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Half of kid killings are by fathers.

by Dr Keith Ashcroft Investigative Psychologist Centre for Forensic Neuroscience, Manchester.

WE know little about fathers killing their children even though they carry out about half such acts.

In the past efforts to find out why parents kill their kids, known as filicide, have concentrated on mothers and looked at a lack of parental bonding, neglect, psychosis and retaliation.

So mental health professionals face a big challenge to determine whether a dad poses a risk of harm to his children or himself.

This is all the harder because the usual factors tend not to be pertinent in filicide followed by suicide.

Well-known risk factors for violence are being a young adult, substance abuse and impulsivity. But fathers who commit filicide tend to be in their mid 30s and rarely have histories of substance abuse or impulsivity.

Having a partner and being a parent puts people off killing themselves but they are the very markers of filicidesuicide.

And the deaths of children in these cases are predominantly cold and callous executions that are pre-planned and rarely impulsive.

We are dealing with a poorly understood phenomenon that urgently needs to be researched.

What we do know about the perpetrators of paternal filicide is they are often under a severe financial burden, in domestic disputes, vengeful and chronically depressed.

They are frequently propelled on to a murderous path by a triggering event such losing a job or a home, the collapse of a business, the break-up of a long-term relationship or the impending loss of the custody of their children.

Whole families tend to be murdered by men who have proprietary attitudes and wield absolute control.

They fall into two groups. Firstly, those who feel rejected after being dumped by their wife and take violent revenge. Secondly, the non-hostile, hopeless dad with paralysing performance anxiety, who wipes out his family to save them from what he sees as certain doom.

Another underlying feature of paternal filicide is over-enmeshment, where the dad requires everyone within his family to think, feel and act in the same way.

He dominates them and enforces his values and aspirations upon them.

Then, if events go against him, he wreaks havoc upon his children as a way of regaining this control.

Over-enmeshment drives his warped logic and sense of self in the act of taking his own life after killing his kids.

These fathers, unlike mums who kill, are far more prone to violence including shooting and stabbing.

There is no single observable pattern to paternal filicide to help professionals identify potential killers. We can no longer ignore the dangers posed by such individuals, we must seek new ways to identify and managing their risk.
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jun 12, 2011
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