The Safe and Together model

Home Truths: Rethinking Our Approach To Family Violence


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The safety and wellbeing of children is central to child protection work. When a child’s safety is compromised because of domestic violence, mothers are often held responsible for protecting their child. At a time when mothers are handling an array of complex issues and are likely to be at risk of serious harm themselves, they are often asked to complete a set of tasks to keep themselves and their children safe.  If these tasks are not achieved, then they are blamed for not acting in a protective manner. Effectively this relieves men of their accountability for their violence and the impact it has on their partner, children and family functioning.

The Safe and Together Model (Mandel 2013) aims to move away from this “failure to protect” response to one that works with children, survivors and perpetrators, to ensure the safety and well being of children living with domestic violence. It is specifically designed to help child welfare systems become informed and competent in responding to families living with domestic violence.

Domestic violence is not gender neutral. The prevalence of violence, severity of physical injury and the level of coercion and control from all forms of violence are greater for women than for men. Men overwhelmingly perpetrate violence against women. Child protection practice is most concerned  with  men’s  perpetration  of  violence  against  women  in  the context of their family. As such, this practice note refers to violence in the context of being perpetrated by a male against their female partner and children.


A Continuum of Domestic Violence Practice

Practice and system responses to domestic violence occur along a continuum. An ‘incompetent’ or ‘incapable’ child protection system is characterised by a poor understanding of the breadth and depth of the domestic violence problem and has only a limited number of specialised policy, programs and services available. An incompetent system creates danger and risk for families and alienates them from the help they need.

More competent and capable systems are characterised by:

  • An appreciation of the multiple ways perpetrators violent behaviours cause harm to women and children. This requires paying attention to the direct harm caused and the trauma created but also the ways in which violence fractures the family ecology and compromises their partner’s parenting capacity and their relationship with her children. A deeper understanding of the ways a perpetrator causes harm helps to ensure that interventions are responsive to women and children’s lived experience of violence.
  • Approaches which hold perpetrators to account for their violence, and makes  significant  investment  in  personal,  policy,  practice  and services to ensure good outcomes for non-offending partners and children living with domestic violence.
  • Outcome measures that are based on whether women and children feel more safe, more satisfied (i.e. better quality of life) and able to make choices and determine their own future (self-determination).

Becoming more violence informed

The  Safe  and  Together  Model  aims  to  make  systems  more  domestic violence-informed and competent by being:

Child centred

  • Keeping children’s safety and wellbeing at the core of all work

Survivor strengths based

  • Partnering  with  the  non-offending  parent  and  building  on  her everyday efforts to keep her and her children safe

Perpetrator patterned

  • Understanding that perpetrators of violence are responsible for the violence they commit and that this responsibility is not shared with the adult survivor.


IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: CHILD-CENTRED

Domestic violence is not an issue “between adults” from which children can be disconnected. Children can and will talk about the violence they see or hear. They want to be safe and listened to. Talking sensitively to children about domestic violence can help with healing. When working with children is important to:

  • Let children know that you are there because you want to help keep them and their mum’s safe. Tell them what your role is, what is going on, what will happen next and listen to their perspectives on what things could help make life better for them
  • Unearth the range of actions taken by the perpetrator to harm the children-this can include exposing them to their abusive behaviour, using them as a weapon against their mothers, undermining the other persons  parenting  efforts,  neglecting  them  or  physically  or emotionally abusing them
  • Explore how men’s use of violence can  disrupt the family and a child’s world (change in schools, loss of housing, loss of contact with extended family or friends)
  • Look at the ways children actively respond to the violence to protect themselves,  their  siblings  or  their  mother.  Searching  for  and acknowledging the ways they resist and respond to violence can inform and guide safety planning and case work
  • Children  say  mothers  are  their  most  important  support.  Work  to support the mother-child relationship bearing in mind a perpetrator will  have  deliberately  undermined  this  relationship.  Make  sure children know that their mother is not responsible for the violence
  • Children attempt to actively make sense of their experience of the violence.  They may feel frightened and scared of their violent father yet still hold hope for a relationship with him. Listen to and take seriously what children say about their experience of their dad and take on board their hope for a loving father or their fear of their violent father –their safety and well being underpins our response
  • Talk and listen to children about contact with their fathers. If children or mothers indicate they do not feel safe because of contact- it should not be awarded or should be reviewed urgently if previously granted.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: SURVIVOR STRENGTHS-BASED

Adult survivors of domestic violence and child protection practitioners share common ground, a desire for the violence to stop and a desire to keep children safe and well. It is important to:

* Let women know that we are there because of their partner’s violence against them and their children. Explain that our aim is to help them and their children feel safe, have a better quality of life and enable them to make choices about their future

* Have  an  open,  non-blaming  and  respectful  attitude.  Be  willing  to listen to her lived experience and explore the history and pattern of abuse. Acknowledge and respond to any safety concerns- a woman needs to know that she is believed

* Ask  about  and  acknowledge how much she has  done to protect herself and her children. Seek out and honour how much energy and effort she puts into parenting in the face of violence. Talk to her and appreciate that she is making good choices in the midst of a complex situation

* Women can feel ashamed of being both a victim of abuse and having allowed the abuse to happen. Explain to mothers that we hold the perpetrator fully responsible for the violence not her or her behaviours

* Let  women  know  that  we  see  a  perpetrator’s  violence as  a  bad parenting choice and that you plan to engage with him around his parenting  choices  and  his  parenting  responsibilities.  This  helps women make sense of our interaction with the perpetrator and indicates that we understand him as more than just a violent man

* Understand women’s feelings for her partner. She may have genuine love for him and appreciate his role as a father-especially if the violence is sporadic and followed by remorse. Being aware of the role love plays in women’s decisions and choice is critical to safety planning and case work

* Some women may wish to maintain or return to their relationship with the perpetrator. There may be many reasons why a woman choses to stay in a relationship including maintaining a family, the potential loss of material assets (income, housing, access to a car), feelings of shame or being socially isolated. Get an understanding about a woman’s choices and her decisions - ask her what supports make sense  for  her.  This  helps  ensure  our  response  is  driven  by and aligned with her lived experience.


IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: PERPETRATOR PATTERNED

The Safe and Together approach explores a perpetrators deliberate use of violence and coercive control across time and relationships and exposes the multiple ways in which he causes harm to his partner and children. This approach means that perpetrators are held accountable for their use of violence and programs are developed with them to reduce the risk of and harm to children. When engaging with men consider;

  • Men make decisions to use violence. Let them know that they are fully responsible for their choice to use violence against their partner and the impact their violence has on their child’s life. Use language (i.e. his violence, your choice to use violence) that reinforces his accountability
  • Engaging with a perpetrator to explore his beliefs and attitudes about his use of violence and his understanding of how his partner and children experience and respond to his violence. Obtaining his narrative, rationalisation and insight into his belief system provides a more accurate idea of the perpetrators readiness to change which informs risk and safety assessments, case planning and any court proceedings
  • Exploring the multiple ways or avenues men cause harm to their partner and their children. Think beyond the physical harm or trauma created. Be curious about and make clear how men’s use of violence disrupts family functioning and a mothers parenting capacity. Join the dots –attribute and name issues such as homelessness, poverty, education neglect or disruption to men’s choice to use violence
  • Whether they are physically present or not, men matter to families. Just because a perpetrator is not physically present does not mean has no influence. It is important to explore the level and type of influence, good or  bad, he  has  on  family  members  and  family functioning.  A multi- dimensional view of the perpetrator will enable us to appreciate how children’s and partners experience the perpetrator. It will also help us broaden and inform our work with him
  • A man’s choice to use violence against his children – it is a parenting choice. However when it comes to parenting we have higher expectations of mothers than we do men. We expect mothers to be responsible for, and share information about, her capacity to meet the basic needs of children, her relationship choices, her childcare choices, her employment choices and her social networks. In contrast we ask and expect little of men as parents which effectively relieve’s them of their parenting responsibility
  • To redress these double standards, ask men about their parenting skill,  how  they  meet  children’s  basic  needs,  their  employment choices, their child care choices and their role in supporting mothers. Respectfully engaging men around their parenting role, their expectations for their children and the father they would like to be expands our understanding of him and provides new opportunities for interventions
  • Men may minimise or excuse the violence. It is rare that a man denies the violence took place. Recognising the deliberate nature of the violence and asking men about times when they were able to control themselves and not use violence is respectful of perpetrators. It  provides  an  opportunity  to  engage  with  them  around  their capacities, deliberations and ability to control their actions.
  • As a child protection worker, you are responsible for helping to put into practice as many ways  as  possible to hold perpetrators to account for their violence. Some of the ways you can do this include:
  • Provide consistent messages in your conversations and documents that perpetrators are responsible for the violence
  • Support women to take out ADVOs if they choose to do so
  • Seek or share information to assess and monitor risk
  • Make timely and  appropriate referrals  and follow up on the uptake and outcome of the supports
  • Explore and document women’s experience of violence and the multiple harms caused by the perpetrators violence. Accurate documentation of violence is essential to demonstrating women and children’s victimisation required by multiple legal systems. Avoid the use of language that mutualises violence or suggests consent. Make it clear what the perpetrator did to abuse and control their partner.

BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER

 The critical components of the safe and together model set out the scope of information and understanding we need to work with and keep children and mothers safe and free from violence.

Adverse impact of perpetrators behavior on the child and children’s efforts to keep safe

To hear more about the Safe and Together model watch David Mandel’s presentation here.

Mandel, D and Associates LLC. (2103) Safe and Together Framework. https://endingviolence.com/our-programs/safe- together/safe-together-overview/