• Podsoc #70

Domestic violence in child welfare:

In conversation with David Mandel

[Transcript available in tab below]

The “Safe and Together’ model is about domestic violence in child welfare contexts. David Mandel talks about this model and his work with professionals in the field.

David Mandel (MA, LPC) has been working in the domestic violence field for 25 years. His international training and consulting focuses on improving systems' responses to domestic violence when children are involved, and responsible fatherhood. He developed the Safe and Together model to improve case practice and cross system collaboration in domestic violence cases involving children, and the Continuum of Practice Framework for promoting the development of domestic violence informed child welfare systems. Currently he is piloting a model for engaging mothers and fathers about fathers’ roles in families.

David and his staff have consulted to United States’ child welfare systems including New York, Louisiana, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Vermont, Oregon and Ohio. This includes overseeing a statewide network of domestic violence consultants for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families; training domestic violence subject matter experts for Florida's Department of Children and Families; improving collaboration between child welfare and domestic violence advocates in Colorado; and the development of certified Safe and Together trainer network to support the roll out of differential response in all 88 Ohio county child welfare agencies. David Mandel and Associates collaborates with domestic violence agencies such as the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. In 2012, David Mandel & Associates also provided training in the United Kingdom, Australia, the Republic of Ireland and Singapore. David has written journal articles on batterer’s perceptions of their children’s exposure to domestic violence and the intersection of domestic violence and child welfare practice. His chapter on “Batterers and the lives of their children” was published in the Praeger Series Violence against women in families and relationships.

For links to David’s website, resources and contact details – head down to the bottom of the page to the References tab.

Recommended citation – APA6th

Fronek, P. (Host). (2014, July 9). Domestic violence in child welfare: In conversation with David mandel [Episode 70]. Podsocs. Podcast retrieved Month Day, Year, from http://www.podsocs.com/podcast/domestic-violence-in-child-welfare/.

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  2. References
  3. Transcript


Website http://endingviolence.com/

Safe and Together videos



Safe and Together model blog http://safe-and-together.endingviolence.com/blog/

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/DavidMandelAndAssociates

Twitter @SafeandTogether

Contact Information

David Mandel & Associates LLC
Box 745 Canton CT 06019
Phone: 860-490-8638
Email: [email protected]
Web: http://endingviolence.com/

Transcription Podsocs 70: Domestic Violence in Child Welfare: In conversation with with David Mandel

Thank you to Andrea Phillips for this transcription

[musical intro to 00.10]

Hello, and welcome to Podsocs, the podcast for social workers on the run. Brought to you by a bunch of social workers from Griffith University in Australia. I’m Tricia Fronek, one of that bunch, and we’re just basically really glad you found us. So, happy listening.

Today on Podsocs we have David Mandel, who is speaking to us from Canton in Connecticut.

Trish: Welcome to Podsocs David.

David: Thank you Trish.

Trish: Now David, today we are going to be talking about domestic violence in a child welfare context. Maybe we could start if you tell us a bit about yourself and your work because you have been doing this a long time haven’t you?

David: Yes, I have. Um, I came into the field of violence against women back in 1988, ah, actually ‘86 and um, I’ve really been involved in it this entire time. My professional career started with doing work with domestic violence perpetrators. Men who’d been arrested for being abusive with their partners and um, you know, back then, what I could say about the work that I was doing was it was very grounded in the safety and well-being of women. And we would talk about how the ultimate goal of that work, the measure of that work, had to be improved safety and self-determination and satisfaction, quality of life for, ah, the partners of the men we were working with. So, we were very grounded in the reality and experience of women and ah, I think that still a defining characteristic of the work that should be done with men’s behaviour change programs and also that I do. In the model we do the intersection of domestic violence and child maltreatment.

The thing we did poorly at that point was really address domestic violence perpetrators as parents. And I think that had a lot to do with gender and that really, we weren’t as evolved as we needed to be around thinking about men as parents and really how one of the most detrimental ways they could harm their partners, control their family and hurt their children, was through their abuse.

And um, so basically if I look back through my career, it’s been a movement from that original starting point to a place where I did a lot of work with men, mostly who’d been arrested, ran groups, ran programs, men’s behaviour change programs and about 18 years ago, became involved in child welfare work around domestic violence when I was asked to come in and do some training for social workers. And it was out of that work that the Safe and Together Model was developed and the work we’d been doing across the US in multiple jurisdictions at the State level. And now internationally, um we’ve really been asked to come to Australia, to Scotland, to Singapore, to Ireland in the last few years. Um, in the last 6 months I’ve spent about 15 days working in Australia in different contexts and what’s nice is that there’s a real need for this to be addressed and the work seems to be hitting the right notes in all these different places as well.

Trish: So, David what does the Model look like?

David: We, we describe the Safe and Together Model, the name of it is Safe and Together and the name of it derives from the idea that from the point of view of children. From the point of view of their safety, healing from trauma, stability and nurturance- that systems really need to be proactive in seeking to keep them safe and together with a non-offending parent, with domestic violence survivor. And that’s usually the mom and you know I can talk a few minutes about how we sort of think of gender and domestic violence and same sex relationships and, but the model’s name derives really from that idea that, if you’re looking at the well-being of kids and a lot of times folks will struggle with this, but when you’re looking at kid’s needs, um that we really want to be saying well that our goal really should be to keep them with that non-offending parent, keep them in a safe environment. Really understand that the non-offending parent is often critical to the healing of the trauma that they’ve experienced and also that, that person’s often the biggest provider of stability and nurturance, which all kids need but kids who have been abused and traumatised need even more we could say.

So, the model focuses on that approach. And we now refer to it as with this really long kind of sub-title so to speak, which is: it’s a perpetrator pattern child-centred survivor strength-based approach to the intersection of domestic violence and kids. And all those words are necessary, um to kind of really explain the approach and really what kids need and what families need and survivors and even perpetrators need from us when we become involved, ah with them, and really seek to help the situation and make it better.
And so, what we do based on this model is, um training of professionals, social workers, child welfare workers, folks who maybe do home visiting or nurse home visiting and we train them to use this model to better partner with domestic violence survivors. So, really work with her around her needs, supporting her and her choices, making sure that the kid situation around safety and well-being is improved.

And really develop a range of interventions with perpetrators that can really improve the situation, because one of the dilemmas that’s shaped the field up until this point is that fathers who have been abusive have often been approached from a very narrow, one-dimensional view which is: kick them out of the house, arrest them, send them away or separate them from the family, separate the family from them. And while those options need to be on the table still very much so, that the orders of protection or arrests are, need to be part of the societal or cultural toolbox around this issue, that equating leaving or arrest or getting an order of protection as the answer to child safety and the well-being of the family, really pushes, pushes us out of alignment with actually those children and that adult survivor.

Trish: ‘Cause it’s only the start really isn’t it and a lot of child welfare systems have moved much more to that policing side?

David: Yes, I think child welfare struggled with their role with families and have, have um swung, you know when you’ve been around the field for 20 plus years in terms of child protection, I’ve seen the swings from what’s referred to as the states as family preservation. Which is a focus on keeping the kids in the home and um really working to support the family, to strengthen the family. To swings where child safety seems to be primary and that meant an emphasis on removing the kids, sheltering the kids when there were concern about safety and I think in the best of worlds that two things are combined. You don’t separate safety from well-being and support of the family and I think what’s been missed in the child welfare field around this is the approach has been of assessing child safety with domestic violence has really been hindered by a few things. One is, people have looked at it as a relationship-based issue versus a perpetrator pattern-based issue. And what I mean by that is literally you’d have social workers say, well if the father who is abusive is no longer in the home, physically living there or the relationship ends then therefore domestic violence is no longer a risk to children.

And um, there’s tremendous flaws in that thinking because it misses the fact that post-separation violence, post-separation use of the kids as a weapon against a partner, is a very common tactic for domestic violence perpetrators. And so, separation actually opens a doorway to a whole arrange of tools in some ways or continued use of the kids as a weapon against the other person.

Trish: It can go on for years can’t it?

David: It can. In the courts, out of the courts, um kids can be used as spies, kids can be used as financial levers. You have many domestic violence survivors who’ll say “well he’s letting me leave but I can’t pursue child support because that I know that’s the thing that will enrage him and continue to make me vulnerable. So, I don’t ask for child support. I don’t ask for financial”.

And so, it can go on for years and it can be seriously impactful to kids and we also know that with separation violence that there’s increased risk, that in some of these cases, that not only will the physical assaults continue or escalate towards the adult survivors but the kids may be seriously injured or harmed or murdered as a way to um, to control her, to punish her or to just exercise that ultimate control he has over her and the children.

And so, we’ve seen child welfare in different jurisdictions back out of cases because they feel like the child safety issue is resolved because the perpetrator is no longer in the home. And then, actually, this be followed by severe consequences for the family meaning that serious injury, harm, death. And so, there’s this real fallacy that’s been into the assessment of the danger domestic violence perpetrators pose to children.

Trish: So how do you work with the fathers?

David: Well what we do is really um encourage the professionals. Now he is coming into contact with social workers, with court personnel, with attorneys, with mental health therapists, with substance abuse folks. And so, our training directs, um, is directed to those folks and what we’re saying to them is, start from the premise that he’s 100% responsible for his behaviour, that not being caused by her drug use, or cheating or the way she cooked dinner tonight or anything else and that really, that regardless of her issues that he’s 100% responsible. And that based on that understanding that, he’s responsible not just as person, but as a parent and that his abuse of her even when the kids aren’t present should be considered a parenting choice.

And this is where really gender jumps into the conversation front and centre because what we’re really saying is “let’s have a higher standard for father’s than we’ve had’. Because really our social service systems, our cultures, have often had a really different standard of parenting expectations for mother’s and father’s and so part of why we’ve been able to say “oh the abuse is over if he’s out of the house” is because we really don’t have a well-developed understanding how fathers continue to influence families, how they make a difference whether they’re in the home or not, good or bad.

And so, we encourage professionals to say, start from the premise that he matters, start from the premise that he’s influential, good or bad and then talk to him from that foundation. Which is taking his role as a father and his choices seriously which means to ask him questions like “when you hit her, when you called her names, how do you think that was for your children?” I think that’s a really basic one, I think we beyond even to start asking questions of him saying, “what kind of relationship do you want your kids to have with their mother?” “How you think it affected your kids when you got arrested and lost your job because of your violence? How do you think it affected your kids when you stopped her from working and the family lost income? How do you think it affected your kids when they were forced to flee and go into shelter?”

Trish: And do men find that easy to articulate? I image that might be difficult sometimes.

David: I think, you know one thing we have to understand is that when we refer, I use the term domestic violence perpetrators and it’s unfair in some sense cause it makes them one dimensional and it sort of makes them all the same and I think really, we’re dealing with men who have chosen to be abusive, it’s understood to be a choice. And when I say, you know Trish, when I say abuse, I’m not just talking about physical violence, I’m talking about threats, I’m talking about emotional abuse, I’m talking about control of finances or transportation resources or the phone. I mean we see a big rise in technology being used as source of monitoring and surveilling somebody, you know and um, using kids as spies and using financial threats against the children as a way to control her. And so, we’re really talking about the range of things here when we’re discussing this.

Trish:What do you mean by, by choice? Um, I can imagine, that may be at the start of a process, men might not understand that choice or understand what an alternative
option is. So, so do you lead them along to a position where they can see there’s another way?

David: Again, you know I think it’s, it’s, it’s important you know, my work with professionals and the training we’re doing to transform systems-- we’re really trying to transform systems where they’re less punishing of mothers who are victims of domestic violence, more partnering with them and more appropriately kind of engage men around their own behaviour and their own choices. And part of this is really derived from the work I did. I sat in groups and ran groups for men who’d been abusive with partners for years, hundreds of men and rarely was there a man who couldn’t describe to me his thought process and decision-making around his violence. And you would ask them and say “well why did you, why didn’t you leave? What stopped you from when she was doing something you didn’t like? Why didn’t you make the choice to leave?” And he would say “well I did leave but I came back because I felt humiliated. I mean his language was often “I felt like a punk”. I felt she was making fun of me or she was getting the better of me and so I went back and that’s when I assaulted her”.

And so, you really can see that when you talk to men about their behaviour they can describe a thought process, a decision-making process and that’s, that’s the vast majority of them. I don’t want to say every one of them. And then that conversation you begin to open up the door way to alternatives and to contradictions that they may have. And one of the main points that systems really need to lean into, professionals really need to lean into, is that contradictions that these men have between their behaviour to their partner and how they understand the kind of father they want to be. And you really, in working with them, you want to start really highlighting or having them highlight them for themselves, the contradictions between the statements “I love my kids. I want the best for my kids. I’ll do anything for my kids”. Those are really common statements that you’ll hear, from almost any parent. And you want to say to them “well talk to me about how you understand, how calling their mother names fits with wanting the best for your kids”?

And it’s a process that is not quick. That many men won’t engage in and I think we have a responsibility to understand that. But it’s really shifting the system, so they um, see the value of engaging fathers who’ve been abusive, around these questions and really seeing them as the source of the risk to the kids.

Part of it, Trish, the challenge in systems has been that they haven’t done this for a lot of reasons. They’re been scared of working with violent men. They, if you think about the average social worker, how much training do they get around male socialisation in general? And how much experience do they get in field placement or internships or other professional training grounds working with men, period? And then to suggest that we want them to go out and engage violent men, what you often, what you get is huge reticence “we can’t find them, we don’t know where they are”. Quick to sort of write him off and that has multiple repercussions that I can talk about really, you know what it means not only for him but actually mean for his partner and their children.

When we don’t, when we don’t have robust framework and think about fathers and their influence in families and we don’t set high standard for fathers, then we don’t map or understand or assess the influence, good or bad, he’s having on the family. And so, people often silo their work with families and in fact when you think about people who say they work with families and kids, they’re often really talking about they’re working with women and children. I’m talking really generically across the human services field. And if you ask people to say well “where’s the father on the kids’ medication needs” or “where’s the father on the kids’ therapy recommendation?” You know, where does he stand? And people will often not be able to tell you, even when the father is living in the home, is the father negative, neutral or positive about the kid being in therapy.

And so, if you start that as a sort of base line kind of understanding of where our social work practice is, which is that we have a poorly conceptualised understanding of how father’s influence families. Then you begin to see how we’ve approached this, which is we really look to mothers to control the violence and blame them when the violence continues because we look at mothers as being responsible for almost everything that happens with kids. And in the US context, and I think it’s true in Australia and New Zealand to the degree that I know it, um that this issue has been approached from a “failure to protect” perspective, which is “the mothers inability or unwillingness to protect the kids” and put all of that in quotes, is the reason why the kids are being harmed ultimately not the perpetrators choices.

And to switch all this around in people’s thinking and really even help the system move to greater engagement with the perpetrator and do the work I was describing earlier, you have to get people to start saying “wow, he’s the root cause when domestic violence is the concern. He’s harming the kids through his choices”. We need to hold him to high standards of a father which means, he’s equally responsible for the well-being of the kids, you know the sort of setting up an environment where they’re safe and they’re stable. Even if he’s not in the home, he still has that responsibility.

And that her decision to stay in the relationship or not, is not the one that controls whether the kids are safe or not. It’s really his parenting choices. If he’s choosing to be violent to her, he’s choosing to cut off her work, he’s choosing to interfere with her access to medical care. That, those are his parenting choices and we need to hold him, to really what’s just reasonable, statutory responsibility, which is in most jurisdictions, he’s responsible for the safety and well-being of his kids. And providing them a safe environment.

Trish: So, in one sense we’ve been focusing on the wrong party…in one way?

David: Yes, very much. Well I think in the largest way, I think that interventions have been focused on….in this child serving system to honest, to be so focused primarily on mothers and in an additional way fathers from this double standard. This gendered look at the issue of parenting, with low standards for father and high standards for mothers, is that men have gotten the benefit of just showing up. If he’s on time for visits, if he doesn’t…if he looks like he knows how to cradle a young baby’s neck or change one nappy. ‘He’s…He really….

Trish: He’s a hero.


David: He’s a hero. Exactly. He’s a hero. And so, you know this is, it’s confusing for people because he gets ignored or he gets a lot of credit. And you know, sort of…you….I think the system vacillates between those two. And um….and we have this also function of what men who are very good fathers, who are very engaged, their influence often gets treated with um…..I’m trying to think of the right word….but almost sort of patronising kind of view, “oh isn’t that sweet he’s watching his kids, he’s baby-sitting his kids.”

Trish: Hmm.

David: Ah, or we know people who’ll bring the kids, the father will be the regular one bringing the kids to doctor and the medical office staff will be like, “well where’s your wife? Oh, isn’t that sweet you’re bringing the kids in.” And so, this mixture of sort of “he’s a hero, isn’t it cute”. And we really, all these are the symptom of the same thing. Which is we have a poorly described narrative around men’s importance as parents and um…..Cathy Humphreys and I….I don’t know if you know Cathy Humphreys. She was in England and now she’s in Melbourne and she’s done great work in this issue. We were discussing how we have this really well-developed narrative around the evil stepmother or women failing as parents. But the truth is we don’t have a well-developed narrative around fathers and their betrayal of their role as a father through their absence or through their violence or their abuse. We kind of chalk it up still to largely “well he’s just not that important any way, boys will be boys, really what else could we expect”. And um…

Trish: So, it really lets people off the hook doesn’t it? That, you know, that responsibility.

David: That’s right. It lets men off the hook for their responsibility. It puts women on the hook for what men do and it’s not fair. It means we don’t see what men are really doing that matters. It also doesn’t let us engage them in a serious conversation around their choices, around being a parent. And in that way, for me one of the strongest reasons this is important to me is, I think in that way when we’re not doing that, I think we’re failing women and kids. We’re failing because they’re not saying to us generally, “oh throw him jail, lock him up and throw away the key”. That’s not generally what kids are going to to say and what even adult survivors are going to to say. They’re going to want to say I want to be safe, I want this to stop, I want him to be the person that I met, I want him to be a better dad. I can’t tell you how many women I talked to when I was doing direct service work that said “I don’t want him to go to jail but I want the violence to stop and I want him to be a better dad. I don’t want to be in a relationship with him anymore, he’s hurt me too badly, I don’t trust him, but he is the kid’s father and I want him to become a better father because the kids need him to be a better father.

And I think that’s a very common voice, an expression that we hear from women and from kids. And I think we are…by not engaging robustly with this question about, in a grounded way, with not a father’s rights perspective but really this idea that a good father is someone who treats the kids’ mother with respect.

Trish:And it’s interesting isn’t it? Because if we minimise the father’s role by inattention or not recognising it or not giving it the value that it should have, then no-one can really sort of articulate it. So how is a kid going to talk about or understand the role or the impact the father’s had on their lives? It’s interesting.
David: You know we….I think we have a responsibility to families, I think to kids, to, in this case domestic violence survivors, to women who have been abused, to see their partners three-dimensionally and that doesn’t mean we accept the abuse. I mean think that’s really important. All this is grounded, everything I’m saying is grounded back to where I started, which is the premise of safety, self-determination and satisfaction for adult and child survivors. I mean it’s….and that’s why I think sometimes people get scared of the idea of doing this Model approach, because they confuse it with a step away from…ah the safety and well-being and the perspective of the adult survivor and kids.

And I can’t say this too strongly, which is I feel that it’s actually moving us in greater alignment with them because they need our ability to see their partners three-dimensionally without making him just a violent guy and also not just seeing all the good things but really being able to have an integrated view of him. And I think that’s important for communities where there’s been violence, cultural violence, oppression, poverty issues. Um, you know, I know this resonates well here in the U.S. and I know…

Trish: Yes. And here (Australia).

David: And yeah, I know at least in Australia. I haven’t been to New Zealand yet. But in Australia the Aboriginal context, the folks who heard me speak from that community said that this really makes sense to us. There’s really sort of a strong need to help our men, to work with our men. You know we….for communities where there have been forces that have blown families apart, that the summary answer which is separate, really doesn’t resonate in the same way in those communities or doesn’t resonate very well. In fact, really reinforces, um, certain negative, ah, issues that have happening because of oppression and racism and cultural destruction.

And so, um, we need to be able to listen to kids when they say, “I miss my father who was abusive”. Like to be a good ally, I mean just to bring it down to that very practical level is to ask yourself, if you were fostering a kid or you were sitting with a kid, whose father been abusive, and maybe the kids may be in a domestic violence refuge now. And this kid says, “I miss my dad”. You know, if you think about the of range of responses we could give as professionals to that child or as supports. I mean, one of the worse ones we could give might be “well you’re safe now. Don’t worry about him. Don’t think about him”. Because I don’t think that really mirrors the kid’s ambivalence and their connection to that person and doesn’t help them them make sense of their feelings to just say “well don’t worry you’re safe right now”. Cause they could maybe be missing their father, worried for him, they’re also worried for their mother, their own safety, maybe the safety of their sibling, they’re confused, they’re sad.

You know, to approach them with a one-dimensional view of their father doesn’t actually bring you in alignment with them as a child. They need us to hold on to that they deserve safety and they deserve a safe father and this person is important to them and they may miss them. We need to be able to integrate all that if we’re going to be a good support for that child.

Trish: David, how about same sex relationships and um or if the violence comes in other direction, is there a similar approach?

David: You know it’s really wonderful that you asked that. You know what I say about the Model is its fact based. And so, in its purest form one aspect of it, what we’re asking people to, is describe a perpetrator’s pattern of coercive control and actions taken to harm the kids and the connection, the nexus between that and harm to the children.

And so, what’s really important in that is the idea of patterns. Ideas of patterns that might extend beyond this relationship to other relationships. Patterns that really look heavily at how the kids are being impacted and be able to describe the impact of that behaviour. So, it’s very behavioural. And, and so in that format its applicable to assessment across a range of relationships including same sex relationships. And it really helps identify when women’s use of violence and abuse and control is a problem as well in heterosexual relationships.

And its a very fact based, behaviour-based model. And so, really the question social workers ask is “tell me what you know about this person’s pattern of coercive control across their relationships, in this current relationship”. Um really keep a wide lens, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional control, financial control, all those different things. Include using kids as weapons, undermining the other persons parenting, choosing to expose the kids the violence. Really heavily integrate a kid-centred perspective and describe to me how that harmed the kids.

And so, when you use that simple kind of rubric, that kind of lens and let’s say both the mother and father have been arrested. You quickly realise that even both were arrested for incidents of violence, that often times the patterns are nowhere near equal. And I have to tell you after reviewing thousands of cases from that fact-based lens, that in heterosexual relationships, so pretty much turns out most of the time, with what we think it’s going to look like. Which is, the male partner has a much broader, deeper, intense pattern of coercive control and actions taken to harm the kids. And a victim, his female partner may have incidence of fighting back or defensive violence, but they’re in no way creating the same level of harm to the kids, danger to the kids. It just rarely comparable. Um, and the model does pick up those rare incidences where she, um, the female partner in a heterosexual relationship, is creating significant harm or risk concerns for the kids. So, it does pick that up and make room for it.

Trish: David, can I ask you about time? What I mean by that is, I assume that when you’re working with families in this way or men in this way, that there will be up and downs and there will be slip backs and it will take time.

And I suppose what I’m asking is that there’s a trend here in Australia at the moment and certainly a lot of politicians pushing for, say if a child is in foster care, 6-month limit otherwise you know the child should be adopted. I find that rather disturbing because 6 months isn’t a long time for people to sort probably very ingrained problems out.

David: We have the same issue in the US, where a number of years ago, where our federal governing legislation around child welfare really set some timelines. Where ah, if kids were in care, consecutively and for a certain amount of time, that you had to move, months. You had move towards permanency, adoption, permanent foster care.

And I think in the US context that was recognition that we had children languishing in unstable situations, foster care, moving from home to home, for years and so we’ve done a similar thing, I think. Um, may be a little bit longer than 6 months I think but definitely in that direction. And I think the concern is warranted. It takes a while for these issues to be sorted out.

What I can is say is that from the data that we have, in Florida in the US from 2 different jurisdictions, we’ve actually seen this approach be coupled with a significant drop in the removal of kids in the first place. In part of what, like a cutting in half is what I mean.

Trish: That’s a fair bit.

David: It’s significant and we’ve seen this twice now in 2 different jurisdictions, a few years apart. And I don’t want to take the full credit for it, but I think we were their main kind of framework for looking and rethinking how they did these cases around domestic violence in those 2 jurisdictions.

And you know I think one of things that gets clearer when you sort of say ok, when kids are the centre of the focus and we’re looking at child safety and well-being and domestic violence as an issue. That one is, we need to really hold fathers to a higher standard and practice, as if his violence to his partner, whether the kids are present or not, as a parenting choice. I really mean that when we embed that in place. What we also do is, and this is related to that gender piece of it as well. If we start giving mothers credit for all the things they do to promote the safety and well-being of kids.

And so, in the US context, um where I am most familiar, and I think this was validated in Australia, which is that the prior yard stick we’d been using is, is she getting a court order, is her calling the police, is she ending the relationship? If she was doing those things, she was deemed protective as a parent. If she wasn’t doing those things, we started moving towards failure to protect.

And what got missed in all that and this is because of this high expectation for women for as parents, really unreasonable in many cases, is what we missed is how much energy she was putting in day to day to promote the well-being of her kids, to navigate their safety, to try to make the situation better, um from getting up even if she’s been assaulted the night before to make sure the kids got off to school, to talking to them, to promoting them getting into therapy or healthy activities, to keep them out of the house or to give them normal socialisation.

And so, what was happening was that women weren’t getting credit because of gender double standards, for all the work they were doing in many cases that really mitigated the effects of the perpetrator’s parenting choices. And those were effectively invisible in the system and when those things were invisible, more kids were being pulled because she was deemed as an obstacle and not a help to the kids. And really, we’re reorienting, we’re really trying to reorient the system in a couple of different ways simultaneously. And so, we want to prevent the removal of a lot of these kids, we want them to remain safe, we want them to do well. We also want people to see, that really in many cases the domestic violence survivors, the mother of these kids, is this tremendous asset to these kids, not a detriment the way it’s been framed. You know the most common framing of this has been she’s making poor choices, she picks men who are violent, um she’s picking him over the kids, she doesn’t understand the impact on the children. And what we find is very few of those things are true in many of these cases.

She’s making good choices, she’s navigating a really difficult situation as best or better than most of us could, she’s very attuned into her kid’s needs, she very concerned for the impact of the violence and when you start seeing her through that much clearer, more accurate lens, then this need for removal, um, starts fading away. And I’m not saying the situation is not complicated, I’m not saying situation doesn’t require attention and support and skill from professionals and then in some cases the danger remains very high despite her efforts. But it’s really a reorienting the system to really deeply appreciating how much usually mothers of these kids are bringing to their safety and well-being on a daily basis, on a day to day basis.

Trish: So it’s really learning to see, the things we are really missing?

David: Absolutely. It’s about the Model yes, when you ask about the Model. We come in and train people to do, use this model to do better assessments. We train to do better interviewing because all this flows through. You want to talk to this mother in the same way I’m talking about training professionals. The mother should know that the system believes he is 100% responsible. We want to talk about a empowerment model or a support model. When professionals come in and say to her “well what are you doing wrong, why are you making poor choices?” It actually can increase her sense of entrapment, guilt and shame.

The intervention from the system is, is often, part of it should be an understanding that we need to go in to her and say “look the state, the county, government, professionals, we want you to not have any doubt that we see his violence to you as a parenting choice that he’s making and a bad parenting choice he’s making. And that we see you as not being responsible for his parenting choices. Those are his and we’re going to work with him around that.”

And what we’ve seen in practice is actually women who are in support groups really get a lot from that approach. Like it really shifts their own guilt and shame.

Trish: So it’s asking the right questions but it’s also how we ask those questions?

David: How we ask those questions and the statements we make to people. I think people have shied away from saying statements like that because of these cultural attitudes of gender and domestic violence. And really seeing it that’s something that’s caused by the couple or is a couple’s dysfunction and really the thing we ask the people when we train is “are you practising from the foundation that he’s 100% responsible for his decisions to get violent and those things are a parenting choice?” And if say to people like make one shift, that would be one thing I could say. Practice as if you believe that he’s 100% responsible for his violence and his abuse and his control. And that those behaviours, whether the kids are in the room or not, are parenting choices.

Trish: David, I’ve kept you talking for quite a while but what are some of the questions that practitioners ask you? Probably the most frequent questions?

David: Practitioners ask us questions about how do you implement this Model sustainably and over time? And I mean we do a lot of work with systems across the US. So, we’re working with state government and domestic violence coalitions, and non-profits and they’re often saying we want to make this change, how do we do it sustainably? Um, and it’s a huge paradigm shift for systems and so we’re often embedding specialists into communities or agencies, we’re training people, upskilling them up so they can have a high understanding, so they can train their peers in this Model.

They often ask, you know how do we keep kids safe, um without revictimizing the victim? I think there is a real desire on the part of Child Welfare practitioners to not revictimize the victims. Which I think is not the understanding of the domestic violence community many times.

But I frequently have the comments come from Child Welfare professionals, “we don’t know, we don’t want to revictimize her but we don’t know how to do it differently. Help us do it differently.”

The other question I think we get very commonly is, “well how do I engage him, how do I work with him safely? How do I do it in a way that doesn’t increase danger to the women and children?” I think people have a legitimate fear but a fear that can’t dictate our ultimate choice around this. Which is, well if I engage him, I’m worried I’m going to make things worse for her and the kid. And I think its, I think it should be really approached well, you know I think that’s a really important perspective but I don’t think it can dictate our ultimate decision. And one is that when we don’t actually engage him, it actually often rebounds negatively against her. So a case could come in and we don’t engage him. It comes in because of his violence and then all we do is talk to her, document her parenting, document her behaviour, her decision to go to therapy or counselling.?

Trish: And what does it that change?

David: And what does it change—but then all we are doing is telling a story about her and all these cases have come in systems because of his choice to get violent, his parenting choice to get violent. And then becomes about mom’s depression and mental health issues and drinking. And so the reason why literally we‘ve seen, I’ve seen this over and over again, that his choices actually increase the pressure on her. You know she’s under the microscope now, her behaviour is being analysed.

And so, so ignoring him doesn’t come with no cost to it, so we need to look at that. We need to look at what they’re saying, help us be safer, deal with him, he’s the source. And so, what we’ve taken the approach, that the position should be the default position, no you should engage him. If nothing else but to document his attitude, and um his feelings, about the kids, the family and his own behaviour. I even if we don’t get him to change successfully, I want the documentation in there where he says “I don’t care if the kids go into foster care. You know if she wants to call the police, this is what happens to her.” And, and what a profound parenting statement that is to get on record, for custody, to get on record for you know courts related to kids issues which is a father who first chose to get violent in front of this kids and then may have told the kids that its all their mothers fault and then is willing to allow the weight of the social service system to fall on her and the children until he gets what he wants.

And so, this is why patterns are so important. If we just talked about his violence as part of his parenting but we didn’t talk about the manipulation of the kids, “hey, as soon as mommy lets me come back, I’ll come back home,” which is pure manipulation of those children. And then his willingness to allow social services get involved and focus on her.

If you really think about the standard we want to hold parents to, that each one of those things is really very destructive parenting and that’s not the way we’ve talked and looked at this. We’ve looked at a sort of well “good riddance, get him out of here, he no longer matters, he’s out of the house, mom you should just get on with your life” and that’s not her reality and that’s not the reality of the kids.

Trish: David, we could go on all night. This is going to be a long podcast. Um, final words?

David: I think people should really, really think about the standards they hold for mothers and fathers and really think about what it means to start seeing the influence that fathers have, good, bad or indifferent on families. And to use that as a starting point for doing better assessments around domestic violence and you know really listening for ways that men either support or undermine their partner’s parenting and their partner’s relationship with their kids. And to have a more expansive view on how dads matter to children. I think we can’t shift this very important issue on domestic violence unless we really have a clearer view of high standards for fathers that explicitly tie our definition of being a good dad to how they treat the kids mother.

Trish: And parenting can improve.

David: And the parenting can improve and that we have a responsibility to approach men in a way that’s very grounded in the safety and well-being of women. And I think it’s key to deepening our work around families in general and then particularly in the issue of domestic violence. It gives us the right foundation to address the issue when we identify it. And um, it’s very challenging because I think people fall off into a kind of “rah, rah dads are great” perspective. And you know it’s sort of it’s a very one dimensional and in other direction dads are wonderful, dad’s need to be appreciated, dad’s need to be praised. And at its other end we ignore dads and dads are all bad. And I think we need to move into the 21st century in our view of men and their role in families, good, bad or indifferent and the work on domestic violence is part of that.

Trish: David, thank you so much for being on Podsocs.

David: Trish, thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it very much.

Trish: Thank you.

[Musical outro 45.07 to END]

Interview ENDS: 45.28