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. 

Safe and Together Model Advocacy Institute Participant Shares Changes in Practice

The feedback we have received from Advocacy Institute participants in Florida has been overwhelmingly positive, and in many ways has even exceeded our expectations. Many of the participants have indicated an increase in their confidence in working with child welfare and voiced increased skills in working with child welfare-involved clients. Seasoned advocates are expressing that they feel a renewed passion in their work and newer advocates state that they are feeling more confident and capable in their roles. We have heard from many advocates that they feel better able to identify and support mothers’ parenting strengths and advocate for child welfare-involved clients. Participants have also expressed that using the perpetrator pattern-based approach inherent in the Safe and Together Model and the associated practice tools, has empowered them to work more collaboratively with child welfare, and help child welfare focus more on effective interventions with domestic violence perpetrators.

A journal entry from one of the participants captures many of themes we are hearing from the participants:

“We are doing all of our staff trainings in April and then our trainings with Child Welfare in May. We did our first training this past Monday with our fellow advocates as part of our weekly meeting. I was feeling a little nervous. I think that I am gaining a better understanding of how to use the model, but I wasn’t sure if I would be able to facilitate training on the model without getting stumped. The training was awesome! The staff was much more engaged than I expected and we had a lovely conversation on identifying a survivor’s strengths. Everyone had something to say and provided really good examples. I am really looking forward to next week when we will do Module 2.

In addition to the trainings, I also have been getting some really positive feedback from Child Welfare. My communication with (child protection investigators) is getting better because I feel more confident and I think that allows me to be more validating of their feelings and to work with them, instead of automatically having defenses up. In the past week, I have received emails from supervisors at our (community based care agency) who I communicate with regularly regarding client referrals. In these emails, they have thanked me for having such open and supportive communication. I feel that Safe and Together is allowing me to be better at my job. I am not only learning tools to better support and advocate for clients, but I am also learning how to work with agencies that have stereotypically been at odds with ours. It is very empowering to feel the unification of services happening to better support moms and their children. When I know that I have to reach out to a (child welfare) worker, I don’t get the nerves and anxiety that I used to. Instead of putting off contacting them, which doesn’t help anyone, I am able to be much more proactive because I can communicate my needs, my client’s needs, and address their needs/concerns without having to be defensive or without feeling like I get shut down. I don’t take the potential criticism as personally as I used to because I know how to speak in their language which allows me to use their tools to support and advocate for a mother.

I can also work better with the referred mothers. I understand the child welfare system better because of this training, which allows me to engage the moms in conversations about (Child Welfare) without having to only validate the survivor. I can also give moms the tools in the language (Child Welfare) will understand. Before I would lean more towards intervening and advocating because I wasn’t sure how to give the mom tools to work with them effectively. I can still intervene if needed or as additional support, but I am seeing that it is useful to talk in a language that remains consistent across the board. Obviously the survivors are just as concerned with their children’s safety as (Child Welfare) is. I have learned that by pivoting the behavior back to the perpetrator (and discussing it as a parenting choice), it really opens up conversation. I hear a lot that he is abusive to mom but that he loves the children. When I suggest that the way he treats her is also a parenting choice because it puts the children in danger even if they aren’t home, moms respond really well to this. It seems like a barrier goes down because it does not seem like they have to lie to protect their children (from being removed from the home). I am showing them that they are being protective and putting the focus on his behavior. It has really made me a better, more confident advocate. I am really excited to continue using this model with clients, other advocates, and child welfare. I am a little nervous about training child welfare but I am also excited to have this conversation with the confidence that I am gaining.”

Our next Advocacy Institute is planned for September 2014. The location is still be determined. If you have questions about participating in it, please contact Bridget Reilly at If you want to read more about the Institute:

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.