Third International Conference
Monash Centre, Prato, Italy, 14th and 15th June 2017
This conference was the third in the series of bi-annual conferences held in 2013, 2015 and 2017 at the Monash Centre in Prato, Italy. The series was aimed at bringing together researchers, policy developers, and program providers from many disciplines and different countries to support greater knowledge development in the sparsely researched area of filicide.
Some 34 Delegates attended the conference; they came from England, Northern Ireland, The Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Chile, Canada, Finland, Australia and Saudi Arabia. There were no delegates from the U.S.A. and South East Asia as previously. Unfortunately, the conference dates clashed with those of the International Conference of Forensic Psychiatrists who have asked that in future we cooperate on dates to facilitate attendance for delegates at both conferences.
The program was structured to bring all delegates together on the evening preceding the delivery of papers with a walk around the historic town and dinner. The following day the conference began with welcome and keynote speakers, followed by a series of shorter papers until lunch. After lunch, another keynote address was delivered and followed by shorter papers until the end of the day. That evening we held a welcome reception on the centre’s terrace. The second day repeated the pattern with an opening keynote address, papers, lunch and another keynote paper again followed by further shorter papers and the final panel and discussion about future directions.
The program spaced the papers out more than in previous years and delegates commented favourably on this and the greater opportunities for discussion in sessions and in breaks.
The first keynote speaker, Professor Dominique Bourget, pointed out that since our first conference, in 2013, research and publications on filicide, internationally, had increased considerably and as conference organisers, we hope that the conference is accelerating such developments. At least one-third of the delegates had been to the two previous conferences and the tentative themes in research design and in findings of the first conference were emerging with greater strength, detail and clarity as the conferences progressed. At the same time, new directions were developing with new study areas and new complexities being revealed.
Developments in research design
There was a trend towards the building, and repeated use, of large databases of victims, families, and perpetrators. While data sources have been difficult to access in relation to filicide due in part to poor record keeping on filicide deaths internationally (scanty and inconsistent detail, few national databases, obstacles to and restricted access due to ethics requirements) researchers are now building longer-term series of data, and larger amounts of data, with the consequent ability to develop stronger findings. Data is surfacing through researchers’ special studies and committees tasked with focusing on family violence and family violence deaths. Problems remain with the inconsistencies in data collection within and between countries that make comparisons difficult. However, databases covering periods of time are building in England, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, and Australia. The USA also publishes national statistics on filicide.
Another design trend was the change in categorising types of filicide deaths. In the earliest studies, researchers like Resnick (Resnick, 1969. 1970) seeking patterns in the deaths established explanatory categories of deaths according to the motive of the perpetrator. Over time these categories of motive have been expanded and given greater descriptive detail (Bourget, Grace and Whitehurst, 2007, De Bortoli and Nixon, 2017). However, using motive as a categorising factor has been challenged due in part to the difficulty in identifying motive (Mouzos and Rushworth, 2003).
At the conference type of perpetrator and type of event were presented as distinguishing categories. For example, Sidebotham’s paper combined type of perpetrator with type of death and then set up intervention proposals for each category; Brown, Tyson and Fernandez Arias’s paper used a combination of gender and parental role in a national twelve year study and Koenradt and Klier, Amon, Putkonen, Kernreiter and Weizmann-Herelius used perpetrator and type of death to look at neonaticide deaths in various periods of time in the Netherlands and Austria. The paper presented by De Bertoli and Nixon (2017) used perpetrator type to see if there was any relationship between this and other factors like family structure and contexts for the homicide. They found no relationships.
History of filicide
Two papers, one from Stuart-Bennet and one from Frederick, pointed to the long history of filicide and Stuart-Bennet raised issues regarding the relationship between social conditions and culture and filicide and quasi filicide (baby farming or baby fostering deaths) in nineteenth-century England and in former British colonies. This formed a link to papers given in the first two conferences (Rodriguez Manriquez, 2013, Yasumi, 2015) that showed how the incidence of and circumstances surrounding filicide varied within a country and between countries together with many commonalities. This reflects the theme expressed in the first conference (Koenradt, 2013) that filicide is universal but not uniform.
Two papers on neonaticide were presented from studies carried out by Sabine Amon and Claudia Klier and their colleagues, Putkonen, Kernreiter and Weizmann-Herelius. One paper looked at the impact of two interventions to reduce neonaticide in Austria, the anonymous birth law and the hatch availability. The other paper compared perpetrators of single neonaticide with the small number of serial perpetrators. The findings on both types of perpetrators looked in depth at these perpetrators and their findings were intriguing.
The involvement of multiple perpetrators
Filicide has been viewed as usually being the responsibility of one person, one parent. While two parents acting together have been noted as perpetrators, it has been uncommon (Brown, Tyson and Fernandez Arias, 2014). However, Brown, Tyson and Fernandez Arias’s paper on the Australian national study on filicide showed a more frequent involvement of two perpetrators, step-fathers and mothers, than previously identified. The researchers believed this might be due to the way the national data base acknowledged this possibility and so recorded it. Gagne (2017) in his keynote address also saw a more complex perpetrator picture and he ascribed agency to professionals whose intervention he saw as, on occasions, being harmful and leading to deaths. Widening the potential perpetrators group might lead to seeing a greater complexity of perpetrator dynamics and might also lead to a more detailed study of the role of professionals in their interventions with the perpetrator and or the victim’s family.
Intervention after a child (or children’s) death
Intervention with family members after the child (or children’s) death had not been raised previously, but several papers considered this. One was Wate’s paper on how the English multi-disciplinary police teams (police, paediatrician and social worker) investigated the unexplained death of a child, how they undertook their investigation and decision making and how they dealt with the various members of the family in the short and long term.
Frederico’s paper presented the findings of research on children who had survived the death of a sibling killed by a parent. The paper looked at programs designed to address the needs of such children and presented the cases of two surviving children who took different views of having an ongoing relationship with their parents after the death of their sibling.
At the second conference in 2015 Una Butler, a mother who survived the deaths of her two children killed by her husband who then killed himself, gave a paper on the events leading up to the deaths, particularly on the role of the mental health service, the impact of the deaths on her and the reforms she sought from the government to prevent further filicides. At this conference, Frank Mullane, also a surviving family member of filicide, spoke of the value of Domestic Homicide Reviews and their role in preventing domestic violence and filicide. Frank Mullane’s, Peter Sidebotham’s and Russell Wate’s papers covered the involvement of families after the event. At the first conference, Helen Buckley (2013) had given a paper on death review committees and discussed the involvement of surviving family members in the process of investigation and recommendations.
Sentencing following a conviction
None of the previous conferences have covered sentencing but Tyson and Dawson’s paper compared the sentencing of perpetrators in Canada and Australia to determine if there were any gender biases. This latter work in not yet finished and while no obvious biases are evident it may be that more subtle patterns emerge as the research concludes.
Roberto Rodríguez Manríquez presented a paper describing the court judgements of 16 filicide cases in Chile between 2012-2014. His preliminary findings show that, in Chile, the very high conviction rates and the lengthy sentences given are in line with the generalised outrage generated by these cases further reinforcing that cultural aspects are highly prevalent in all aspects of filicide events.
At the past conferences it has been noted that children may be killed by a parent and their deaths may be successfully concealed because the child’s birth is not recorded, a doctor does not recognise that the child’s death is due to the deliberate act of a parent or parent equivalent, the child disappears and the disappearance is not related to the parent or possibly not ever known (Packer, 2013).
Cultures and communities with unrecorded disappearances of children have not been discussed previously but Spratt’s paper presented his experiences in Togo (Spratt, 2017) regarding the disappearance of disabled and female children and shed light on the complex tensions in filicide research.
The increasing complexity of factors surrounding filicide
Past conferences have identified factors surrounding filicide and these have been consistent across cultures, with the role of different factors being a little different from one country to another. These factors have been identified as the age of the children, illness or disability of children, past domestic violence from the perpetrator, mental illness of the perpetrator, past child abuse from the perpetrator, substance abuse of perpetrator, poor access to services, and poor engagement with services. Past criminal history emerged at the 2015 conference in a paper presented by Pritchard and again at this conference in a paper from Brown, Tyson and Fernandez Arias. Variations in these factors according to the type of perpetrator emerged more clearly at this conference probably due to better databases as evidenced in the papers of Sidebotham, Brown, Tyson and Fernandez Arias, and Amon, Klier, Putkonen, Kernreiter and Weizmann-Herelius.
A new direction in research
A paper presented by Paula Fernandez Arias suggested new directions in research. This paper suggested the study of social network responses as a way of examining how individual choices can lead to a filicide event. Conversely, thinking of these choices as points for early intervention may lead to new and improved prevention strategies.
Many of the papers dealt directly or indirectly with research on intervention and more work on intervention is taking place but more needs to be done. Intervention has been held back by the poor knowledge base on filicide, but the knowledge base has improved and is better able to support policies, programs and research on intervention. Some of the presentations that touched on intervention did so broadly and refer mostly to service systems change. Two papers, one from Klier et al and one from Brown et al, referred to programs to address filicide and another from Sidebotham developed an extensive intervention framework for individual perpetrators according to the type of perpetrator and event.
Dr Dominique Bourget
Dr Bourget is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa and supervises medical students, residents in psychiatry and fellows training in forensic psychiatry. As a past president of the Canadian Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (CAPL) and chair of the Section of Forensic Psychiatry under the Canadian Psychiatric Association from 1999 to 2005, her reputation as a national and international leader in forensic psychiatry is well established.
Her contributions to forensic psychiatry in Canada were recognised through the Canadian Academy of Psychiatry and the Law “Bruno-Cormier Award”, awarded in March 2002. From 2000 to 2015, Dr Bourget was the Program Director and Coordinator of the Annual Winter Conference of CAPL, a 3-day accredited scientific conference. She was awarded a distinguished fellow with the American Psychiatric Association and the Canadian Psychiatric Association.
Dr Bourget has authored many research articles and she presented both nationally and abroad on a variety of topics relevant to criminal and civil Forensic Psychiatry. She authored an editorial entitled “Forensic Psychiatry in Canada: A Journey on the Road to Specialty”, in which she outlined some of the important background work done by her colleagues and herself for the speciality to obtain the recognition of forensic psychiatry as a subspecialty in Canada. Dr Bourget is committed to promoting standards of excellence in the practice of forensic psychiatry. She currently practices at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre in Ottawa.
Professor Marian Brandon
Marian Brandon is Professor of Social Work and Director of the Centre for Research on Children and Families at the University of East Anglia. She has a significant body of mixed methods research and publications over many years in child protection, children’s views of child protection, family support and inter-agency working. For over a decade she has, with Dr Peter Sidebotham, directed national analyses of cases of child fatality and serious harm (Serious Case Reviews) for the English Government and has also carried out a study of family involvement with the serious case review process.
Marian has undertaken two studies for the England Office of the Children’s Commissioner about children and young people’s views on child abuse and child protection and how to improve children’s access to early help. She has most recently been directing a two-year study of men’s perspectives on encounters with the child protection process funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Marian is a founder member of the International Association for Outcome-based Research and Evaluation on Family and Children’s Services and has advised the Ombudsman for New South Wales Australia about their child death review process.
Professor Myrna Dawson
Myrna Dawson is a Professor and Canada Research Chair in Public Policy in Criminal Justice, Director of the Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence, University of Guelph, and Co-Director of the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative. Her most recent projects examine intimacy, violence and the law and recommendations from domestic violence death review committees in the international context. In particular, related to filicide, her current research examines:
- how filicides compare to child homicides more generally in characteristics and context, including the criminal justice response;
- how Australian and Canadian courts, particularly judges, respond to and construct filicides by mothers and fathers (with D. Tyson, Deakin University, Australia); and
- the frequency, type and content of recommendations generated by domestic violence death review committees internationally as they relate to child welfare and child deaths.
Professor Peter Jaffe
Dr Peter Jaffe is a psychologist and Professor in the Faculty of Education and the Academic Director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women & Children at Western University (London, Ontario, Canada). He has co-authored ten books, 29 chapters and over 80 articles related to domestic violence, the impact of domestic violence on children, homicide prevention and the role of the criminal and family justice systems.
Since 1999, he has been on the faculty for the National Council of Juvenile & Family Court Judges in the US for judicial education programs entitled “Enhancing Judicial Skills in Domestic Violence Cases”. He was a founding member of Ontario’s Chief Coroner’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee. He has also been instrumental in developing violence prevention programs for schools and has been a trustee on the Thames Valley District School Board since 1980.
Together with David Wolfe, Claire Crooks and Ray Hughes, he helped in the development of “The Fourth R: Skills for Youth Relationships”, a school-based curriculum targeting multiple forms of violence, including bullying, dating violence and peer violence. The curriculum is being used in over 5,000 schools in Canada and the US. In 2009, he was named an Officer in the Order of Canada by the Governor General for his work preventing domestic violence in the community.
Associate Professor Peter Sidebotham
Dr Peter Sidebotham is a Consultant Paediatrician in Warwickshire and an Associate Professor of Child Health at the University of Warwick. He is a member of the Local Safeguarding Children Board and is Designated Doctor for Child Protection in Warwickshire.
Peter’s research includes studies on risk factors for child maltreatment and works on unexpected child deaths including sudden infant death syndrome, child death review and fatal maltreatment. He is the author/editor of three books and several book chapters and has published extensively on child abuse and child death review. Peter is a co-editor of the journal Child Abuse Review and a member of the BASPCAN Board of Trustees.
Peter contributes to training programmes in child health, safeguarding and child death review both locally and nationally. He is the course director of the University of Warwick advanced course in the Management of Unexpected Childhood Death, and has produced national training materials on child death review, safeguarding in dentistry and child protection for consultant paediatricians.
Dr Pierre Gagné
Dr Gagné MD, FRCPC, DLFAPA is an associate professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Sherbrooke, Canada. He is a Founder, Forensic Psychiatry, Royal College of Canada. He was given the Bruno Cormier award by the Canadian Academy of Psychiatry and the Law in 1996 and the title of Distinguished Life Fellow by the American Psychiatric Association in 2006.
He is the director of the Forensic Psychiatric Clinic, in Sherbrooke. He has 43 years’ experience in the field of clinical forensic psychiatry and has been called as an expert witness in hundreds of civil and criminal cases in Canada, the United States and Europe. His main fields of research are related to domestic violence, suicide and sexual offenders.