes.
There are considerable gaps in Australian research on DFV and parenting. This paper recommends further research in areas including prevalence of DFV in diverse groups of parents; qualitative research on the experiences of motherhood and fatherhood in the context of DFV; and interventions measuring parenting and the parent-child relationship as primary outcomes, with larger, more representative samples.
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