A working framework for defining and discussing domestic violence within the child welfare community

A working framework for defining and discussing domestic violence within the child welfare community

by David Mandel, MA, LPC

 

The Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women defines domestic violence in the following way:

“We define domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.  Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.” (http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/domviolence.htm)

A standard and very useful definition, it highlights key aspects of domestic violence:

  • A pattern of abusive behavior that goes beyond physical violence and criminal acts
  • A focus on power and control as a central goal of the behavior pattern
  • It occurs within the context of an intimate relationship
  • It reflects the impact of these behaviors on the adult domestic violence survivor.
  • It has the virtue of being gender and sexual orientation neutral which allows it to cover domestic violence in same sex couples. It also addresses those rare scenarios where a female partner is engaging in a pattern of coercive control against a male partner.

This definition is similar to one used by agencies and individuals across the world to highlight the pervasive and serious nature of violence against women.  This understanding of the abusive behavior pattern is exactly what we refer to in the Safe and Together model when we identify “patterns of coercive control” as being one of the five Critical Components that need to be identified as foundation for best practice.

Starting from this foundational understanding of domestic violence, my colleagues and I have worked to support child welfare agencies and communities in using the Safe and Together model.  Central to our work has been our effort to best frame the issue of domestic violence for our audience.   While the connection between domestic violence and child safety and well being, is intuitively obvious on one level, in practice child welfare faces both bureaucratic and conceptual barriers in linking domestic violence and child maltreatment.  Part of the value the Safe and Together model approach is that it aids the child welfare community in breaking down many of these conceptual barriers to improve practice.

One of the areas that we’ve focused on is how the problem of domestic violence is defined and discussed.   In our discussions we’ve found it very important to highlight the two following major points:

 

1)  Domestic violence is a choice or series of choices made a by person to act in ways that are abusive, violent and/or controlling towards their family members.

This language and focus highlights that there is a person who is responsible for the violence and its consequences. This is of particular importance when discussing domestic violence and children because the language that is often used in discussing cases ends up obscuring the specific responsibility of the perpetrator e.g. “the couple has a history of domestic violence,” “mother and father engaged in domestic violence,” or the “children have been exposed to domestic violence.”     So instead of using a passive construction (“the children have been exposed”) or construction that implies shared responsibility for the abuse (“the couple has engaged in domestic violence”), we have chosen to use an approach that involves an active construction which highlights the actor and his responsibility and their consequences, not just the actions.  (“Father has engaged in pattern of coercive control and actions taken to harm the children that has involved attempted strangulation of mother while she was pregnant; threatening to kidnap their child if the mother left him; and physically assaulting mother in the presence of their child.”)

 

By widening the focus of the discussion to include both the acts of domestic violence and the actor, we accomplish a number of different things simultaneously. The language itself helps create accountability for behavior because it “names” the person responsible for the harm to the child and the family. Domestic violence isn’t like the weather-it doesn’t just happen. It’s the result of a choice or series of choices by a person, who is often in a caregiver role with children.   When we write and talk about domestic violence and children, our language should reflect this relationship and reality.  And in doing so we:

a) Increase the accuracy and clarity of our assessments

b) Change the way we talk to family members and collaterals

c) Paint a clearer picture of our concerns in our documentation and court papers d) Draw the clearest possible line between the perpetrator’s behavior and the adverse impact on children.

By themselves, the above items are all valuable goals. Additionally, the language change and the practice shifts they engender take on heightened significance in a child welfare system that holds mothers and fathers to such differing standards around parenting.  Language that doesn’t highlight the personal responsibility and choices of a father who batters is likely to boomerang back against the mother who is the domestic violence survivor because we are in the habit of holding mothers generally responsible for the basic needs, day to day care and well being of children.  We move closer to our goal of batterer accountability, especially as it relates to children, when we use language that highlights the choices he makes and puts those decisions in the context of his role as caregiver, legal guardian and/or parent.

 

2)  The next shift in focus involves highlighting the perpetrator’s pattern as being the source of the problem versus the relationship as the source of the problem.

A lot of work has been done in the domestic violence field to dispel the myth that domestic violence is the product of relationship dysfunction. Instead, advocates and others have persuasively and accurately argued that domestic violence is about power and control exerted by one person over another.   In saying this, we are articulating clearly that domestic violence is the responsibility of the perpetrator of the violence and abuse.

 

Still we often think of the relationship between the adults as the defining characteristic of the domestic violence.  In the OVW definition this is suggested in the phrase: “is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.”   With this language we end up implying that the partnership defines the boundaries of the domestic violence. Acknowledging the relationship aspect of domestic violence is critical to understanding how and why this behavior is so different from stranger assault or anger management issues. Acknowledging the relationship aspect also helps explain key dynamics of domestic violence such as the entrapment, isolation from community and the role children play in the on-going nature of the abuse.  At the same time, if we unconsciously default to the relationship as the exclusive lens for viewing domestic violence, it can build in certain filters and biases that can hamper our assessment capacities and may direct us towards blaming domestic violence survivors for the behavior of their abuser.

By consciously emphasizing the perpetrator’s pattern of behavior as the focus of any attempt to understand the risk and safety concerns for the family, we once again accomplish a number of things simultaneously:

a) We widen our lens to include the perpetrator’s behavior in other relationships and other situations.  When we are interested in assessing dangerousness and safety, we shouldn’t just care about his behavior towards his current partner. Among other things, we should also want to know about any abusive behavior in other relationships and any violence with non-family members. Maybe he has participated in gang related activities.  Maybe he’s been arrested for violating court orders granted to protect another woman. This kind of information is likely to help our assessment of risk and safety for his current partner and children;

 

b) It becomes easier to avoid incorrectly using relationship status or living arrangements as proxies for risk and safety assessment.  In many cases, child safety discussions can boil down to two questions: “Is she going to stay with him or not?” and “Is he still living in the home?”    These types of questions assume that the end of the relationship or a change of address automatically equals enhanced child safety and well being.  Anyone familiar with domestic violence perpetrator behavior patterns knows this is a false, unrealistic and potentially dangerous assumption. By consciously focusing on the perpetrator’s patterns, it becomes habitual to explore how his pattern is changing, e.g. With the involvement of child protection, is he becoming more or less dangerous? What’s his parenting like when he sees the children during visits? How is father influencing the children’s behaviors with mother even though he is no longer in the home? This focus on his behavior pattern versus relationship status or living arrangement will lead to better assessments and case planning.

 

c) It’s easier to support integrating his behavior toward the adult survivor with his behavior towards the children.  Part of the conceptual challenge for child welfare systems is that domestic violence has primarily been defined as an adult-to-adult issue. This definition has made it harder to identify and describe the full range of behaviors that domestic violence perpetrators engage in particularly those that involve, impact or target the children in the family.   Instead of a focus on the adult-to-adult relationship, a focus on the perpetrator’s pattern allows to us to weave together a much more holistic and accurate picture of the perpetrator’s behaviors and their impact on the entire family.  (For example, we want to be able to point to how his jealousy towards his partner may have led to his children having less time with friends. We want to connect mother’s increased entrapment with his expectation of the children being home schooled because he doesn’t trust anyone else to raise his children. His obsessive jealousy and his distrust of outsiders is part of his pattern of thinking and acting.)

 

d) A fourth benefit of a focus on the perpetrator’s pattern is that it helps restrain tendencies towards victim blaming that come with a relationship-based lens.  At its extreme manifestation I’ve heard child welfare workers say “They are no longer together so domestic violence is no longer a factor for the children.”  This thinking can be associated, subtly or not so subtly, with all sorts of victim blaming which manifest in statements like “if the victim would have the (substitute any of the following: guts, courage, insight, commitment to her children) then she would leave the relationship or get away from him.”  The implication is that by ending the relationship she ends the danger particularly as it relates to the children. As domestic violence survivors and their advocates know too well, the ending of the relationship far from guarantees an end to the perpetrator’s pattern of abuse and harassment especially since an end of the relationship almost always gives him regular unsupervised access to the children, and through the children, on-going, court sanctioned access to the adult survivor.

So for your consideration is the following working framework for defining and discussing domestic violence with the child welfare community and others:

Domestic violence perpetrators, in the context of the child welfare system, are parents and/or caregivers who engage in a pattern of coercive control against one or more intimate partners. This pattern of behavior may continue after the end of a relationship, or when the couple no longer lives together. The perpetrator’s actions often directly involve, target and impact any children in the family.

This definition reflects how we now begin our Safe and Together model trainings.  In the past, like many domestic violence trainings, our trainings began by outlining the impact of domestic violence on adult and child survivors.  Now we start our trainings by highlighting the perpetrator’s choices and behavior pattern. By clearly identifying the person who is choosing to be violent, widening the lens beyond the relationship and weaving together behaviors directed towards the adult and child survivors, we provide a greater context for understanding survivor decision making and the impact the perpetrator’s behavior is having on the children and the entire family. Our experience is that this approach increases domestic violence perpetrator accountability, reduces victim blaming, and improves assessments and case plans regarding the safety and well being of children.    This framework produces identifiable and measureable changes in the ways workers talk to clients, document domestic violence in their case notes and how they approach their case plans.



Dorothy Striker

Dorothy Striker has over 25 years of professional experience in the field of child welfare and domestic violence. In a career that has spanned frontline casework to policy and program development, Dorothy has been involved in major family violence and differential response initiatives. Her areas of expertise include individual and family assessment, structured decision making and risk assessment, CAPTA related policy, practice model development and quality assurance case reviews. Dorothy has also participated in various levels of all three of the federal Child and Family Services Reviews in Ohio. Certified Safe & Together™ Model Trainer since 2010, she has provided multi-day training and case consultations in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Casie Burke, MSEd, PC

Casie Burke, MSEd, PC, has been a trainer of the Safe & Together™ Model since 2012. She has experience training and working with child welfare agencies, as well as other community partners who support child welfare agencies (schools, domestic violence advocates, law enforcement, mental health/substance abuse counselors). She has over 10 years of experience working directly in child welfare, holding various positions including intake and assessment, visitation, parent education, and supervisor. Casie has provided consultation services within agencies surrounding the Safe & Together Model to staff, casework staff, and management. She participated in the National Quality Improvement Center on Child Welfare Involved Families Experiencing Domestic Violence Listening Tour, where she could voice the current state of conditions and challenges, and the potential direction for future research, investments and interventions. Casie is committed to providing training and support to professionals working with families and children surrounding the intersection of child welfare and domestic violence.

Beth Ann Morhardt

With over 20 years of experience in the domestic violence field, Beth Ann Morhardt has worked with both child and adult victims/survivors in many roles including Child Advocate, Children’s Community Educator, Adult Advocate, Shelter Services Director and Associate Director. After years of working in direct services Ms. Morhardt transitioned into a consultant role, serving as the Domestic Violence Consultant to Connecticut’s Department of Children & Families. In that role, she was able to build and maintain solid collaborations rooted in mutual respect, which resulted in the growth and development of Domestic Violence-Informed practice and skills to better support victims/survivors of domestic violence and their children. Within this role, working directly with perpetrators of coercive control became a focal point and passion within her work. Since 2016 Beth Ann has been a key member of the Faculty with the Safe & Together Institute, where she traveled throughout the US and internationally, collaborating with child protection workers and other community services professionals to increase their proficiency in Domestic Violence-Informed Case Practice. Currently, she works as the Associate Director at a domestic and family violence agency, overseeing shelter, housing, counseling, education and court advocacy services, while also serving as faculty with Safe & Together Institute. Inspired by the current social climate, Ms. Morhardt has returned to a more independent and multi-purposed career with a broader focus on social & racial justice & personal healing.

Beth Ann Morhardt

With over 20 years of experience in the domestic violence field, Beth Ann Morhardt has worked with both child and adult victims/survivors in many roles including Child Advocate, Children’s Community Educator, Adult Advocate, Shelter Services Director and Associate Director. After years of working in direct services Ms. Morhardt transitioned into a consultant role, serving as the Domestic Violence Consultant to Connecticut’s Department of Children & Families. In that role, she was able to build and maintain solid collaborations rooted in mutual respect, which resulted in the growth and development of Domestic Violence-Informed practice and skills to better support victims/survivors of domestic violence and their children. Within this role, working directly with perpetrators of coercive control became a focal point and passion within her work. Since 2016 Beth Ann has been a key member of the Faculty with the Safe & Together Institute, where she traveled throughout the US and internationally, collaborating with child protection workers and other community services professionals to increase their proficiency in Domestic Violence-Informed Case Practice. Currently, she works as the Associate Director at a domestic and family violence agency, overseeing shelter, housing, counseling, education and court advocacy services, while also serving as faculty with Safe & Together Institute. Inspired by the current social climate, Ms. Morhardt has returned to a more independent and multi-purposed career with a broader focus on social & racial justice & personal healing.

Danielle Martin, MSW

Danielle Martin has more than 20 years of experience working with children and families within child welfare, early childhood development and domestic violence settings. Her work with at-risk children and families has involved direct service provision, management and administration. She initiated her career in the field of domestic violence creating new programming, advocating for additional services and creating improved collaboration at a local level. She served on the Governor’s Task Force in Michigan for the prevention of child sexual abuse as a departmental representative. She has trained the Safe & Together™ Model in Michigan and beyond since 2015. Danielle has a Master’s degree in Social Work with an emphasis on child welfare. Danielle’s focus has been on the provision of trauma-informed care for families and children experiencing child welfare intervention. She has worked closely with community partners to integrate trauma information and practices into schools, mental health, child welfare and residential communities. Danielle has received the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services “best practice award” for her leadership in the development of local child trauma assessment programming.

Sarah L. Heuser

Sarah Heuser, MS, has nearly 25 years of experience working in the domestic and sexual violence field. Her roots are in direct service work with survivors in grassroots service agencies focused on crisis intervention, counseling-advocacy, outreach, support and program development. She also has substantial experience in training, prevention and awareness efforts and has worked with a broad spectrum of groups ranging from high school and college students to athletes, DV advocates, child welfare, law enforcement and the judiciary. Sarah has also served on multiple task forces and workgroups in Michigan to address policy issues. A substantial focus of Sarah’s work has been on the intersection of domestic violence and child welfare. Sarah was a strong early advocate for integrating the Safe & Together™ Model to Michigan and became a certified trainer for the Safe & Together Institute in 2015. Sarah has trained on the Model across the US and in Scotland.

Lisa Fleischer, MSW, LSW

Lisa began her career in child welfare in 2003. She has served in the role of caseworker and supervisor, working long-term with families as well as supervising an Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)/Alternative Response (AR) Unit. Lisa has also been training on the Safe & Together™ Model since 2010.

Lisa previously worked as a Social Worker in an emergency room at a local hospital and a Community Instructor at the Ohio State University College of Social Work. She has a Master of Social Work and is a licensed Social Worker.

Lórien Castelle

Lórien Castelle has been an activist and advocate for social justice focusing on ending gender-based violence for over two decades. She has had the honor of working with several national organizations across the United States including work as a trainer for the National Center on Domestic Violence, a prevention consultant to the National Resource Center on Domestics Violence, a trainer and consultant for Major League Baseball (MLB) and currently for the Safe & Together Institute.

While working as the Director of Prevention for the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, she was responsible for promoting best practices for preventing and responding to domestic violence and coordinating diverse stakeholders to design and implement community, regional and state-level initiatives. She also worked with the Pennsylvanian Coalition Against Domestic Violence to launch a statewide prevention initiative in Pennsylvania.

Ms. Castelle brings a wealth of experience with coaching, support and training to both domestic violence programs and allies. She has specialized experience with community organizing, organizational development and prevention strategies. In addition, Ms. Castelle has served on numerous national, statewide and regional committees and is a much sought-after trainer, meeting facilitator and keynote speaker.

Rhonda Dagg BSc, BSW

Rhonda Dagg has over 20 years of experience working in the child welfare field in a variety of roles including front line worker, supervisor and business analyst. In her current role as a CFS Program and Leading Practice Specialist, Rhonda is a passionate advocate for families affected by domestic violence and a strong supporter of staff who work with these families. She is also the media consultant for federally funded systems change project created to reduce gender-based violence and improve outcomes for children and families.

Rhonda has utilized the Safe & Together™ Model in her work since 2014, writing policies, coaching and mentoring staff and trains internationally for the S&T Institute.  In her personal time, she also creates educational material and videos for the community on gender-based violence and prevention.

Kristi Burre, MA

Kristi Burre began her professional career over 22 years ago in local and state government, community partnerships, and system transformation. Most recently, she served as the Director of Children’s Initiatives for Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, focusing on child well-being and driving improvements with communication and coordination across all state agencies providing services to children and families. In this role, she prioritized system enhancements and advancing policy with early childhood education, early intervention and prevention services, maternal and infant health, child physical and mental health, and children services. Kristi has vast experience collaborating with local, state, federal, and private sector partners to align efforts and investments to have the largest possible impact on improving outcomes for children, families, and communities.

Kristi has worked extensively in the child protection and foster care system in the capacities of caseworker, supervisor, manager, and director. In addition to her public service work, she has held various roles teaching, training, and coaching for the last 22 years, to include roles as a social and behavioral sciences adjunct instructor at Columbus State Community College, and a trainer and executive coach with the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program.

Kristi has been a Safe & Together Institute Senior Faculty and certified trainer since 2011 and is committed to guiding child and family serving agencies to become more domestic violence informed. She has trained professionals in North America, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom from various disciplines, to include child protection, domestic violence advocacy, law enforcement, education, behavioral health, juvenile justice, health care, and the legal community. She also coaches and mentors professionals from across the world involved with the trainer certification program and observes training sessions for evaluation, feedback, and approval for certification.

Additional leadership roles have included chairing the Ohio Governor’s Children Services Transformation Advisory Council and Eliminating Racial Disparities in Infant Mortality Task Force. Kristi has also held leadership positions and appointments for many other state and local entities committed to protecting children and strengthening families, including the Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Board, Ohio Children’s Trust Fund Regional Prevention Council, Ohio Intimate Partner Violence Collaborative, and Ohio Early Childhood Advisory Council. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology, criminology and psychology from Capital University and a master’s degree in sociology from Ohio University.

Ashley Bowers, MSW, LSW

Ashley Bowers, MSW/LSW, has been a Trainer with the Safe & Together Institute since 2012. She facilitates training and consultation services around the Safe & Together™ Model for child welfare professionals. Ashley is a licensed social worker who has worked throughout the child welfare field for over eleven years. She has worked as a Child Welfare Intake Supervisor in both intake and ongoing departments. In addition to training on the Safe & Together Model, Ashley has utilized the Safe & Together Model directly with families as a child welfare professional, coaching and consulting on cases with domestic violence. She continues to be committed to the safety and wellbeing of children and families through practice changes through the Safe & Together Model.

Kari Akins

Kari Akins is the Assistant Deputy Director of the Office of Families and Children at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services responsible for state level administration and oversight of child and adult protective services.  Prior to this position, Kari was appointed to the Office of Children Services Transformation leading children services and foster care efforts in Ohio. With 20 years’ experience in the child welfare system, Kari has served in multiple capacities including screening, intake and assessment for direct service, and community response and outreach at an administrative level. In addition, Kari’s work has emphasized community collaboration and education regarding child maltreatment and trauma, the intersection of domestic violence and child welfare practice, and coaching/supervision in child welfare. In 2010, Kari began her work with the Safe & Together™ Model as part of a pilot county in a statewide rollout of the Model, allowing her to be at the forefront of this practice in her state. Kari has served as an advocate on numerous local and state-level workgroups to address best practice policy around Intimate Partner Violence while providing education and training at the state and national level as Faculty for the Safe & Together Institute.

Alison Simari

Alison joined the Safe & Together Institute in August 2021 as an Administrative Assistant for the Trainer Certification Program. Prior to this, she provided almost a decade of support to the Certified Trainer community at the Center for Nonviolent Communication in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Alison thrives in an environment where she can support the work of those positively impacting the world for the greater good. She is thrilled to be part of Safe & Together’s mission to be an agent of systemic change in the domestic violence field.

Minh-Chau Truong

Minh-Chau has been with the Safe & Together Institute since June of 2021 as the Virtual Academy Customer Experience Specialist. Her time with eLearning in the non-profit sector, with patients experiencing chronic pain and illness, and 15 years of customer service, back her lifelong goal of helping individuals pursue personal sustainability. Her goal at the Institute is to make the online learning process as easy as possible so that learners can focus on what matters most: maintaining themselves and peace at home.

Colleen Jameson

Colleen has 20 years of experience working at the intersection of mental health, domestic violence, and education. She has worked as an educator and advocate in DV shelters, teen safe houses, residential programs for at-risk youth, and programs for adults with disabilities. For the past 10 years, Colleen has worked in rural Mississippi with children and families impacted by mental health. She serves on the inaugural Board of the domestic violence shelter in Oxford, Mississippi. In 2010, she authored a curriculum that was awarded an Iowa Women’s Foundation grant for implementation state-wide. Colleen is passionate about making tools that equip individuals to be agents of positive change in the systems where they work and live.

Lindberg Chambliss

Lindberg joined Safe & Together Institute in June 2021 as Events Logistics Administrator. His  professional career includes over fifteen years of experience in live music event coordination and marketing, artist management, and tour logistics. As an activist with a focus on equity for youth and equity through education, he volunteers with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and participates in projects that advocate for systemic and equitable policy change in K-12 education. Lindberg is passionate about social justice, personal growth, love, art, and adventure.

Jacob Linzenbold

Jacob Linzenbold has been with the Safe & Together Institute Staff since March, 2021 and currently holds the title of Resource Development, Events & Evaluation Administrator. He works across the organization with each department to ensure that each team is on the same page and best serving survivors and advocates. Jacob graduated from Penn State University and has been involved with several start up companies, giving him the skill set necessary to help with the different aspects of the organization. Jacob excels in providing mentorship and advice to prospective business founders and enjoys teaching students. In his spare time, he enjoys going on adventures and exploring nature with his fiancé and their dog.

Dana Schmersal, MSW – Resource Development Specialist

Dana Schmersal has been involved in child and family policy and programs for nine years, most recently managing Safe & Together trainings for child welfare staff across the state of Ohio. She has worked directly with families impacted by the juvenile justice system, provided training for child support staff working with families impacted by domestic violence, advocated for women’s reproductive rights, and served as communications director for a state and federal child advocacy organization and taught as an adjunct professor for the Interdisciplinary Child Welfare Institute at Capital University Law School. Currently, she is a member of the Institute’s Resource Development Team and coordinates the certified trainer mentoring program. She has completed both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in social work as well as a B.A. in criminal justice and has made advocacy for vulnerable populations and improvements in community and system responses the focus of her macro practice.

Peju Thompson

Peju Thompson has been with Safe & Together Institute since July 2020 providing international accounting support for Safe & Together Institute’s business overseas.  Peju holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rutgers University and a Master of Science Degree in Accounting from Fairleigh Dickinson University.  Prior to working for Safe & Together, Peju was a staff accountant for both a mid-size CPA firm and in city-government. In addition to her diverse professional experience, she enjoys working with people and endeavors to always positively impact others.

Leah K. Vejzović, LMSW

Leah has been working as a social worker in the fields of child welfare and domestic violence victim advocacy since 2007. She has experience as a child welfare services provider, a domestic and sexual assault victim advocate, a therapist specializing in work with adult and child survivors and perpetrators, a men’s behavior change program facilitator and as the coordinator of domestic violence training and response for the Department of Human Services in her home state of Iowa. Leah also had the opportunity to sit on local and statewide boards related to domestic and sexual violence prevention and services and continues to be a part of the Iowa Domestic Abuse Death Review team. Leah first became connected to the Safe & Together Institute during her tenure as state coordinator when she helped facilitate implementation of the Safe & Together Model across the state. She now serves as a Resource Development Specialist for the Institute, developing training and resources. Having worked in both direct service with families and in systems change, Leah is passionate about equipping professionals with the tools they need to do effective work with families and to engage in larger agency and systems change.

Ingryd Flores

Ingryd began at Safe & Together Institute in June of 2019. Ingryd holds a degree in Social Behavioral Science. She expanded her educational background to include a Bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in History from the University of California, Irvine. She fluently speaks, writes and reads Spanish.

Ingryd’s career began when she worked for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), a national leadership program that assists and trains Latino elected and appointed officials on issues important to the Latino population. Here she became inspired to help motivate the Latino community to become naturalized US citizens and engage in civic life. Ingryd simultaneously went to school and also earned a Paralegal diploma.  She then served as a Criminal and Immigration Law Paralegal where she was responsible for researching case law for deportation, domestic violence, child and family cases.

Ingryd believes education gives knowledge and knowledge is important for building informed opinions. She strongly believes educators can make a strong impact on a student’s life. For this reason, she teaches as a Per Diem Substitute Teacher where she encourages a positive learning environment and develops students’ ability and aspiration to learn.

As the Technology and Trainer Certification Program Administrator, Ingryd provides high-level technology assistance and utilizes superior tact and diplomacy when coordinating and changing event registrations, or pre-and post-event evaluations.  It is important to her to address our learners and participants in the right manner as well as stay connected with them until navigating the online courses becomes comfortable and events are finalized.

Shelly Napoletano Flynn, MSW

Shelly Napoletano Flynn, MSW began at Safe & Together Institute in July 2018 as the Trainer Certification Program Manager overseeing the Institute’s Certified Trainer Expansion. Shelly’s professional career includes over twenty years of experience in the field of child welfare with a dual focus on direct practice with children and families and systems-level social work practice. With the focus on children birth through age eight and their families, her career included direct service, case management and administration which included intersections with statutory child protection, juvenile and family courts, mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, and local crisis response teams.

Shelly’s experience in systems-level practice involved projects such as the evaluation and development of a community’s local capacity to holistically serve its at-risk population of children and families. Additionally, she evaluated and reported on the state-wide supervision practices of Connecticut Certified School Social Workers. As a result of this research, Shelly served on the State of Connecticut Department of Education’s Task Force to develop and implement properly aligned and discipline-specific evaluation standards for school-based social workers in the State of Connecticut. Additionally, her work in systems practice led to the honor of being invited to present on local capacity development of a Birth through Age Eight Children and Family Initiative to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in Washington DC.

Anna Mitchell, Safe & Together United Kingdom Lead

Anna Mitchell’s interest in women’s issues began when she studied a degree in Geography with Gender Studies at Edinburgh University in 1996. After working in various women’s organisations she went on to gain her Social Work Masters and began to think about the importance of engaging with men who abuse in order to increase the safety of women and children. She worked as a Women’s Service Worker with the Caledonian System; an integrated approach to addressing domestic abuse combining a court-ordered programme for men, aimed at changing their behaviour, with support services for women and children. Anna co-authored the Caledonian System Women’s Service Manual and was seconded to the Equality Unit in the Scottish Government as a Professional Advisor to support the roll-out of this innovative system across Scotland. Since 2012, she has been employed as Domestic Abuse Lead Officer for Edinburgh’s Public Protection Partnership with the remit to help coordinate domestic abuse services across the council, police, health and the voluntary sector. Anna has completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Public Services Leadership and led a number of initiatives in Edinburgh to improve systemic responses, not only to adult and child victims but to domestic abuse perpetrators; including the development of auditing tools, improvement plans, service pathways, policies and training. In her current role, she is representing the Safe & Together Institute in the UK and is supporting the development and implementation of the Model across Great Britain.

Ruth Stearns, Communications and E-Learning Manager

Ruth Stearns has been in training and implementation since 1995. Her career began as a middle school teacher in post-revolutionary Nicaragua. As a teacher in a developing, post-war country she became dedicated to issues surrounding social justice and violence. She later transitioned to higher education and worked at the Bryman School and at The Art Institute of Phoenix as an Assistant Director of Admissions. Her responsibilities included vetting prospective students and identifying barriers to enrollment and to matriculation.

After taking a break to raise her three children, she began working as a trainer and technical support for a national professional line nutritional company and an international professional line herbal company which trained medical professionals in alternative therapies.

In her role, she trained doctors and medical professionals in clinical application and was an ongoing support for successful implementation through patient outcomes. She developed systems for practice management, patient support, managed, created and promoted cyclical education events for clinical success. She developed training strategies to respond to a variety of real-time field challenges.

Ruth also worked as a professional business coach specializing in systems and practice management. Her dedication to understanding root challenges, institutional, structural and personal impediments that keep people from applying their skills and knowledge in a targeted and successful way helped many of her clients increase their business success.

Aside from her professional accomplishments, Ruth is a published poet, writer and public speaker. Ruth has worked with clients using various energy medicine and body-centric coaching techniques for trauma recovery. Drawing on her childhood experiences growing up in an abusive, religious cult and as a survivor, she is a fierce advocate for those who have experienced abuse. She is dedicated to helping survivors and allies understand behavioral coping mechanisms arising out of trauma and mitigating societal and personal judgments surrounding common human responses to violence and harm. This transformative approach helps those who have experienced violence and their allies better understand how to support, nurture and nourish survivors in a common-sense manner and without blame.

Brittany DiBella, MSW, DVS

Brittany DiBella has been with the Safe & Together Institute since 2015. Brittany has extensive experience developing curricula, e-learning content, and resources, as well as with providing consultation and training facilitation on the Safe & Together™ Model for a wide range of family-serving professionals. Brittany has over 10 years of experience in the field of domestic violence work including research and evaluation of New Jersey’s co-located advocate program; educating advocates, child welfare professionals and social work students on issues related to violence against women and children; direct-practice experience with survivors of trauma and interpersonal violence and work with adolescents impacted by violence. Brittany also served on New Jersey’s Child Fatality Review Board in 2017, is certified in Violence Against Women & Children from Rutgers University School of Social Work and is certified in New Jersey as a Domestic Violence Specialist.

Heidi Rankin, MPA – Associate Director

Heidi has over 30 years of experience in the sexual and domestic violence fields and social justice. She has worked in crisis counseling, program and policy development and advocacy in both the United States and Canada. Heidi received a Master’s in Public Administration with a concentration in domestic violence from the University of Colorado at Denver, the only program of its kind in the country. In her current role as Associate Director and North American Lead, she helps agencies navigate plans for systems change and supports efforts to build capacity through training and collaboration.  Heidi also oversees the Institute training staff, faculty and mentors, manages training for Certified Trainers and presents nationally and internationally.

David Mandel, MA, LPC – Executive Director

With over almost 30 years’ experience in the domestic violence field, David’s international training and consulting focuses on improving systems’ responses to domestic violence when children are involved. Through years of work with child welfare systems, David has developed the Safe & Together™ Model to improve case practice and cross-system collaboration in domestic violence cases involving children. He has also identified how a perpetrator pattern-based approach can improve our ability to help families and promote the development of domestic violence-informed child welfare systems.

David and the Safe & Together Institute’s staff and faculty have consulted to United States’ child welfare systems in a number of states including New York, Louisiana, New Jersey, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Vermont, Oregon and Ohio.  In the last five years, their work has expanded outside the United States with research, training and consultation in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and other countries. The Safe & Together Institute works closely with domestic violence advocates, in the United States and abroad, to help them more effectively work with child protection systems and better advocate for child welfare-involved adult and child domestic violence survivors.  David has written and published online courses which has launched a new Safe & Together Model Certified Trainer initiative that will increase the Institute’s ability to support sustainable implementation of domestic violence-informed practice in the US and abroad.

David has written or co-written journal articles on batterer’s perceptions of their children’s exposure to domestic violence, domestic violence case reading tools, and the intersection of domestic violence and child welfare practice. His chapter on “Batterers and the Lives of Their Children” was published in the Praeger Series Violence Against Women in Families and Relationships.