Patterns Matter

By Kristen Selleck, National Training Directors

Recently at a training with a group of child welfare workers, administrators, supervisors and domestic violence advocates, the importance of perpetrators’ patterns of behaviors was clearly demonstrated in a practical and useable manner for child welfare work. A child protection investigator talked about a case that clearly would not have been seen as “serious” or particularly harmful to children on the surface of the allegations.  However, the worker did a fantastic assessment of the perpetrator and his behavior patterns and uncovered an incredible danger to children that needed to be addressed.

This particular example, like so many others, starts with limited information. A referral was made to child welfare because of an arrest of the perpetrator after one of the children called and said he was hitting their mother. The perpetrator did not allow the mother or the children to be interviewed separately from him so gathering information was challenging. Despite that, the investigator looked at prior criminal records, spoke to relatives, received medical and educational records and pieced together the story to the best of her ability. Were there still gaps in the information? Of course there were. However, the diligence with which the investigator researched the history and focused on the perpetrator’s pattern allowed for important information to be revealed.

Despite the efforts of the perpetrator to impede the investigation, the worker was still able to identify a serious pattern of behavior that was impacting the children. This included the following: learning about how the perpetrator scapegoated one child, learning about how the perpetrator punished the child who called law enforcement, assessing the perpetrator’s interference with the children’s medical and mental health care, the perpetrator’s use of family and friends to hide his children from the mother and from child welfare and threats the perpetrator had made to harm the children, the mother and past partners.  This investigator approached the case from a broad understanding of the pathways by which domestic violence perpetrators harm children. The investigator looked 1) beyond the incident to see patterns, 2) expanded beyond an adult focused definition of domestic violence to include a broader understanding of how perpetrators might involve the children, and 3) looked beyond physical violence and trauma to neglect issues. These are areas child welfare needs to be exploring as they look beyond incidents of physical violence to better understand how children are harmed. This investigator was able to give a clear and full understanding of the perpetrator’s considerable risk to the children by looking at behaviors and patterns beyond the initial referral.

As the initial referral did not differentiate this dangerous case from so many others, if the investigator had not had the capacity and context of why it’s so important to look for a pattern, the case could have easily missed the dangerousness for the children. These children were being exposed to various forms of abuse and, when the investigator was able to use this knowledge to get a court order to speak alone with the children, they were able to disclose that the perpetrator had physically abused them as well. Patterns help us see larger contexts for harm to children and when child welfare uses patterns to form their assessments, case practice becomes easier, clearer and certainly safer for children.

 

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Right and Wrong

By Kristen Selleck, MSW, National Training Director

How many of us have had a conversation with a school age child about right and wrong? The conversation may have included proclamations such as “that’s not fair,” or “because I said so.” These conversations are often an opportunity for children to learn right from wrong; they may be annoying or frustrating but we know they are important to a child’s development and learning. The concepts of right and wrong are invaluable to child development and because of this, I want to consider the consequences of how we talk about domestic violence.

Consider a story:

A seven-year-old has witnessed his father’s abuse of his mother throughout his life. His father has punched his mother, pushed her and called her every conceivable name. When his mother tried to take him and his brother away, his father found them and took the children back home. His mother soon returned and was hit again for leaving. His mother tried to save money but his father took it and lit it on fire. Last month, this boy called the police because his father held his mother against the wall and punched the wall repeatedly.

Now consider two alternative responses to this story:

  1. The police called child protection. The CPS worker talked to the boy’s mother and learned about his father’s violence and controlling behaviors. The CPS worker then told the mother to keep the father out. When the father returned against the mother’s wishes and CPS’ order, CPS removed the children. CPS told the mother she was choosing her husband over her children and that CPS now had to protect them since she would not.
  2. The police called child protection. The CPS worker talked to the boy’s mother and the children to learn about the boy’s father’s violence and controlling behaviors. The CPS worker thanked the children and their mother for talking and stated that it must have been hard to talk about these issues. The CPS worker met with the father and told him to not go back to the home until the investigation could be completed and that CPS was very concerned that his behaviors have harmed his children. When the father returned home against the mother’s wishes and CPS’ order, the CPS worker met with the mother and the children and said, “that must have been very scary. You didn’t do anything wrong.” The CPS worker then proceeded to work with her supervisor and an attorney to bring the father to court to ensure the safety of the children.

In previous blogs and certainly in the discourse of child welfare, domestic violence advocates, law enforcement and others, there have been significant conversations about ways to approach adult victims of domestic violence. However, an important piece of that conversation that can sometimes be missed is how children hear and what they learn from professionals talking to adult victims.

What message is most important for children to learn about right and wrong when there is domestic violence? Children need to learn that violence is wrong, that controlling someone is wrong and harming children is wrong. When children get mixed messages and are told by authority figures that a victim is to blame for violence or the abusive decisions of others, their learning is skewed.

Children need clear messages of accountability and right and wrong to support their healing, their development, the understanding of their own experiences and to support their decision making and their own behaviors. Professionals working with families have an obligation to model right and wrong in their language with adult and child victims of domestic violence.

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Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research Safe and Together Research Seminar Video

In November 2014, David Mandel gave a talk, in front of a small group of researchers and practitioners in Queensland Australia, discussing the development of the Safe and Together model. This research seminar, organized by the Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research (http://www.noviolence.com.au/) was broadcast across Queensland to other sites and also recorded.

Click here to view the recording:http://youtu.be/4d8F7285_Do

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CAPTA, a perpetrator pattern-based approach and domestic violence informed child welfare systems: Part II: Identifying co-occurrence

By Kristen Selleck, MSW

In the beginning of May 2014, David Mandel & Associates will be presenting as part of a team at the 19th National Conference on Child Abuse & Neglect in New Orleans.  The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) will be hosting the Domestic Violence Institute: Strengthening Policy, Strengthening Families. This institute will guide participants through the challenges and opportunities represented by the domestic violence provisions in the current version of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). In anticipation of this event, in a series of blog posts, we will be discussing the intersection of CAPTA, domestic violence informed child welfare systems and a perpetrator pattern-based approach to the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment.  We hope you find this helpful and that you’ll post your comments as part of an on-going dialog regarding how to best help families.

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The 2010 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) reauthorization, the guiding child abuse and neglect legislation for the United States, offers a clear articulation of the need for strengthening the child welfare response to the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment.

“Through CAPTA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is mandated to address the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment through:

  • dissemination of information on training resources, effective programs and best practices in the collaboration between CPS and domestic violence services,
  •  collecting information on the incidence and characteristics of child maltreatment cases where there is also domestic violence, and
  •  discretionary grants to promote and support linkages among services for abused children and their mothers and the development of effective collaborations. “

*Futures Without Violence Policy Brief, http://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/userfiles/file/PublicPolicy/CAPTA-FVPSA policy brief 1’11.pdf

Additionally, the CAPTA reauthorization supports programming for children in domestic violence shelters and coordination between domestic violence services through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) portion of the legislation.   This means that both child welfare and domestic violence services are beginning encouraged, and funded, to work together more effectively.

If implemented correctly, these efforts can be useful in supporting movement of child welfare systems from domestic violence destructive to domestic violence proficiency. (See blog post on the Continuum of Domestic Violence Practice.)

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Part two: Identifying the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment

To say that domestic violence is prevalent on a child welfare caseload is an understatement. Anyone who has worked in child welfare knows that not only are there cases referred because of domestic violence but also seemingly innumerable cases referred for another type of maltreatment (physical abuse, educational neglect, sexual abuse, medical neglect, or others) in which domestic violence is an issue affecting the family. And then there are the cases where we suspect domestic violence is an issue but have not been able to learn about it. These cases are challenging and CAPTA has prioritized identifying the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment.  Good practices and policies associated with screening for co-occurrence is a central feature of domestic violence-informed child welfare systems.

There are strategies for enhancing the way in which we identify and assess domestic violence in child welfare cases. The first step is to start from a perpetrator pattern-based focus. This is important because it supports child welfare workers in looking at clear facts and behaviors to assess how children are being harmed. Every domestic violence perpetrator is different; their behavioral patterns, their risk to children, their risk to adult survivors, and their risk to the safety of their child welfare worker all are unique from client to client. Looking at an individual’s pattern of behaviors helps child welfare workers make a determination if domestic violence is an issue in the first place, and assess how children are being harmed without relying on assumptions or practices that might lead to poorer outcomes for children and families.

One of these assumptions that steers child welfare away from screening, assessment and decision-making is the assumption that domestic violence as it relates to co-occurrence is a relationship-based issue.  Frequently, child welfare workers, exemplified in the question “Is she going to stay with him or not?”, use relationship status as proxy for whether the children are safe or not.   In reality, we’ve seen children harmed in cases where parents remain in a relationship; we’ve seen children harmed in cases where parents have been separated for years.  In some cases, the end of a relationship improves safety for the adult survivor and the children and in other instances it escalates the danger of physical and emotional harm, and other forms of control.   Moreover, separation and the end of relationship may, for the first time, offer the domestic violence perpetrator significant periods of unsupervised time to physically and emotionally harm the children. Relationship status, by itself, is not a good indicator of risk to children and should not be used to short circuit a comprehensive assessment of child risk and safety.

Child welfare must also abandon the practice of thinking of domestic violence as an adult or couple’s issue; it’s not, it’s a perpetrator pattern of behavior issue. The perpetrator’s pattern often includes direct and indirect harm to the children. Good practice identifying the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment includes routine practice at assessing how perpetrators of domestic violence harm their children physically, sexually, emotionally, psychologically, educationally, socially and in other ways.

Recently we did a Safe and Together model training in Florida where we practiced one of our new Practice Tools, Mapping Perpetrators’ Patterns. The mapping process is designed to support child welfare workers in starting from a description of the perpetrators’ patterns of behaviors and mapping that information onto various areas of case practice. We worked with frontline and supervisory staff and it was incredible to watch how this shift supported them in identifying what CAPTA is asking child welfare to identify. By focusing on perpetrators’ patterns of behaviors, the participants were able to better focus on specific examples of child maltreatment to identify potential risk and safety implications for children.

For example, if a case comes in for educational neglect because the parents have been unable to get their 9 year old to attend more than 35% of school days this year, the solution may seem obvious and clear: get the parents or another protective party to ensure the child will get to school. If however, that educational neglect case is also a domestic violence case, the identification of this co-occurring issue is incredibly important to ensuring a plan to get the children to school will work. Child welfare will need to know why the child isn’t going to school: is he afraid of leaving the survivor’s side? Is he not sleeping well because of the perpetrator using violence or yelling at night? Is he having nightmares? Does the perpetrator control the non-offending parent’s access to a car or leaving the home to get to a bus stop? Has the child had to switch schools repeatedly due to the perpetrator’s economic control or the family moving to escape the perpetrator’s stalking? The answers to these questions are imperative because without knowing how the perpetrator’s pattern is harming the child or impacting the child’s ability to get to school, the earlier mentioned intervention will likely not suffice. Identifying domestic violence perpetrators’ behaviors supports interventions and treatments that are more meaningful to the experience of children exposed to domestic violence.

Identification of co-occurring issues can help us better assess and practice with a clearer sense of risk to families. It can also help shape our understanding of non-offending parents’ needs and protective capacities. Using the “survivor strength” aspect of the Safe and Together model, we focus a lot on the “full spectrum of a non-offending parent’s efforts to promote the safety and well-being of the children.” Having a clear view of what domestic violence survivors do on a day to day basis provides with another factor to consider when screening for domestic violence and understanding a parent’s (an adult domestic violence survivor, in the context of a domestic violence case) strengths helps us identify safe interventions for children. If we think about the educational neglect example above, you can see how it would be important to identify the survivors’ strengths in order to build a meaningful plan. Those strengths and efforts, however, must be contextualized by the perpetrator’s behaviors.

The identification of co-occurring child maltreatment and domestic violence is essential characteristic of domestic violence-informed child welfare system. It is important to child welfare’s interventions and assessments, to collaborative relationships with families and community partners, and to our efforts to keep children safe and together with non-offending parents. I think that CAPTA has placed such importance on identifying co-occurring issues because we too commonly see the tragic outcomes of cases where there has been child maltreatment and another issue, such as domestic violence, occurring at the same time. We all want to avoid tragic outcomes and we certainly all want to do meaningful work to keep families safe.

To learn more about CAPTA, the Administration for Children and Families has a link to the law here.

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Video Clip from 1st National Safe and Together Model Symposium: Plenary Session: David Mandel 3

As part of the lead up to October’s 2nd National Safe and Together Model Symposium in Seattle, we will occasionally be publishing video from last year’s Symposium in New Orleans.In this clip, David answers a question from the audience about how to best reach out to child welfare after attending the Safe and Together Symposium.  One of the audience members contributes a comment about how focusing on the perpetrator can help improve collaboration between child welfare and domestic violence advocates.

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CAPTA, a perpetrator pattern-based approach and domestic violence informed child welfare systems

By David Mandel, MA, LPC

In the beginning of May 2014, David Mandel & Associates will be presenting as part of a team at the 19th National Conference on Child Abuse & Neglect in New Orleans.  The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) will be hosting the Domestic Violence Institute: Strengthening Policy, Strengthening Families. This institute will guide participants through the challenges and opportunities represented by the domestic violence provisions in the current version of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). In anticipation of this event, in a series of blog posts, we will be discussing the intersection of CAPTA, domestic violence informed child welfare systems and a perpetrator pattern-based approach to the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment.  We hope you find this helpful and that you’ll post your comments as part of an on-going dialog regarding how to best help families.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

The 2010 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) reauthorization, the guiding child abuse and neglect legislation for the United States, offers a clear articulation of the need for strengthening the child welfare response to the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment.

“Through CAPTA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is mandated to address the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment through:

  • dissemination of information on training resources, effective programs and best practices in the collaboration between CPS and domestic violence services,
  •  collecting information on the incidence and characteristics of child maltreatment cases where there is also domestic violence, and
  •  discretionary grants to promote and support linkages among services for abused children and their mothers and the development of effective collaborations. “

*Futures Without Violence Policy Brief, http://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/userfiles/file/PublicPolicy/CAPTA-FVPSA policy brief 1’11.pdf

Additionally, the CAPTA reauthorization supports programming for children in domestic violence shelters and coordination between domestic violence services through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) portion of the legislation.   This means that both child welfare and domestic violence services are beginning encouraged, and funded, to work together more effectively.

If implemented correctly, these efforts can be useful in supporting movement of child welfare systems from domestic violence destructive to domestic violence proficiency. (See blog post on the Continuum of Domestic Violence Practice.)

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Part one: Collaboration and a perpetrator pattern-based approach

CAPTA emphasizes the collaboration between child welfare agencies and domestic violence services in its sections on research, technical assistance, training and innovation, basic state grants, community based prevention grants and in its FVPSA section. While the idea of collaboration between domestic violence advocates and child welfare is embraced by most, the practice can seem daunting at times because of prior histories between the two systems.  Issues around confidentiality, and misunderstandings from both fields about the other’s work, mission, and limitations are just a few of the stumbling blocks to success that have prevented prior efforts at collaboration from reaching their full potential. The renewed focus on collaboration created by CAPTA offers an opportunity to bring fresh thinking and approaches to the challenges that have impeded these two systems from working together to help families.

One of the major barriers to successful collaboration rests in the core conceptualization of the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment. In the past, child welfare practiced as if the primary reason that children exposed to domestic violence were abused or neglected was the adult survivor’s “failure to protect,” not the perpetrator’s choice to abuse.  It is this approach that has been central to the historic “domestic violence destructive” child welfare policies and practices, and tensions between child welfare and domestic violence advocates. The factors shaping this approach are complex and multi-faceted. Paradoxically, prior efforts at collaboration between domestic violence advocates and child welfare may have, unintentionally, reinforced this paradigm.

In earlier collaboration efforts, while the concept of batterer accountability was an acknowledged principle of those efforts, child welfare and domestic violence advocates often kept the focus of their conversations on the adult survivor and her choices, not on the domestic violence perpetrator and his choices.  This collusion was not conscious but derived from institutional and cultural forces.  Child welfare agencies, and their community partners, until a few years ago, focused almost of all of their work on mothers and children.  For their part, domestic violence advocates have primarily provided services and advocacy for female domestic violence survivors and their children.  Neither field had the experience nor the mandate to develop basic social work practices and strategies directed at intervening with the perpetrator.  So while polices and statutes have been gender neutral, the practice on the ground has been highly gendered.  For example, very few child welfare workers receive training and specific clinical supervision around interviewing and engaging violent and abusive men.   And even in the jurisdictions where there has been collaboration between domestic violence advocates and child welfare, domestic violence training almost never focuses on providing child welfare with these skills.  The focus of domestic violence advocates has been, most often, on shared case planning with the female adult and her children. Organizationally domestic violence advocates have historically not been structured to provide the skills based training on perpetrators needed to truly transform child welfare practice in domestic violence cases.

These institutional forces have been reinforced by that fact that “we still hold drastically different societal standards for men and for women as parents.  High expectations for women as parents and low expectations for men as fathers plays as significant, if often unidentified role, in child welfare policy, practice and service delivery.” (Safe and Together Model Suite of Tools and Interventions: An in-depth look: Gender responsive, gender and sexual orientation neutral, fact based approach to assessment blog post) This double standard has contributed to the shared focus on the mother, which drives the “failure-to-protect” approach, and the inability of collaborations to produce meaningful perpetrator focused policies and practices.  It is not too much of a simplification to say that mothers have been held responsible for everything, good and bad, that happens to children, and that collaborations between child welfare and domestic violence advocates have, inadvertently, reflected and reinforced this perspective.

Therefore, meaningful and transformative collaboration, as envisioned by CAPTA, requires a shift on the part of both advocates and child welfare to change their thinking to a paradigm that factors in the influence and impact of domestic violence perpetrator’s behavior pattern on family functioning. This shift in thinking on the part of both advocates and child welfare professionals will accelerate the transition of the child welfare system from a “failure to protect” approach to a perpetrator pattern-based approach. A perpetrator pattern-based approach offers a shared language, and way to identifying common goals that are focused on the perpetrator, not just the adult survivor.  A perpetrator pattern-based approach also identifies the perpetrator as the sole source of the domestic violence related child safety and risk concerns and translates the concept of perpetrator accountability into day–to-day practice tools.

A perpetrator pattern-based approach forms a collaborative framework compatible with both child welfare and domestic violence agencies’ mission, and philosophies.  It offers a clear, powerful, comprehensive and accurate methodology for assessing the impact of domestic violence on children. This assessment paves the way for perpetrator focused case plans and strong partnerships between child welfare, and domestic violence survivors and their advocates. For advocates, a perpetrator pattern-based approach also offers an alternative to describing the barriers that a survivor faces to leaving—an approach that often back-fired when it heighten child welfare’s sense that she was unable to protect the children.  The associated focus on a strong articulation of the adult survivor’s day-to-day efforts to protect the children makes this approach very attractive to advocates.  In these ways, it ensures that increased attention to the issue of domestic violence and greater emphasis on collaboration will not lead to revictimization of the adult survivor and greater harm to adult and child survivors (two features of a domestic violence destructive child welfare system).

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Video Clip from the 1st National Safe and Together Model Symposium: Plenary Session: David Mandel 1

As part of the lead up to October’s 2nd National Safe and Together Model Symposium in Seattle, we will occasionally be publishing video from last year’s Symposium in New Orleans. In this short clip from one of the plenary sessions, David introduces the concept of practicing as if the perpetrator, not the adult survivor, is responsible for creating the safety and risk for children.

 

 

To read more about this year’s (October 2014) 2nd National Safe and Together Symposium

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2nd National Safe and Together Symposium Call for Presentations

Seattle Waterfront Marriott  Seattle, Washington  October 22-24, 2014

 

Overview

David Mandel & Associates/International Center for Innovation in Domestic Violence Practice is calling for workshop presentations from agencies, communities or individuals who received prior Safe and Together training and have implemented some aspect of the model.  The purpose of these workshops will be share with other Symposium participants lessons learned about Safe and Together model and its impact on policy, practice and outcomes for families.

Introduction

The Safe and Together™ Model Suite of Tools and Interventions is a field-tested, promising best practice approach designed to support professionals in child serving systems practice at the intersection of domestic violence and child maltreatment.  The perpetrator pattern-based, child-centered, survivor-strengths approach of the model helps agencies and communities move towards domestic violence informed child welfare proficiency.

The National Safe and Together Symposium is an opportunity for professionals from diverse disciplines and communities to come together to learn, share information and network to help families’ impact by domestic violence perpetrators’ behaviors.   Last year’s Symposium brought together almost 90 people from 22 states.  Approximately 1/3 of the participants already had received Safe and Together training while the other 2/3 were new to the new model.   The highlight of the Symposium was the introduction of the concept of domestic violence informed child welfare systems and the Continuum of Domestic Violence Practice (CODVP).

2nd National Safe and Together Symposium

This year’s symposium is expanded from last year and will highlight:

  • Advances in the model including Practice tools like Perpetrator Pattern Mapping and Pivoting
  • Additional material related to the Continuum of Domestic Violence Practice (CODVP) and how to create a domestic violence informed child welfare agency
  • A growing focus on evaluation
  • Lessons learned from Safe and Together sites including presentations from Safe and Together model sites
  • A pre-Symposium overview of the model
  • Wrap around presentations from other national leaders in topics relevant to domestic violence and children

The Symposium Audience

The Symposium audience includes child welfare frontline workers, supervisors, managers/administrators; child welfare attorneys; domestic violence advocates, counselors, administrators; policy makers; researchers; Guardians ad Litem, CASAs; home visitors; mental health and substance abuse professionals; fatherhood program staff; and/or batterer intervention providers.

 Submitting a Presentation Proposal:

Before submitting a proposal, please consider the following:

Submission Criteria: Presenters must have had Safe and Together model training in the past and have implemented the Safe and Together model principles, critical components and/or practice into their personal/agency/community practice and/or policy. Collaborative presentations are welcome; please limit the number of presenters to three.

Submission Outline: The submission will be expected to cover the following key areas:

  • A description of training and/or consultation received in the Safe and Together model
  • A description of the application or implementation of the Safe and Together model principles, critical components and/or practices to policy, practice and/or community collaboration
  • The lessons learned including formal evaluation data

Workshop length: Submissions will be considered for 1 hour and 15 minute presentations.

Selection Review Criteria: Proposals will be reviewed based on the following points:

  • Clarity of understanding of the Safe and Together model
  • Unique, creative and/or well established implementation of the Safe and Together model
  • Sustainability strategies
  • Implementation fidelity strategies
  • Use of Safe and Together to improve cross system collaboration
  • Inclusion of qualitative and/or quantitative data on implementation

 

 

Questions?  Please contact Kristen Selleck at kristenselleck@endingviolence.com

What to Expect?

Proposals are due February 27, 2014 at 5:00PM (EST)

The review committee will make a selection and send notification to each lead presenter listed on the proposal submission by April 5, 2014.

Presenter Agreement:

By submitting a proposal, proposed presenters understand and agree to the following:

  • If selected to present, presenters must confirm their attendance and willingness to present by April 25, 2014.
  • All presenters must register for the conference online prior to registration deadline.
  • Presenters are responsible for conference fee, room, board, food airfare and other travel costs.
  • Presenters are responsible for bringing any handouts or copied materials that they would like to handout to participants.
  • Presenters will provide David Mandel & Associates, LLC with copies of presentation materials that presenters would like included on the website and/or to be available to participants electronically two weeks before the event.
  • Presenters agree to allow David Mandel & Associates, LLC to put presenter biographies on the conference registration website
  • Presenters agree to allow David Mandel & Associates, LLC to provide feedback or changes to any presentation proposal submission, including, but not limited to: change in timeframe of presentation, addition of or removal of materials that do not fit within the principles of the Safe and Together model, or change in schedule
  • Presenters agree to their presentations being video and/or audio taped and waive all rights to the video and/or audiotape of their workshop.
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Save the Date: 2014 2nd National Safe and Together Model Symposium October 23 & 24, 2014 Seattle, Washington

Building on the successful 1st National Safe and Together Symposium, our 2014 event, which will take place at the Seattle Marriott Waterfront, will have  the following enhanced features:

•Full day pre-Symposium workshops- October 22, 2014

•Presentations by Safe and Together sites and partners (call for papers will be made at the beginning of 2014)

•A wider focus including workshops on fathers,  domestic violence informed child welfare systems, implementation fidelity and other topics

For more information, join our email list and keep checking back at  http://www.endingviolence.com

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Mapping Perpetrator Patterns and “Reasonable Person” Standard Help Keep Child Safety as the Bottom Line in Domestic Violence Cases

By Kristen Selleck, MSW, National Training Director

Child welfare systems struggle with domestic violence cases for numerous reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is trying to balance child safety with good practice with parents. This struggle gets articulated in various ways; I’ve heard child welfare workers say “I understand that a victim doesn’t want to leave but my job is to protect her kid,” or “As a mother, I would never allow my child near someone violent,” or “I know this is a really dangerous case but I don’t want to revictimized the mom by removing her child.”  All of these statements are on a spectrum of struggles in practice related to domestic violence and child maltreatment; all of these statements also demonstrate a struggle to clearly identify and address the risk to children.

When domestic violence is the concern for children’s safety and well-being, the source of the danger is the behavioral pattern of the domestic violence perpetrator. Child welfare’s foundational practice step in these cases is to identify the perpetrator’s pattern of coercive control and actions taken to harm the children and then map those onto key aspects of the cases such as assessing child safety and well being, and building a partnership with the adult domestic violence survivor.  Particularly as it relates the children, mapping can help clarify what is known and now known about the connection between the perpetrator’s behavior and the children’s safety. Mapping helps identify how behaviors, which target the adult survivor, might represent a safety concern for the children.  For example, do his threats of physical violence to his partner regarding the end of the relationship represent a physical safety threat to the children? Similarly, mapping helps make the connection between the perpetrator’s pattern of behavior and behavioral and emotional issues with the children.  For example, a clear description of the perpetrator’s escalating pattern over time might help explain an escalation in behavioral issues for a child.  It’s hard to imagine good case practice in cases involving domestic violence without the mapping the perpetrator’s patterns.

Once the risk and safety concerns are identified, the next challenge for child welfare is to figure out how a child can be safeguarded from the perpetrator’s dangerous behaviors.  While interventions to achieve child safety and well being need to focus on interventions with the perpetrator, they also need to include a strong partnership with the adult survivor.  This partnership around safety planning is easier to develop when we use a  “reasonable person” standard; we cannot ask a domestic violence survivor to do something impossible or something that actually increases danger to protect her children. Often child welfare has expected an adult survivor to give up everything in her life when it’s not clear that these steps would actually improve safety. Or child welfare has judged an adult survivor’s decisions based on presumption that she should’ve been able to predict an unexpected change or new escalation in her partner’s behavior. What can a “reasonable person” be expected to do in the face of fear, control and violence? This “reasonable person” standard allows us to work collaboratively with the non-offending parent to address the safety concerns.

In the end, child welfare’s bottom line is child safety- and it should be. That’s their mandate. If a perpetrator is so dangerous that no intervention with that person or safety plan with the family can protect the child, child welfare needs to be the final  source of safety. This doesn’t always mean removal of children (although in some rare cases it should and can mean that), it can also mean child welfare using its community collaborations, legal authority and resources to support child safety.

I was recently told about a case in which a child welfare professional took steps to work with a family in an incredibly dangerous case and kept child safety as the ultimate goal. The case was deemed dangerous by the perpetrator’s severely violent and threatening behaviors towards the adult survivor and the children. A good assessment of his behaviors was done to determine this. These behaviors which were then mapped onto the adult survivor’s actions, which meant that it became clear that the adult survivor’s had been actively engaging in efforts to protect herself and the children. This mapping process allowed child welfare to clearly recognize that her efforts were targeted at reducing the perpetrator’s ability to harm the children. The mapping process also allowed child welfare to see the adult survivor as doing what was “reasonable” to promote the children’s safety and well being.

Based on their mapping of the perpetrator’s pattern and its support for a “reasonable person” standard, this child welfare worker advocated for the Housing Authority to move the family to a safe location, worked with criminal court to ensure interventions for the perpetrator, interviewed the perpetrator to assess his willingness to change his behaviors to keep his children safe, collaborated with victim advocates to aid the mother and connected the children to services that will aid them in their trauma. In this case, the perpetrator mapping and the “reasonable person” standard” enabled child welfare to stay focused on child safety as it worked with the adults.

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