Abstract: "We're Working Towards the Same Cause": Barriers and Facilitators to Collaboration between Domestic Violence Programs and Responsible Fatherhood Programs (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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"We're Working Towards the Same Cause": Barriers and Facilitators to Collaboration between Domestic Violence Programs and Responsible Fatherhood Programs

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Kristie Thomas, PhD, Associate Professor, Simmons College, Boston, MA
Fernando Mederos, EdD, Adjunct Faculty, Simmons College, Boston, MA
Background and Purpose

In the mid 2000s, a group of stakeholders from Domestic Violence Programs and Responsible Fatherhood Programs came together with the goal of developing domestic violence education and intervention strategies for fathers engaged in Responsible Fatherhood Groups (RFGs). Over the years, there have been several efforts to continue those initial collaborations and foster new ones; however, the two fields have remained relatively siloed. Given that RFGs have tremendous potential for DV prevention, this disconnect is deeply problematic. Moreover, the literature provides little guidance on what is needed to develop mutually beneficial collaborations and how these collaborations inform practice. Thus, the aims of this study were to explore 1) factors that support and hinder collaboration between DV and RF programs, and 2) effective practices with fathers that have emerged from these collaborations.


Utilizing a practitioner-researcher approach, we conducted phone interviews with three groups of stakeholders: DV advocates (n=10), RF field leaders (n=10), and RFG facilitators (n = 20). On average, participants were in their mid-50s, and 60% identified as either African American, Latino, Native American, or multi-racial. There was a clear gender divide, with 87% of fatherhood practitioners identifying as men, and 90% of DV advocates identifying as women. Participants worked in programs spanning five regions: Mid-Atlantic (35%), New England (22.5%), South West (20%), Mid-west (12.5%), and South (7.5%). We used a semi-structured interview guide with probes to elicit participants’ perspectives and experiences. Data analysis included conventional content analysis and eclectic coding to develop codes and categories.


The primary theme to emerge was that, although there are a range of long-standing and complicated barriers to collaboration, these barriers are not insurmountable. Participants described three categories of barriers: “framework tensions” over how to work with men who use violence, prioritizing or “comparing oppressions” (i.e., sexism versus racism), and the impact of funding on capacity and competition. Participants offered three strategies for overcoming the first two categories of barriers: finding areas of common ground (e.g., a shared commitment to breaking the cycle of violence), developing authentic relationships (e.g., frank conversations about racism, poverty and hypermasculinity), and engaging in mutual education about each other’s work and client population. Participants who reported having had successful collaborations described using activities that balanced empathy with accountability, avoided the use of labels, and resonated with fathers’ lived experience and parenting goals.

Conclusions and Implications

Findings underscore the importance of collaboration between DV advocates and RF practitioners, especially given that they often serve the same communities. Successful collaborations require authentic relationship building and mutual education to overcome the framework tensions that have historically divided the two fields. Given the time and labor that go into developing successful collaborations, funding agencies must be willing to provide the financial support necessary to support such endeavors. In general, there is a need for increased funding for DV programs and RF programs to prevent them from having to compete for the same small pots of money.