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Title: An exploration of the psychological characteristics of men who cause severe physical harm to children under the age of five
Author: Dickens, Tara
ISNI:       0000 0004 7659 7229
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2018
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The serious physical harm of children is a global cross-cultural issue (Stoltenborgn et al, 2015) where the predominant offender is usually a male caring for a child (Schnitzer & Ewigman, 2005; Sidebotham, 2011). Historically, research has focused on mothers rather than fathers in cases of child harm (Hildyard & Wolfe, 2002) so we know less about fathers' offending. Popular theoretical explanations of physical harm adopt the assumption that this is poor parenting gone wrong with no differentiation between lower levels of harm and more serious harm (Azar et al, 1998; Milner, 1993). This thesis addresses the gap in knowledge of fathers or father figures who seriously harm their children. This body of work used qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the beliefs and characteristics of 20 prisoners convicted of serious physical harm of a child (child harmers) and compared them to 46 prisoners convicted of serious harm to an adult (adult harmers). Interviews examined relationships with others, parenting knowledge and strategies, thoughts and feelings about their offending and views on violence and measures examined characteristics of emotional control, anger and provocation indicators, moral disengagement of parenting, attachment style, and responses to stress, self esteem and empathy to children. Interview findings suggest child harmers share some similarities to adult harmers in their parenting knowledge but differ in their use of parenting strategies, close relationships with others, perceptions of being a biological parent, knowledge of children, responses to their offense and explanations regarding their offense. Measures found child harmers share similarities to adult harmers in their emotional control, anger and provocation responses and the moral disengagement of their parenting methods but differ in their attachment style, responses to stress, self-esteem and empathy with children. Discriminant analysis supports the most important differences between groups were empathy to children, anxious attachment style, coping responses to stress, suspicious thinking in cognitive anger responses and their self-esteem. Discussion focuses on the implications of these findings for existing research and how findings challenge the assumption that males who are violent to children do so due to 'poor parenting gone wrong'. It concludes with the proposal of a new offense specific model to explain father figures who seriously harm and an outline of further work needed in this under researched area, highlighting the implications for practitioners tasked with child safeguarding and offender management.
Supervisor: Wood, Jane Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available