Testimonies from around the world in “Voices of Real Change: Stories from Safe & Together Practitioners.”
Testimonies about e-Learning courses
Since the e-learning course, the staff have been more conscious in using the concepts and questions. They have found specific topics covered in the companion document aligning very well with their day-to-day programme implementation for family violence and child protection cases. (Working with Men As Parents, Companion Document)
Some workers have had more experience engaging female survivors of spousal violence and acknowledged that it is easy to adopt a biased view of the husbands. The companion helps by focusing the connection between father-inclusive and domestic violence-informed thinking and intervention. Staff reported the pleasure they experienced when male clients acknowledged how they treated their partners had systemic impact on their children. (Working with Men As Parents, Companion Document)
The instruction to rate worker’s confidence level in asking and exploring certain areas with men is a particularly important reminder for the workers to be aware of their own comfort/discomfort and to find ways to manage it. (Working with Men As Parents, Companion Document)
With the inclusion of the Safe & Together Model in PAVE’s programme for men who abuse and survivors in the last few years and reinforced by the e-learning module, staff have found greater confidence in discussing with their male clients how their choices and behaviours affect their children and family functioning. The examples given in the companion around asking role of day-to-day actions; quality of parenting/co-parenting, supporting partner and her parenting; struggling with addictions or mental health make for very systematic guide in engaging both men and women. (Working with Men As Parents, Companion Document)
Workers liked that that the companion did not just focus on working with fathers on an individual level but addressed father inclusive lens in upstream, preventive intervention via community engagement and advocating that fathers’ behaviours are parenting choices and need to be held accountable to high standards as much as we do with women. (Working with Men As Parents, Companion Document)
Firstly, I must admit to not being a fan of e-learning. It does not suit my learning style as I prefer a dynamic, responsive and flexible learning environment where discussion and exploration is fluid. Usually e-learning does not provide this. With that in mind, I approached the e-learning modules you provided with a heavy dose of weariness and skepticism. However, I have to admit that the courses were excellent, the best e-learning experience I have had. They were interactive, varied, packed full of useful and relevant information and were bright, colourful, light in tone but heavy in content. The ideal balance actually. Thanks for changing my perception of e-learning for the better! ... My expectations raised regarding e-learning and to still provide me with further learning of the model is testament to how effective the e-learning is.
"Safe & Together as a cross system collaborative model sets the stage for all areas of our work. Understanding how to work together with other systems is vital to dealing with complex issues, such as the opioid epidemic and the crisis it creates for families and children. Joint ownership over addressing this crisis was critical to moving the needle forward in Ohio. The Safe & Together Model gave me a framework for when mental illness and substance abuse met domestic violence and allowed for cooperative training and a shared and common understanding of how to work together for the best interest of children and families. It isn’t rocket science, it’s easy to apply and easy to understand."
Some shared their tendency to assume that when a man becomes a new father, he just needs to evolve into a parental role or be able to support his spouse in effective co-parenting. However, when the man is ill-prepared for fathering and has difficulties transiting from an individualistic/adolescent outlook, he gets branded as irresponsible/incapable. The companion’s guide for use opens up avenues for conversations both with fathers around their behavioural choices as well as survivors and children on the impact of the men’s behaviours on the family’s functioning in a more meaningful way. (Working with Men As Parents, Companion Document)
Before the e-learning, some workers set rather low expectations for men as fathers. However, when the women survivors in groupwork highlighted that not all their husbands were bad fathers, the importance of re-examining the men’s action as a parenting choice became more evident. The companion reinforces and cautions workers to avoid gender double-standards. (Working with Men As Parents, Companion Document)
About being a Safe & Together™ Model Certified Trainer
I have been privileged to be a trainer for Safe and Together. While training in Michigan the team elected to gather testimonials from participants. Since the training was broken into two sections trainees had the opportunity to implement the concepts between the two sessions. Numerous participants conveyed how amazed they were with the concept of partnering with the survivor and how this new skill opened doors for them through increased engagement, improved trust and more thorough assessments. One trainee even conveyed that utilization of this skill led to a lengthy conversation with a mother after a removal and the mother even hugged the worker and shared that was the first time she ever felt heard after this approach was used. Since I have completed the training I have advanced in my child welfare career from a program manager to director and currently as an acting director for continuous quality improvement of child welfare for Michigan. The model has enhanced my ability to present to various groups, better understand the dynamics of adaptive change and enhance my focus and awareness of the complexities of child welfare. I am a member of Zonta, board member of a local child advocacy center and member of various statewide sub-teams focused on improving child welfare. Every experience I have been provided has offered unique opportunities. While in Scotland I trained providers and child welfare professionals who shared details pertaining to the vast differences within their communities. While in Australia I was exposed to the dynamics involving aboriginal families that contributed to the complexities of the interventions. While in Australia on another occasion I trained attorneys, which proved to be an incredible experience that exposed me to the Queensland legal and child welfare systems. Each group has allowed me to learn a bout child welfare and domestic violence dynamics across the globe. Our practice locally changed significantly as a result of this model as well. We have tested the model with a coaching component and have observed decreased recurrence as a result.
This year I have completed 2 of the 4 day core training programs with another 2 later this year, one in a regional area with other key partners in their work. Last year I delivered 4 one day overviews however am now convinced that the 4 day core is my preference by far. In between I have been busy with providing short workplace learning for the child protection field offices, including our child abuse report line staff. The ripple effect from people coming to the core training and then talking with their teams afterwards has been really amazing. I really enjoy talking with teams about the Safe & Together principles and tools given that this makes such good sense as a practice framework and way of working with families and children. I have been to several offices now and have more booked in to talk with staff about some of the elements of Safe & Together as it applies to their work.
After completing the Safe & Together training, a Foster Care worker and her supervisor arranged to visit a mom who was in an abusive relationship with a very controlling man. His abusive behavior had ultimately led to the children being removed from the mother in June 2016. When they arrived, the mom was yelling and swearing at them and saying that she was a terrible worker. The supervisor acknowledged that the mom was in a very difficult position and they are aware that her partner controls and monitors most everything she does. The mother remained extremely defensive and stated she was not comfortable telling the worker or supervisor anything because she did not trust them. They then asked the mother to describe the efforts she had been making to keep her children safe before they were removed. She stated that she always apologized to her partner repeatedly. This would sometimes calm him down. The mother described that she would often have her boyfriend “cool down” in the bedroom. She would call her ex-husband to have him pick up the children if she felt that the boyfriend would continue to escalate. The supervisor then stated, “Wow! So you had been doing several things to try to protect your children from his behavior.” The supervisor said you could see the life breathed back into the mother. Her entire attitude changed. For the next two hours she spoke freely about what her life has been like and all the ways she had been attempting to shield her children from the abuser. The mother also went into great lengths to describe what she was currently doing to keep herself safe from him even though they were still in a relationship. She had already come up with a detailed plan to leave her boyfriend within the next month or so. The mother stated this was the first time that she felt that anyone understood what she was experiencing. The foster care worker and supervisor reinforced that they wanted to partner with her and help her anyway that they could. As the foster care worker and supervisor were leaving, the mother began to cry and her body shook. She hugged both of them and she thanked them for listening to her. She stated, “I feel really good right now. I finally have hope.”
About the value of participating in the Safe & Together™ Model Advocacy Institute
“This Monday I was so pumped and ready to make a difference, that I purposely walked around the (child protective investigators’) building following up on the referrals I had received...”
“Immediately, I started using the program by focusing on my participant’s strengths and creating a safety plan around their strengths.”
“Since attending the training, my conversations with survivors have changed drastically and have definitely improved my advocacy skills.”
About our CORE Training in Melbourne
“It was like all these millions of little fragments of thoughts I'd had over so many years, all started to come together as I was given structure and language to describe and formalise that which I have always felt. I have come to a place now where I know the journey is only just beginning for me and that never could I ever walk away from this work, for it will be my 'life's work'.”
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services partners talking about the value of Safe & Together
The value of Safe & Together around the world
"Every time I think I have seen the most dangerous DFV (Domestic & Family Violece), another one comes along that raises the hair on the back of my neck and worries the hell out of me, but following this model, we have the confidence we can get that safety for the family and that makes so much more difference when the anxiety kicks in. It allows you stop, take a breath and know that this framework works and it is the right thing for everyone."
Participant in our CORE training in Australia
"….(I wanted Safe & Together to know) how much I learned about myself from today’s (presentation on) the Model. I’m so grateful for it, hearing all this language changes around the issue really taught me about the myself and my decisions, mostly from the past but some even still today. Some things I hadn’t even realized I was hiding away in my personal “shame box…” It helped me reaffirm my abilities to parent and survive. I walked away from today way more confident as an advocate but also more confident about my “survivorship.”
My Journey"As a high school senior, I was delighted when I received early acceptance into a pre-med undergrad pathway. I thought that becoming a doctor was the best way for me to 'help others' and have a 'higher purpose' in life. But two semesters into my freshman year, I made the decision to switch to social sciences. I found myself way more concerned with the wider environmental and social factors that had an impact on the individual's life and wellbeing. I was very fortunate to land a graduate position with the State child protection agency right out of college, and so began my carer in this field. I was given a position in the Investigations unit, a special team that was embedded within the police force to conduct joint investigations into allegations of child abuse. Only months into my career, things started to trouble me greatly. I became very disillusioned with what appeared to be such a punitive system, but forged ahead anyhow. Three years passed and I found myself in utter despair. The things we were taught to say to adult survivors and their children, it destroyed me. Women would come to us for help, and we'd in turn make things worse, expose them to their perpetrators, remove children from loving mothers, and condemn families to the harrows of dealing with child welfare in perpetuity. I was done. In absolute grief I resigned and took up a post with an international aid agency abroad. Only to find that the world of international humanitarianism is not at all what it seems. My experience, at least, revealed a world of corruption, status seeking individuals and money hungry firms. The only thing that gave me a sense of peace, was moonlighting as a singer in a band, down in Nashville TN. Upon returning to Australia a couple of years later, I decided to go to Grad School to change my career. No more social work for me, no way. Except that I begrudgingly gave in and took a senior social work position with a not-for-profit only weeks after arriving back to Australia. I had to support myself through grad school. I couldn't get away from this kind of work if I tried, it seemed. And once again I was torn up by the helplessness of women and children at the mercy of "the system". Upon completing Grad School I tried my very hardest to pursue a career in journalism and wound up receiving an offer with the ABC. Right before I was about to accept the offer, a former colleague contacted me, offering me a position in the national policy team for a large not-for-profit. After much soul seeking, I decided I should give it a go and turned down the ABC. To this day I am still not sure what prompted me to take the policy job and turn down the journalism gig. Whatever the reason, it was meant to be. It has been 5 and a half years since I took that job, and since then I've moved into various senior policy and development roles. My current post is senior manager for program development at Berry Street. The first and only organisation I have ever worked for that I can truly say cares deeply for the women and children it supports. However, the reality is we're still bound by guidelines set by the government. Guidelines that are, in reality, completely punitive and in my (personal) opinion, do more harm than good, so much of the time. In the months leading up to undertaking Safe and Together Core training, I had once again been questioning whether or not to stay within this sector. Now, sitting in senior management, I felt more vastly than ever, a helplessness and even a despair around what it is our system inadvertently does to families. Maybe it was becoming a parent myself that allowed me to analyse such notions on a whole new level. We remove children from their mothers to "keep them safe", only for those children to end up 100 times worse off by their 18th birthdays because the out of home care system is so utterly broken. We accuse and systemically abuse women for the actions of violent men by taking their babies away from them. We exacerbate oppression (which I now know are called intersectionalities) with rigid decision making tools. As mentioned, I was feeling pretty lost. And then I came to Safe and Together. At first I felt guilt, a deep, intense guilt, in reflecting on the things I have said to survivors (was taught to say), for the actions I undertook, for the court applications I penned. I felt shattered. As a woman of Aboriginal decent, I even felt shame for the part I ever played in further oppressing my people by serving as the hand of a punitive and destructive system. But then you (Sarah) said something very powerful, you quoted someone (whose name escapes me), "when I know better, I do better". That was so very powerful for me. As I reflected on that over the days that followed, I felt the weight of years of guilt, confusion, shame and regret melting off. But not only that, for the first time in my entire career or education, I was taught to see things in a whole new way, I was given tools to make tangible changes and for the first time I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could stop regretting this career choice because there IS a way forward, there IS a better way to do things and it IS possible to help not harm. It was like all these millions of little fragments of thoughts I'd had over so many years, all started to come together as I was given structure and language to describe and formalise that which I have always felt. I have come to a place now where I know the journey is only just beginning for me and that never could I ever walk away from this work, for it will be my 'life's work'. I have contemplated PhD work since completing my masters several years ago, and have been approached by a few different professors to consider this path. It is something I know I will jump into when the time is right, and having completed Safe and Together has given me even more inspiration and drive to get to that point one day (hopefully not too far down the track). Further, it helps to give me clarity about what area or body of work I can offer to inform policy and support services for the resilient and brave women and children we all work with. Most of all though, when I think back to that 18 year old high school senior, who just wanted to have purpose and meaning to her life, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that the mistakes of steps already taken (and the lives impacted as a result) will not have been in vain. That for each survivor, child or worker who experiences a better outcome as a result of the development work, policy or research I've undertaken, that it will for me, be in honour of those who were wronged in years and decades passed, by a sector that didn't know better. But now we, or at least I, know better... we shall ever strive to do and be better."