Johnny Rice II: It's important for us to ensure that there's safety and accountability for the victims as well as the children, but it's also important for us to have hope that these fathers that come through the door can change. In speaking with Juan Carlos, we often talk about the importance of balance in this work. I think that as long as we keep that central, we can work with fathers at our respective centers without putting families at risk, but at the same time be optimistic about the potential possibility.
Juan Carlos Areán: If you have heard me before talking about this, or read anything I've written, I always talk about balance and about duality, about the fact that this is a complex issue and we have to carry together things that on the surface may seem contradictory as, for instance, accountability for men who batter and connection with men who batter. Those things can happen.
I guess we'll try to demonstrate a little bit of that, and it's not unlike the balance. I have also been doing the work for about 18 years, and I feel like it's healthy to have both hopes and fears. If you only have fears, I don't think you will be very effective to tell you the truth, but if you only go from hope, at the "happily ever after" only, fairytale kind of hope, then of course you can be endangering the victims.
One way that I think about this, and people seem to like this analogy about putting complexity together, I was actually also trained as a classical musician, and I use the concept of point and counter-point to talk about these issues. We often think of point and counter-point as two different things that are in opposition to each other, when we are using it metaphorically, but in fact, in music when we are talking about counter-point, what that means is that you have a melody, a tune, in one piece of the composition and then you have another tune afterwards.
At best, the great counter-point composers were in the renaissance and the baroque, like Bach for instance, you would not ever think that these two tunes could go together. They seem totally separate from each other, but of course the great composers would make the climax by bringing one, two, three, four of these melodies together, and they worked beautifully together. That's how I like to think about point, counter-point. These are apparently separate things, but if you are still thinking about it or if someone points it out or composed it for you, then you can tell that these things can go together.
When I talk about parenting by men who batter, that's the one side, that's the point. The violence continues after separation, of course. The behavior greatly and negatively affects the children, although it depends on the child as we talked about yesterday. Of course, many of them are more controlling and abusive in their parenting. They often involve their children on purpose in the incidents.
This is a relevant one for your job of course; most of them are very good under observation. If they don't do well at the center, you know that this guy really has a problem, but if they do okay it doesn't quite mean anything like it was mentioned in the fears. Furthermore, the impact on families, and I always say that in some way what Bancroft and Silverman did, and I know both of them, is a compilation of what battered women and advocates have been saying for 30 years, obviously, but I think one thing they documented very well, and at least for me it was kind of an "ah ha!" moment, was how men who batter systematically and purposefully undermine the parenting of the mothers and interfere with the parent.
That's why sometimes when you get to do the intake where they're in court, the woman seems like a mess and the guy doesn't seem like a mess. This is the result of this. Using the children as weapons, that's another. We mentioned that, and the creating of divisions in the family and loyalties, all those very complicated dynamics. So, that's a very small nutshell of the point.
Sometimes they say, "Well then why? Why should we be working with these monsters?" It's a balance between fears and hopes, this is the counter-point. By the way, MWB is "men who batter" not "weapons of mass destruction" or anything like that, although they can be sometimes. As I said yesterday, I don't use the word "batterers". I might use "batterers intervention" but I use "men who batter" because I do believe that some of them can change and that opens the possibility for that to happen.
Why work with them? They have access to their children, sometimes legally, sometimes illegally, whether we like it or not, that is happening. I actually believe that most fathers, including fathers who batter, have this ideal of what it is to be a good father. There's a lot of variations on the theme, but at least that can be something that we can grab to as like, "okay, you want to be a good father, let's work together on that." Especially in the context of supervised visitation and sometimes it can be very, very positive. The next one is an interesting one and mainly comes from qualitative research that we did years ago with this project, but has been replicated by Dr. Oliver Williams and colleagues. By the way, there's another book called "Parenting By Men Who Batter" that's an interesting counter-point to the Bancroft and Silverman book, I recommend, it too, co-edited with Oliver Williams and Jeff Edleson. We, just to give you an example of our research, it was a small sample, it was 32 women in three focus groups, different settings, shelters, support groups, so on.
We asked them many things, but one of the things was about the involvement of fathers. Even though it was a small sample, what was striking is that from 32 women, 31 said that they wanted the fathers involved with the children, if it could be done safely. Only one said, "I don't want anything to do with that, they're my children" and only one of the 31 said that it was for financial reasons. If we are really listening to what women want, then I think we have to pay attention to this.
The next one is an interesting one. I think that anyone that has worked with men who batter will tell you that some men, and again these qualifiers men, are able to develop empathy about their children in a way that they cannot about their partners, at least at the beginning. Sometimes that's a way in for sure, it seems. I don't know if it's unbelievable because it happens with victims to, but sometimes they don't know the impact that the violence has on the children if they have not been directly abused.
Sometimes, and this is my experience with many men actually, when they realize the damage that they have created on their children because of their abuse, that might be a window to enter for change. I always talk about a window opening; I'm not talking about that will change them, but it will at least open a window to start the very long and difficult process of change. We know the cycle of violence is intergenerational; many men grew up in that cycle. Sometimes talking about breaking that cycle can be very powerful for some of the men that have grown in generations of violence. We all know that abuse is a choice and a learned behavior, and, therefore, the hypothesis is in most men, it can be unlearned.
Positive involvement by a father figure. You know well that research because the responsible fatherhood field has used it a lot. I think we have to be careful with their research because sometimes, politically, it has been used as, "a kid doesn't have a father, they are doomed for the rest of their lives." Of course, that's not true. There's plenty of single mothers that do great. There's plenty of lesbian couples that do well. When there's positive, and we often forget about , abuse is not positive, so when it's positive it can be powerful.
Finally, as someone also mentioned here in the hopes, giving fathers more opportunities to change has to be. If we don't create that, we will never be out of work, which is what we want. We want to be out of work. It's one of the few professions where that's what we're trying to do.
Johnny Rice II: I have a comment I want to make too, and this kind of speaks to a larger context, but I think it's also important to think about working with men because there's a reality that regardless of what happens with this relationship, that these men may enter new relationships. While it's critical to focus on the center, as someone mentioned earlier, it is also what happens afterwards to these families or to these couples and how they interact, even if the couple decides not to reconnect. It's still important to ensure that the behavior is addressed, or if not it's just going to transfer to another family that's going to come through and need the services of the center. So, it's important to also look at it in a broad perspective as well.
Juan Carlos Areán: Thank you Johnny. So, going back to the topic of point and counter-point in working with men. These are just examples of how these two melodies can work together. I believe men who batter are manipulative, dangerous, and cruel. They need to be observed and monitored. But, I also believe that at least some men can change.
I worked with men for 10 years. I saw many men change, let me tell you that. They can heal their relationship and contribute to the movement against domestic violence. Our first priority, we always talk about this, the safety of women and children and the accountability of the men. Absolutely agreed. I believe that safety and accountability can be accomplished by positively engaging men who batter, sometimes.
There are other practitioners that have been talking about this with different language, so these are some examples. The place where I worked for 10 years and directed eventually was called the Men's Resource Center of Western Massachusetts. We talked about challenging the behavior, but supporting the person, supporting them to change obviously, not supporting their bad behavior.
My colleague Fernando Mederos talks about accountability and connection. He wrote a very good manual for us in the context of working with men in child welfare, and it's called "Accountability and Connection with Abusive Men." Focusing on the problems only, rather than focusing on the strengths. Again, if we only focus on the strengths we are in problems here.
Looking at limits, looking at opportunities, and finally, I borrow this from another practitioner from Israel actually who has been a pioneer in this work of fatherhood and DV, Einat Peled, she talks about duality and practice. That book that I mentioned that Dr. Williams edited has an excellent article by this woman, Einat Peled, about the issue of duality and practice. Having said that, let's remember that safety has to be at the center, it cannot be changed.
There are risks, of course. Although, the more you work with men who batter you realize, I think at the beginning we're all scared that we are at risk, well the chances that you will be hurt are this small compared to how their partners will be hurt. It happens, but it's rare. We need to plan carefully not to increase, especially, the woman's risk.
This is an interesting one. Sometimes I get questions about do men who batter do this or do that. There's a big range. We cannot generalize some things. There's a range certainly in dangerousness and lethality. We know that, although again the number of men that are lethal are less than 1%, so it's very small. Of course, we are all afraid that this is the one, the one that is in front of us, so we treat everybody as if you went into an emergency room and you are dying. Well, we need to get better at triaging I guess.
There's also a vast range of potential for change. As much as I believe that some men can change, I also believe that some men will not change, and we have to pay as much attention to those. Someone, I think, had mentioned that thing, one of the things that, as you say, is not a failure even in a batterers program, if someone is really dangerous and will not be appropriate for the program, let's safety plan with the victim and that's a huge success, it's not a failure.
I said this already. If we think that we are all lethal, we will miss most of the people. When you're working, hopefully you have this in your policies, any work that you do with the victim you don't share with the perpetrator that can be extremely dangerous unless you have permission from her, and even if you have permission you have to be very careful about safety planning.
Johnny Rice II: I just wanted to touch upon a couple of things. I think first and foremost when you think about, and Juan Carlos touched on it, some of the research in responsible fatherhood, one of the things that has often been touted is that when a father is involved in their child's life, child and/or children's life, involved in the child's life they are less likely to commit suicide, they are less likely to engaged in the juvenile justice system, they are less likely to drop out of school, are less likely to engage in sexual contact, less likely, less likely, less likely. But, that does not mean fatherhood at any cost.
Again, as Juan Carlos communicated, the issue around accountability always stays at the forefront. One of the things that is also critical to understand, and this ties back to a point I mentioned earlier, is that even working for a large state agency, the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which is the state's child welfare agency, there are cases where parental rights are terminated and also where there is children in need of assistance, which can impact the father's access short term or long term as it relates to the children. What is also critical to understand is, that again, there's no prohibition in many instances for that father to re-enter into a new relationship. These are things that we currently have to think about.
Universal messages that promote non-violence in parenting and intimate relationships, aspirations to be a good father, and just touching on that it talks about really listening and having conversations with men, and this goes back to the referral sources, of giving them information that will lead to that. Even father's who batter usually, if you have a conversation with them, will talk about some of their hopes for their children. Again, to be able to discern the legitimacy of that, if that is sincere or not, is something that we all wrestle with, and that becomes the fear.
When I worked at Patuxent, which is a correctional facility in Maryland, and worked with men around groups of moral problem solving, relapse prevention, we talked about issues of parenting. All of those fathers, it didn't matter if they haven't seen their children in years or if they had just seen their children on a visit, all of them wanted better for their respective children. As Juan Carlos said, sometimes when you think about empathy through the responsible fatherhood programs in the community, oftentimes we reach out and utilize the conversation around the children as well as the mother to start to stimulate some of that thought.
What will be the legacy of fathers? This is something that is very critical because even in a community based program for responsible fatherhood we ask men this, and men often think about, "I don't want either my son to go through the type of lifestyle that I went through," so it's that trans-generational curse issue or it's kind of an issue of, "I know I'm being a poor father, but I don't know how to really turn it around and I am so far gone that it doesn't matter anymore."
So, you deal with different types of emotions when you see these men present at your center. One of the things that we try to tap into is strength based and positive comments. That doesn't mean that you don't look at areas where they need to improve, but it means having comments of affirmation, comments of support as it relates to a father who is clearly doing those things that they need to do in a healthy way. How do you want to be remembered by your children? The power of words is also critical, and listening and getting their feedback from it.
The next slide talks about development of empathy and we talked about also utilization of children. The critical need for positive interactions, but also when there are negative interactions to acknowledge that and look at why that is the case. Self generated fathering values. Listening. What do you want to see happen for your children? How are you going to be able to aid in helping them to meet the goals and have a healthy lifestyle? What role do you play?
One of the things that we talk about in responsible fatherhood programs at the community level, because we get a lot of men that present with, "Well, she's not" What are you doing? We don't care if you live in the household or not. You have an emotional and financial responsibility to that family and to those children and we're going to work with you to meet that responsibility, but we are also going to hold you accountable for your violence because we are not going to pour these resources into you to help create a strong batterer. We're not going to help you get a job, we're not going to help you get a vehicle through the program Vehicles for Change, we're not going to help you to get into a community college, we're not going to tap you into these resources just to empower you to be more oppressive within your relationship.
Using culture. This is so critical particularly as I think Juan Carlos mentioned, I serve on the institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community's National Steering Committee, because many fathers that I've worked with come from a sub-culture in which masculinity is not defined in a way that I would define it, or some of my peers would define it. Masculinity to them may be utilizing forms of violence and control and that's in their sub-culture validated. So, what we have to do is show that there is another way, and we may have been the first group of African American men that some of these other African American men have ever met who are actually talking about how to do things in a healthy, positive way.
Let me give you a quick example. There's a difference between someone who, and I'm not making any excuses, but there is a difference between someone who grew up in a household and is making a choice to do certain things, but we've had some young people who became fathers who came out of foster care who when they were in the family structure their uncle beat on their aunt, or I mean his significant other, and actually sold drugs within the household and taught them how to sell drugs, how to beat women, how to do negative things within the community. So, when we would meet with these men, this was the background that they were coming with. We had to begin to tell them, and let them know that, this is not the way to go.
But, let me say this as I move through this last one, when we talk about meaningful referrals, particularly in responsible fatherhood programs, once they realize sometimes how poor a father they may have been, then they become increasingly angry recognizing the lack of fatherhood support that they had. In many instances in working with men who do care about them, that's when it actually hits them that they were deprived of a healthy upbringing themselves, and that brings other anger to the surface.
Meaningful referrals are critical because, as I said yesterday we partner with the House of Ruth, Maryland, which has a national reputation for working with victims of domestic violence and children as well as the abuser intervention program, we collaborated with them when I was at the center for urban families about 10 years ago, because we recognized the need that one, we were serving the same families, and we also recognized that we provided resources and tools that would help some of the men that they were dealing with who had issues of domestic violence.
What they were bold enough to recognize was that even though their focus is to make sure that these men deal with their behavior, they could not ignore the voices that they heard in those groups of these men saying, "we have other issues, and other areas that we're failing in, and while we are dealing with this and trying to make inroads, we are still failing in these other issues." So, meaningful referrals, not just for the fathers, but also for the children and family are very important.
Juan Carlos Areán: Batterers intervention. Okay, big sign here, batterers intervention. Oh, I really want to go there, you know. It doesn't work very well. Language is powerful. You can still do these things without minimizing. My program was called "Men Overcoming Violence." Let me tell you, my program, more than 50% of the folks that went into the program were voluntarily there, not by court mandate or CPS mandate. So strategies, there is the legal problem, so one strategy at a community level would be to develop a fatherhood program or partner with a fatherhood program that would also have an emphasis on violence, on looking at issues of violence. So again, it is a different door, but it is the same result, if you will.
If we are stuck in the ideological part of, "okay, these are bad guys." I have heard the term "coddling batterers," maybe you have heard that. I've been here for 18 years. When I used to show up as the only guy, they looked at me like, "C for collusion here." You know, I had to learn my things. If we are practical about this, and we think, can any of us learn if we don't have a place to live, if we don't have a job, if we are hungry, so when we were talking about meaningful referrals, we weren't only talking about batterer's intervention. I know programs where a simple referral to a soup kitchen, a cheap dentist, a doctor. I know you are not case managers, but one of those things can go a long way in not only helping the process of change, but also in your relationship with a man.