by David Mandel

Recently one of our sites, which is engaged in statewide, multi-year domestic violence systems change, asked me to provide them with a Safe & Together™ Model “elevator speech.” As they ramped up their implementation of the Model, leadership was getting more questions from their partners like “What is the Safe & Together Model?” and “Why are you implementing it?” So we put together a brief “elevator speech” for them.

Here it is:

The Safe & Together Model is a Suite of Tools and Interventions to transform child welfare practice in domestic violence cases. It is a top to bottom approach similar to trauma-informed practice. At the same time, it fits with mainstream child welfare practice. It is a child centered, strengths based, family centered practice. The Model supports Iowa’s differential response by focusing on improved assessment, and better partnerships with the non-offending parent (adult survivor). It also ensures a clear decision-making and case planning focus on the source of the danger and harm to child and family functioning: the perpetrator’s behavior pattern.

Its use of a perpetrator pattern-based approach is similar to the way we approach sexual abuse, and physical abuse. Its focus on assessing the perpetrator’s pattern of behavior is critical and central to good safety assessments and case planning. In the past we’ve overlooked the perpetrator as parent as we overemphasized or over relied on court orders, arrest and separation of the parents as the answer to child safety and well-being. We’ve overemphasized these things as the “answer” and the only type of legitimate protective behaviors by the non-offending parent. This has impeded our ability to partner with families and led to plans or decisions that weren’t aligned with the reality of families, or child safety and well-being. The Safe & Together Model keeps us focused on child safety and well-being regardless of where the perpetrating parent is living or the status of the parents’ relationship.

At the same time, it gives us the skills, knowledge and attitude to more consistently develop stronger partnerships with domestic violence survivors. A comprehensive approach to assessing protective capacities, validation of those strengths, affirming the perpetrator’s responsibility and collaborative safety planning creates a “bridge” to the adult survivor. Domestic violence survivors are more likely to share information and work with the agency when approached in this manner.

The Safe & Together Model also improves the ability of child welfare to work with complex cases that have substance abuse and mental health problems, making the connections with domestic violence clearer. Its focus on perpetrator behavior patterns and survivors’ strengths can reduce race and class bias in case practice. When assessment is focused on behavior patterns they are less likely to be influenced by bias based on race, class, ethnicity education and other socio-economic factors. Moving away from “separation” as the “answer” can be a benefit to families who are already struggling with economic and cultural marginalization.