By Cornelia de Bruin
Triplicate staff writer
Instead of making dad do the barbecuing this Father's Day (unless he wants to of course), spend some time thinking about who your father is and what influence he's had on your life.
If he's a king in your world, treasure him, because not every family is headed by a good father.
"Being a father is an honor and a responsibility," said Deputy Probation Officer Linda Sanford.
Sanford ought to know because it is through her office in the Del Norte County Probation Department that the only certified program in the county is run for perpetrators of domestic violence and child abuse.
None of the M./W.E.N.D. program's participants have ever volunteered to take it. The acronym symbolizes the program's goal: Men and Women Experiencing Non-abusive Direction.
Either they learn to be better fathers and most referred into the program are male perpetrators or "a terminal disposition is made for them," Sanford said.
Translate that expression to a jail or prison term.
"If they don't complete the program, they're terminated, returned to court and have to tell the judge why they've been returned to court," Sanford said. "The percentage of people terminated three times is very low."
For a county whose domestic violence rate ranks painfully high in California, the program's "very good" behavior modification rate is a ray of sunshine through an otherwise black and stormy situation for Sanford.
"It's good to watch them turn it around," Sanford said regarding the participants' behavior. "It's what keeps me going, I couldn't do this job if this didn't happen."
A high percentage of those mandated into M./W.E.N.D. by a judge likely haven't acknowledged that they have a problem.
"Most of these people just grew up," she said. "They weren't parented, so they don't know how to parent."
The treatment they receive begins "by challenging the client's perception as to why they are here rather than accepting the courts sent them,'" as stated in a long description kept in a three-ring binder in Sanford's office.
M./W.E.N.D. is run by its director, Pasquale Romano. Its mission is to prevent the family's cycle of abuse or break that cycle through education taught during 52 one-week sessions by Romano and his colleagues, three licensed clinicians and one graduate-level student.
"Child abuse is a crime, a behavior that is learned and can be unlearned," Romano's course description reads. "Alcohol and drugs increase the severity, but drugs do not make an abuser violent."
Sanford estimates that about 60 people now are part of the program. Fifty were sent to M./W.E.N.D. because they treated their adult partner violently. Ten sexually abused their children.
"The behaviors are the same in domestic violence and child abuse," Sanford said.
The abuser intimidates and isolates his victim, threatens the victim, and uses emotional and economic abuse to control, she said.
"It's usually against the spouse; if it goes to the kids, the kids are removed from the home, and it's reported," Sanford said.
One of the most poignant and heartbreaking aspects of the behavior dynamic is that "the kids don't want to give up their parents."
But it's that dynamic on the part of the abuser that becomes the key to unlocking the abuser's behavior pattern.
"Many of these people have drug issues, so they're getting sober at the same time they're learning new behavior," Sanford said. "The bottom line is they love their kids, they want them back."
For the abuser, the only way to get his kids is to successfully complete the program.
For the children and the spouse, either dad finds his way to the solution or the family is divested of its abuser.
Either way the child ends in a better situation than he or she was living with at the beginning of the process.
"I understand the trauma of having to take the dad or the child out of the home," Sanford said, "but it's still better than having the abuse or the neglect."
What abuse/ violence teaches a child
If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, he
learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule, he
learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame, he
learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with
encouragement, he learns
If a child lives with praise, he
learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness, he
If a child lives with serenity, he
learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval,
he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance
and friendship, he learns to
find love in the world.
SOURCE: Dorothy L. Nolte, "Children Learn What They Live" (1998)
Battering causes damage and distress to the fetus.
Battering adversely effects infants and toddlers.
Older children see and hear violence.
Battering means emotional abandonment.
A battering home means living in constant fear.
Violence creates constant anxiety.
A violent home means feeling powerless.
Battering creates low self-esteem.
Family violence results in behavioral problems.
Battering creates isolation.
Battered children take on adult roles prematurely.
Violence results in stress, depression and flashbacks.
Children of abuse learn how to abuse others.
Battered children learn to harm themselves.
Abused children learn extreme behavior.
Children of violence do not learn boundaries.