Cathy Humphreys is Professor of Social Work at University of Melbourne, Australia. She has produced an extensive body of work in both the UK, where she worked for 12 years at the University of Warwick, and since 2006, a multi-million dollar program of research in Australia in the areas of domestic and family violence and out of home care. Cathy is co-director of the Melbourne Alliance to End Violence Against Women and Their Children (MAEVe) which was established in 2015 to draw together academics from across the University of Melbourne who are active in research in this area.



Responding to children living with domestic abuse in the context of their relationships
Formal recognition of the negative impact on children of living with domestic abuse emerged in 1990 and took hold around 1994 in the UK. This is not new territory. Since that time, there have been thousands of studies of children living with domestic abuse. A recent longitudinal study showed unequivocally the disadvantage behaviourally, cognitively and emotionally for children living with domestic abuse compared to children not living with domestic abuse. What new is there to say? I will draw from studies I have been involved in as well as other evidence to look at a few of the potential areas.

Firstly, children’s voices and experiences need to be heard. Digital stories have been helpful in this regard and particularly when they talk about what they expect of fathers. Young people are providing different perspectives and a new voice in a wide range of different areas.

Secondly, the development of practice which recognises the harm (and resilience) for children living with domestic abuse has been poor. Unfortunately, the dominant paradigm in relation to children became led by statutory child protection. A narrowly defined focus on risk, safety and harm developed practice which targeted women weighing up their capacity to, or failure to protect their children and with little attention to Intersectionality. The lack of attention by child protection to men as fathers continued into the domestic abuse space. Re-inventing practice which supports and strengthens the mother-child relationship and focuses on the accountability of fathers is quietly gaining traction.

Thirdly, I would argue that addressing complexity has not been the strong suit of the domestic abuse specialist sector. The development of practice and policy which embraces the co-occurrence of domestic abuse with alcohol and other drugs, and/or mental health has been slow to develop. For instance, the increase in the severity of violence when drugs and alcohol are involved and the use of AOD as a tactic of coercive control has been poorly developed in our practice response. Only a few programs have been developed and sustained that address both the addiction and the violence of fathers who use violence.

Finally, I will argue that the Achilles Heal in the response to domestic abuse lies in post-separation violence. We do not talk about ‘Fathers who use violence’. On separation, the domestic abuse disappears and magically the domestically abusive men re-emerge as good enough fathers. There remains rage and despair in the sector over this issue. There are glimmers of hope. Providing greater attention to young people’s experiences of being parented by a father who uses violence is an area where we could potentially gain an exponential return on investment in the prevention of domestic abuse.