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Project gets to heart of domestic violence.

Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

In some children's art, daddy is a fiery demon with flashing red eyes and horns.

That powerful portrayal of domestic violence is the starting point in a cutting-edge strategy from the Family Violence Prevention Fund for use nationwide in batterer intervention programs.

Officials of the four nonprofit batterer programs in Lane County, along with social workers and others involved in family issues, are getting a crash course in the Fathering After Violence Project this week under a grant that has brought a consultant from the fund to Eugene for three days of meetings and training.

The Fathering After Violence Project is being developed to fill a void in batterer intervention programs. Most such programs focus on the relationship between a batterer and the adult victim without much attention to the effects on children who witness the abuse, prevention fund consultant Juan Carlos Arean says.

But the fund's researchers are discovering the huge role that children's views of domestic violence can play in helping fathers renounce violence. Batterers generally are more likely to empathize with children's views than with an adult victim of abuse, Arean says.

"Children can be a very powerful motivation for men to change," he says. "Using their art is more to the gut than to the head."

Children's art is just the starting point for the fund's Fathering After Violence curriculum, however.

Once batterers begin to consider children's views of domestic violence, they are taught to look at the model set by their own fathers. In group discussions, they then explore how their fathers might have behaved differently to build stronger, nonviolent families.

Through these lessons, batterers may learn how they can rebuild their own relationships through nonviolence, Arean says. "The issue of thinking about their own fathers, that is very intense. It can be a very painful tool. Some of them may have great wounds," says Arean, who wrote the curriculum based on research the Family Violence Prevention Fund did in Mexico and the United States with a Doris Duke Charitable Foundation grant.

He says researchers realized they were plowing fertile ground when group after group of batterers in pilot programs reached the same positive conclusions about how they may rebuild relationships through nonviolence.

While initial results show that the project helps abusers begin to change, the curriculum is so new that no objective long-term studies have been done to determine whether participants are less violent in the long run, he adds. Certainly, the program won't work for violent people who are unable to empathize with either children or other adults, says Arean, who has 10 years of experience in batterer intervention programs.

Fund officials hope the project's curriculum eventually will be used in a variety of settings to prevent domestic violence.

When Carolyn Rexius first heard about the Fathering After Violence Project two years ago, she said, her own experience working in batterer intervention at Christians Addressing Family Abuse in Eugene told her the project is on the right track.

At CAFA, more than 60 percent of clients in batterer intervention programs are fathers. Many more are in intimate relationships with mothers whose children live with them. Most will be fathers or stepfathers some day. In its mission statement, CAFA holds child safety as a top goal and offers batterers lessons in relating to their children through play in order to mend their relationships, Rexius says.

"We were trying to understand how men could heal their relationship with their children once they have broken that relationship," she says.

Rexius contacted Arean, contributed to his curriculum and became determined to invite him to Lane County as soon as the local Family Violence Response Initiative could get a grant to pay for his visit to train all of the local intervention programs.

"That's a really rich gift we've been given. We all will have a chance to be on the same page," she said.

Incorporating the Fathering After Violence curriculum into existing batterer intervention programs should cost little. Diana Avery, co-director of the area's Family Violence Response Initiative, says local batterer program directors are receptive to using the curriculum.

The greater challenge to implementing it may be legal and safety issues. Many batterers are under court orders not to contact their victims or their children, she says. Some children may be too terrified to reunite, so each case must be considered individually.

Rexius says she expects the project will help clients reject violent patterns and become role models for their children to grow into nonviolent parents. "I really believe Juan Carlos' project has the key to changing a societal problem at its core - and that is to stop making little batterers. If that piece is healed, you've got a shot at cultural change," Rexius says.


Juan Carlos Arean is in Eugene to talk about a domestic violence intervention program he helped develop that uses art to make batterers understand children's views of violence. Chris Pietsch / The Register-Guard
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Title Annotation:Family; Using art to help fathers understand children's views is part of a new curriculum being taught to local social workers
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 28, 2004
Previous Article:ONES TO WATCH.

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