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.
The mission of child welfare systems around the world is safety, well being and permanency. These systems are intended to be the guardians of last resort, protecting children from intimate harm by their parents, other caretakers and trusted members of the community. The social workers in these systems attempt to protect children from some of the darkest betrayals of love and trust in our societies.
Policymakers and practitioners in child welfare systems know domestic violence perpetration is one of the most serious acts that a parent can take to harm a child. It is highly correlated with child death, serious injury, trauma and the breakdown of normal family functioning. Yet only a handful of countries and states around the world mention domestic violence in their child abuse and neglect statutes.
Many systems are ill-equipped to deal with the problem in a comprehensive, holistic, family-centered manner. Consistent policy and training is often non-existent. Workers are rarely supported in working through their biases and fears. The intersection of domestic violence and other key issues is often given no, or only, cursory consideration. Child welfare decisions about services and policy without meaningful data on domestic violence.
Adult domestic violence survivors, instead of being treated with compassion and support, consistent with their situation, are met with blame and a “failure to protect” mentality. Domestic violence perpetrators as parents are all but ignored by systems. Responses to these families are not always child-centered, which means child safety, stability, nurturance and healing from trauma would be the guiding principles of our interventions.
What is the result of all this? Children are being removed unnecessarily. Adult domestic violence survivors are fearful to reach out for assistance for fear of being blamed as mothers. Domestic violence perpetrators are able take advantage of gaps in the system to increase their power over their partner and children.
The current “failure to protect” paradigm is not working. But Safe & Together works. By applying a perpetrator pattern-based approach, Safe & Together changes every aspect of child welfare domestic violence policy and practice.
Our work is grounded in the idea that, latent in child welfare systems, is the potential to be a powerful ally to adults and children harmed by a domestic violence perpetrator’s behaviors. Systems are most effective when they say to the adult survivor, “We want to help you and your children be safer and healthier. Tell us what we can do to help.”
Systems help close the gap between our understanding of child abuse, neglect and domestic violence when they embrace the idea that domestic violence perpetration is a (negative) parenting choice. These simple and clear concepts form the foundation of our model.
The Safe & Together Institute’s model helps child welfare systems become domestic violence-informed. But the audience for this work is much larger than the child welfare system. It’s for anyone who is interested in the intersection of domestic violence and children. Our work touches upon issues relevant to the legal system, domestic violence advocates and children’s advocates. We tackle the intersections of substance abuse, mental health and domestic violence. We address how intersectionalities like race, class, gender, and sexual orientation increase vulnerability and power. Perhaps most importantly, we stress the importance of higher expectations of men as parents and giving mothers full credit for their protective efforts.
Our goal, put simply, is for adult and child domestic violence survivors to feel like child welfare systems on their side. This idea is embedded in the name “Safe & Together,” which refers to the belief that children are often best served when we can work to keep them “Safe & Together” with the adult domestic violence survivor. At the same time, we recognize that many domestic violence perpetrators will remain in contact with their children and therefore it is critical, for the sake of the children, that we seek to encourage consistent, positive and meaningful change in perpetrators. We believe our approach also makes it more likely the child welfare system will be more responsive to the needs of families from diverse backgrounds such as including poor families, indigenous families in North America, Australia and New Zealand, and families of color in the United States.
Join our mission to create a global network of professionals, organizations and communities working together to create domestic violence-informed child welfare and child-serving systems.
David Mandel, MA, LPC