Definitions and key markers associated with Domestic Violence-Informed practice

The more perpetrator pattern focused a system becomes, the more likely it is to move toward domestic violence competency and proficiency. What is the definition of a perpetrator pattern-based approach? The definition of a perpetrator pattern-based approach is policy and practice that 1) approaches the issue of domestic violence and children through the lens of the perpetrator’s behavior pattern as the source of child risk and safety concerns, 2) identifies domestic violence perpetration as a parenting choice, 3) understands the foundation of good child centered domestic violence practice requires the ability to describe the specific behaviors the domestic violence perpetrator has engaged in to create harm to child and family functioning and 4) bases it partnerships with adult domestic violence survivors around the idea that domestic violence perpetrators, not the adult survivor, are responsible for the risk and safety concerns the violence and abuse is creating for the children. The main marker of this is that documentation, case decision making and case planning are visibly based on the perpetrator’s behavior pattern.

A perpetrator pattern approach is also child-centered and survivor-strength based. What is the definition of child-centered? Child-centered is defined by 1) how closely tied the discussion about domestic violence is tied to child and family functioning.  A key marker of this is how well we tell the story about how the domestic violence perpetrator’s behavior is harming child and family functioning and also how well we tell the story of how the adult survivor’s protective behavior and choices.  What is the definition of survivor-strength based? A survivor strength-based approach is defined by the assessment and documentation of full range of the adult survivor’s protective capacities. It emphasizes the survivor’s day-to-day efforts, particularly as it relates to child well being The key marker of this is the ability to assess, document and validate adult survivor’s strengths around the safety and well being of the children.

These definitions support the implementation of the Safe and Together model and are integral to helping child welfare systems become domestic violence-informed.


Excerpts from the upcoming book “Creating Domestic Violence-Informed Child Welfare Systems” by David Mandel

David Mandel is currently working on a book “Creating Domestic Violence-Informed Child Welfare Systems”(working title). The book will contain more on the Continuum of Domestic Violence Practice, further defining the range of practice from “domestic violence destructive” to “domestic violence proficient.” It will also describe in detail how a perpetrator pattern-based approach is critical to supporting the safety and well being of children and families impacted by domestic violence perpetrators’ behavior.  The book will also highlight the importance of gender responsive practice, high standards for father as parents and understanding domestic violence perpetration as a parenting choice.

The following are excerpts from the work in progress:

“Without the domestic violence perpetrator’s behaviors, there can be no real narrative of abuse, neglect and impact, only jargon, platitudes and euphemisms that substitute for accurate assessment.”

“(If we want to promote the safety and well-being of children) we need to move away from the “gender double standard-driven, “blame the mother,” failure to protect paradigm which labels the mother as the perpetrator of child abuse or neglect because she continues to be a domestic violence survivor.”

“To some, it may seem paradoxical to expect a focus on the perpetrator’s behavior to create such potential for a positive response to the ‘cardinal’ question (of how child welfare can better help adult and child domestic violence survivors). At its core, every bit of work to shift to a perpetrator pattern–based approach is about helping child welfare systems to become better allies and supports to adult and child survivors, and through becoming better allies achieve its core mission of child safety and well being. Domestic violence-informed child welfare systems, by definition, are systems that put the positive experience of the adult and the child survivor at the center of their focus. Without the focus on their safety and well-being, which should be measurable and apparent to them, these systems are more likely to create harm, be neglectful or practice in ways inconsistent with their mission.”

“Double standards around mothers and fathers, expressed in low expectations for men as parents and high expectations for women, must be deconstructed if we have any hope of better partnerships with adult survivors and meaningful interventions with the perpetrator as parent. “

“The paradigm shift can be broken down into four sub-factors which help determine where the system is on the Continuum of Domestic Violence Practice. The first sub-factor is what is the understanding of the relationship between domestic violence and child safety and well being that is driving the system’s policy and practice. Is it viewed as an adult to adult issue with limited relevance to child safety and well being or is it seen as being potentially impactful to child functioning across a number of domains? Is it seen as a relationship-based issue or a perpetrator pattern-based issue? The second sub-factor is how well does child welfare tackle the role of gender expectations. Is the work guided by unconscious acceptance of highly gendered expectations of mothers and fathers or is it formed around high standards for fathers in policy and practice? Is there a commitment to a comprehensive assessment of the protective capacity of adult survivors, giving the right amount of credit for the “parenting in a foxhole” of mothers in abusive relationships? The third sub-factor is how well child welfare prioritizes and operationalizes partnering with adult domestic violence survivors. Does it see survivors as the cause of the harm to the children or as the most likely and best ally around the safety and well being of children? The fourth sub-factor is related to intersectionality of domestic violence, other child welfare issues and issues of diversity, oppression and vulnerability. Is there an understanding of the connections between domestic violence and other key issues like housing instability, medical neglect, substance abuse and mental health issues?  Is a perpetrator pattern based-approach and an assessment lens of coercive control being used to ensure that perpetrators with privilege are being held responsible for their behaviors? Is there an understanding that with a “Failure to Protect” approach poor families and families of color are more likely to experience economic and family stress due to a focus on the goal of “ending the relationship” to resolve the violence issue.”

“At the same time, even well meaning attempts to apply the broader trauma-informed literature to domestic violence child welfare practice can lead to serious areas of neglectful practice including failure to pay attention elements of coercive control patterns of behavior that don’t traditionally fall with the domain of trauma-informed practice such as stalking or isolation of the family; a focus on clinical aspects of trauma without a real engagement of the current safety needs of the family; attempt to treat the trauma symptoms of the adult and child survivors while the behavior of the perpetrator is on-going; failure to engage the trauma history of the perpetrator at all or in a domestic violence-informed manner; and a failure to account for how trauma-related disclosures might be used against a domestic violence survivor by the child welfare system.”

The Safe and Together™ model and Alternative Response: The Intersectionality of Perpetrator’s Patterns and Substance Use

By David Mandel, MA, LPC

Domestic violence and substance abuse co-occur in both the alternative response and traditional response pathways. Despite this day-to-day contact many in the child welfare system have with families experiencing both domestic violence and substance abuse, the understanding of the intersectionality of these issues is still plagued with misconceptions, simplifications and a failure to apply existing knowledge of perpetrators’ behavior patterns to improve assessment, case planning and outcomes for families. This lack of understanding can interfere with identification of either problem, a thorough assessment of child safety and well being, and finally the development of a successful child safety plan to mitigate the safety and risk concerns. The Safe and Together model’s foundation is a focus on assessing perpetrator’s patterns of behavior and their nexus with child safety and well being. When this is combined with setting high standards for fathers and protective efforts of mothers[1], it forms a powerful, holistic assessment lens that can help us better understand the intersection of domestic violence and substance abuse issues. The following are a few practical ideas and questions using a perpetrator pattern-based approach to the intersectionality of substance abuse and domestic violence to guide assessment and improve positive outcomes for children and families.

  1. Even if the domestic violence perpetrator is using substances at the time of an incident, do not assume that the coercive control, actions taken to harm the children or violence only occurs when there is substance use. Assess the pattern for those behaviors even when the person is not using substance, e.g. “How does your partner handle his jealousy when he is not drinking?” “What is your partner’s parenting like when he is sober?” “How do you respond when your partner raises concerns about your use on the family’s finances?”
  2. A pattern based approach to assessing the impact of domestic violence perpetrator’s behavior invites to consider the impact of the times that a perpetrator uses substances and does not get violent or abusive. Once someone has demonstrated their capacity to become violent or abusive when using, family members may experience heighten anxiety or anticipatory fear even when the violence or abuse does not occur. Assessments should seek to whether family members are impacted by the potential for abuse associated with drinking, e.g. “Do you know when your partner begins to drink if it will escalate into abuse?” “How is for the children when you start drinking? What do you think they worry about?”
  3. A perpetrator’s pattern may involve influencing or encouraging use of substances and/or interference with partner’s recovery efforts. This might involve bringing drugs or alcohol into the house to sabotage recovery, or forcing someone to use with them. Some perpetrator’s will make it hard for their partners to attend a treatment program or a twelve step group. Accusations of cheating with program members, and sabotage of transportation to and from a program are just two the tactics that perpetrators may use to prevent their partner from getting clean and sober. All these tactics should be viewed through the lens of “parenting choices” by the perpetrator. If an abusive father sabotages his partner’s recovery that should be considered part of the way we assess him as parent.
  4. Perpetrator’s coercive control, substance abuse and financial control may intersect. Some perpetrator’s will use control to gain access over money and resources, like a car, in order to maintain their addiction. Others may use intimidation, threats and manipulation to avoid the consequences of their uses. It is important to draw the nexus between these behaviors and the impact they have on child and family functioning. Documentation should describe the impact taking the car, or spending money on drugs that by a male caregiver has on family functioning. Without this being specifically documented, it is more likely to assumed that unmet basic needs like housing instability and inadequate food and medical care is the sole responsibility of the mother, effectively reducing or ignoring the abusive father’s responsibility for these things.
  5. Since some perpetrators may be less dangerous when they are using, their partners may encourage their substance use or one type of use over another as part of a way to reduce situational risk. While on the surface this can be very challenging to workers, it is very important to remain pattern-based in our assessment of safety and well-being. Based on this specific perpetrator’s pattern, are the behaviors of the adult survivor reasonable? Are they part of active effort to manage safety for herself and her children? While these efforts may not afford the children adequate safety and well being, it is important to see the adult survivor’s behavior in the context of the perpetrator’s pattern as a starting point for engagement.   This perspective can help develop a meaningful partnership with the adult survivor around the safety and well being of the children and improve our capacity to intervene with the perpetrator around their parenting choices and behavior.

For more a 10 item checklist on the intersection of domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health issues, click here. Click on these links for more information on the Safe and Together model and Ohio Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Collaborative.

(This piece was originally written for Ohio’s Department Jobs and Family Services’ Differential Response Newsletter Winter 2015. To read more about Ohio’s Differential Response efforts. )

[1] The Safe and Together model approach is both fact based and gender responsive. While domestic violence perpetrators can be both male or female and domestic violence can occur in heterosexual and same sex relationship, we believe it is important to acknowledge that the child welfare has often approached mothers and fathers with different parenting expectations. To comprehensively address perpetrator accountability and change in the context of child safety requires a thoughtful examination of the impact of biological or social father’s abusive behavior across a full range of domains of child and family functioning, effectively taking the position that the domestic violence when directed at the adult survivor is a “parenting choice.” In parallel, good practice dictates a comprehensive, gender responsive assessment lens for looking at mothers’ protective efforts related to the domestic violence. This means going beyond calling the police, getting a court order and/or leaving to seeing how day-to-day parenting efforts deserve validation and documentation as strengths related to protecting children from the physical and emotional harm of the abuse. In effect, good practice means ensuring that all the work that adult survivors may be doing to promote safety, stability, nurturance and healing from trauma will not be overlooked because “it’s just what mothers do.”

David Mandel keynote at AZ Strong Families Alliance Home Visitors Conference September 2014



New video clip on the Continuum of Domestic Violence Practice (CODVP)

In this clip from a recent webinar, David Mandel talks about the Continuum of Domestic Violence Practice (CODVP). CODVP is a framework for analyzing child welfare systems practice and policy in cases involving domestic violence and for creating domestic violence informed child welfare systems. The CODVP provides the foundation for policy and practice enhancements toward a strengths-based system, guided quality reviews, skills training and technical assistance packages. The continuum helps child welfare systems transform themselves from “domestic violence destructive, incapacity, blindness or pre-competence” to “domestic violence competence and proficiency.”

Are we measuring safety or hope when we measure protective capacities?

by Kristen Selleck, MSW, National Training Director

I’ve been reading a lot about protective efforts and how we assess domestic violence survivors’ capacity for protecting their children. Different assessment tools look at different things, such as “Does the victim recognize threats?” or “Is the victim willing to make plans to protect the children?” These are important questions when we look at child safety and I believe in the value of child welfare’s assessment tools to help guide us in looking for both risks and protective factors. However, these assessment questions often beg a new question: How do we define these protective capacities?

I’ve read child welfare cases in which victims are actively very protective, including using a neighbor to take the children away from her partner’s violence, giving the child a cell phone to call 911, hiding the children in their rooms, placating the perpetrator, distracting the perpetrator from their complaints about the children and redirecting them onto themselves, sleeping with the children in case the perpetrator comes into the house and many other examples. These are active protective efforts made by victims of crimes to reduce the harm of those crimes on their children. It’s important for our child welfare systems to be able to look for these actions and assess and document them.

But what happens when a survivor does all of those things but isn’t willing to either end the relationship or end communication with the abusive partner? Do those actions then mean less? Does this mean that an active survivor who puts in clear plans to safeguard her children no longer “recognizes threats” because she still cares about or wants to be at some level involved with the perpetrator? My hope is that whomever is reading this can answer “No.” The reality, however, of reading many cases and talking to many child welfare workers is that even a very active and protective adult survivor can be deemed unable to be protective simply because of her relationship status.

When we assess protective capacities, we should be looking at the actions of adult survivors and not at their hopes. Many survivors hope that their perpetrator can change, can be a better partner or a better father. Many survivors want their perpetrator to be in the lives of their children for the sake of the children. This doesn’t mean that survivors are “not getting it” or not being protective, it means their actions are protective at the same time that their hopes are being articulated. Domestic violence perpetrators’ patterns are complex and the ways in which survivors experience those patterns is also complex. We can expect survivors to be conflicted, to maintain hopes and emotional connections to the people they love while at the same time feeling anxious or worried about the abuse.

In our assessment of protective capacities, we also need to be contextualizing them with the perpetrators’ pattern. For example, a survivor who was badly assaulted but protected the children, went to the hospital and gave a clear statement of the abuse to the police that led to her partner’s arrest might be seen as acting in a protective manner. However if that same survivor then asks the prosecutor to drop the charges, some might assess this as her no longer being protective or cooperative. What’s missing in this leap of assessment is the perpetrator: what do we know about what access the perpetrator had to the survivor between her reporting the assault and her asking the prosecutor to drop the charges? What do we know about promises the perpetrator made, threats the perpetrator made or comments about how the children will feel about their mother sending their father to jail? What do we know about the financial control the perpetrator has over the family and how, if prosecuted, the perpetrator will be able to financially support the family? Do we know how the perpetrator will talk to his children about his being prosecuted, whether or not the family will lose their housing or other resources, or if the perpetrator will lose his job? Giving context based clearly in the perpetrator’s pattern helps us understand how an adult survivor might both make a statement to the police and ask the charges to be dropped. The context helps us understand that both of those decisions were actions the survivor was engaging in to keep the family safe.

If we look to adult survivors to end relationships or contact with perpetrators as a measurement of their protectiveness, we’re basing our assessment not on behaviors but on feelings. We’re looking, honestly, for a false sense of safety in our assessments; we know that many survivors of domestic violence do end relationships and do end contact and then are harmed worse in the aftermath by their perpetrator. This means that when we look to survivors to show their commitment to ending a relationship, we as a system are failing to look at the larger risks to children beyond the relationship status. In fact, we as a child welfare system then fall back on making assessments based on hope, the same thing we’ve been critical of survivors for having; our hope may not be that the relationship heals but rather that the relationship ends and the perpetrator’s dangerousness will also disappear because of it. All of us want to do good practice and want to be guided in our assessment to ensure we fully understand survivors’ protective capacity. As a guide, to help us define what we’re looking for, we should solely focus on assessing the protective actions of survivors in order to ensure that neither the survivor and her children nor we in child welfare are mistaking a hope for safety.

Multiple Pathways from Domestic Violence Perpetrator’s Behavior to Harm to Children

In this new video clip, David Mandel talks about the importance of a wider assessment framework for the intersection of domestic violence perpetrator behavior and harm to children, and how this wider perspective brings our work into greater alignment with the experiences of adult and child survivors of domestic violence.


Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research videos

In November 2013 the Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research hosted David Mandel for a series of trainings in Mackay and Brisbane Australia. Along with these trainings, David presented a research seminar and participated in a discussion about the Safe and Together model with Heather Nancarrow, the Director of the Centre and Dr. Ron Frey, a psychologist and lecturer at QUT.  The following playlist is contains both the research seminar and the conversation.

Ohio reports shows evidence of Safe and Together model efficacy in changing child welfare practice

In Ohio, the National Center for Adoption Law and Policy (NCALP), the Healthpath Foundation of Ohio and ODJFS  collaborated to conduct  a third party evaluation of the Safe and Together trainings in Ohio including the certified trainer model being used to extend Safe and Together training to all 88 Ohio counties. The evaluators, Sheri Chaney Jones and Kenneth Steinman, organized the evaluation around “5 data collection activities: (1) an online pre/posttest survey of 837 CPS caseworkers and supervisors; (2) semi-structured interviews with 16 supervisors; (3) semi-structured interviews with 8 community stakeholders; (4) desk reviews of 191 CPS case files; and (5) review of written policies from 15 counties that had completed Safe and Together training.” They  collected data from 12 of the counties trained during 2013, as well as 12 Ohio counties that had participated in Safe and Together training during previous years, and 7 local CPS from AR counties that had not yet participated in the training. To read the full report.

The evaluation showed very positive results demonstrated important, clear and positive movement towards a more domestic violence-informed child welfare system. Consistent with the Safe and Together model, there were changes in child welfare’s practice associated with the entire family (adult survivor, child survivor and perpetrator). The results not only demonstrate significant attitude changes (less victim blaming) towards adult domestic violence survivors, but strong changes in on-the-ground case practice. The desk reviews, interviews and surveys indicated that key child welfare practices such as screening and assessment for coercive control were improved. As a result of the training, child welfare became better at partnering with adult victims in order to assess victims’ protective capacities and efforts to keep children safe. Because the movement toward a domestic violence informed child welfare system requires enhancements in practice related to perpetrators, we were especially pleased with the changes related to case work with perpetrators. Social work staff reported that engagement and interviewing of perpetrators had become more valued. From a practice perspective, perhaps most importantly, the evaluation showed that the participants trained in Safe and Together were able to better assess and document the impact of perpetrators’ patterns of behavior on children.

Ohio Evaluation Summary March 2014


OVW grantees have been approved for the 2nd National Safe and Together Model Symposium

David Mandel & Associates is happy to announce that certain OVW grantees have been approved to attend the 2nd National Safe and Together Model Symposium in Seattle Washington October 22-24, 2014.

“Grantees from OVW’s Consolidated Youth, Rural, Transitional Housing, and Youth Grant Programs have been conditionally approved to attend this conference. Grantees from the aforementioned programs are required to contact their OVW program specialist to get approval specific to their award and to ensure that a Grant Adjustment Notice (GAN) is issued. A GAN must be completed before grantees expend any funds related to attending this conference.

Children and Youth Exposed to Violence grantees may be invited to attend without prior approval from their Grant Manager.

The reference number for this conference is OVW-2014-MU-007.  This number must be used by grantees when requesting approval via a GAN or in their “memo to the file”.  This approval and assigned reference number is for this conference only.”

For more information on the Symposium or to register click here.