GUEST BLOG: Can men’s behaviour change programs truly partner with survivors?

GUEST BLOG: Can men’s behaviour change programs truly partner with survivors?

By Guest Blogger Rodney Vlais

Men’s behaviour change programs (MBCPs) are also known as Batterer Intervention Programs, Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes, Partner Abuse Programs and Stopping Violence Programmes. They can be an important part of a service system’s response to improve safety and “space for action” for adult and child survivors. Ideally, they are operating as part of a coordinated community response. These programs attempt to scaffold and support journeys of accountability for men who cause family violence harm. In the process, the programs contribute to the assessment, management and monitoring of risk.

The effectiveness of MBCPs is contentious. Longitudinal evaluations are expensive. Many studies purporting little or no effectiveness are methodologically limited in their design or in the outcomes they measure. Asking the blanket question, “Do these programs work?” across varied cultural, cohort, service system and implementation contexts might not be very helpful.

The reputation of these programs is not helped by the often unrealistic expectations placed upon them. Many men who perpetrate family violence have done so for many years – some for decades. Their behaviour is often reinforced by peers, structural sexism and the benefits they gain from the use of gender-based power. For some, complex trauma, chronic shame, and ongoing oppressive experiences of being part of a minoritised community contribute to their choices to cause harm. Others exploit multiple forms of advantage and ‘privilege levers’ over the survivor to degrade, exploit, humiliate, regulate and dominate them (and their children).

Accountability for men’s behaviour change

It is, therefore, no wonder that these programs often produce only incremental change. Rather than asking, “Do these programs work?” perhaps we could ask, “How do these programs contribute to men’s longer-term journeys towards becoming safe and accountable men?”

Funders and providers of these programs often argue that they help to hold men accountable for their use of violent and controlling behaviour. Yet what does accountability actually mean? How we think about accountability has major ramifications for the ability of these programs. Not only to contribute to survivor safety and wellbeing but also to partner with them.

Accountability is often thought of in terms of justice system responses – criminal charges, imprisonment, protection orders and the like. In this sense, accountability takes the form of consequences that are administered to men who cause family violence harm. Unfortunately, this is often done in a transactional way. The mere administration of the consequence is equated with ‘holding him accountable’ and promoting survivor safety. Whether these measures do reduce risk and improve safety for the survivor, however, varies on a case-by-case basis.

MBCP practitioners often think of accountability as a journey that the man is invited and supported to take. One where he increasingly realises how his behaviour contradicts values, aspirations and strivings for himself and for his community. MBCPs attempt to build internal accountability in terms of how the man wants to see himself and be seen as a father, partner, man, and member of his community. For some men from less individualistic cultures, internal accountability might mean less about “becoming the man I want to be” and more about “becoming the man and role model that my community needs me to be.”

Meaningful accountability in men’s behaviour change

These considerations of internal and collective accountability are crucial for men to genuinely participate in a behaviour change journey. They must sit with the discomfort and feel experiences of shame that arise. Men must acknowledge a meaningful proportion of their harmful behavior. They must understand the harm that their behaviour has caused. Yet what does it mean to not only acknowledge harmful behaviours but to be accountable for the harms caused?

MBCP providers and practitioners emphasise that their main purpose in engaging men is to work towards the safety and wellbeing of women and children. Safe MBCPs employ a survivor advocate as part of their MBCP team and/or develop close relationships with specialist survivor services. Through this, current (and in some situations former) partners of the men are offered support parallel to the man’s participation in the program.

Survivor advocacy workers support women’s and children’s efforts towards safety, dignity and space for action in their lives. They work closely with the men’s practitioners and other services to assess and manage risk. They also monitor whether the man’s participation in the program is causing survivors more harm. These workers provide adult survivors with information about the MBCP, enquire about the impacts of the program on the man’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours, and identify and support referrals that meet the survivor’s needs.1

Focus on children’s safety in men’s behaviour change

Survivor advocates also, to the extent possible, incorporate a focus on children’s safety and wellbeing, and the impact of the man’s behaviour on family functioning. They do this by attempting sensitive conversations with survivors about family circumstances and about impacts on children. MBCP-related survivor advocates rarely, however, have direct contact with children. And, unlike child protection and family support practitioners, they generally do not engage in proactive outreach into the family home.

The nature of and resourcing for survivor advocacy services that work in tandem with MBCPs varies significantly. Some can offer in-person engagement with the survivor; many, however, rely on phone contact. Some survivors choose not to participate in the service. That includes when the perpetrator gatekeeps her away from services as part of his patterns of coercive control.

Tool for accountability

Survivor advocates support survivors in their journey to resist and overcome the impacts of the perpetrator’s behaviours. However, they generally do not engage in perpetrator pattern mapping processes such as through the use of the Perpetrator Pattern Mapping Tool. Men’s MBCP practitioners, who contribute to ongoing risk assessment through information obtained directly and indirectly from the perpetrator as he participates in the program, also do not commonly use these tools. Both sets of practitioners – guided by their agencies’ and jurisdictions’ risk assessment frameworks – obtain some information about the man’s patterns of behaviours and their impacts. 

Safe MBCPs also operate as part of a coordinated community response. Where possible, they can obtain information from statutory and non-statutory agencies that have engaged with one or more family members. And, where possible, can obtain information from statutory and non-statutory agencies that have engaged with one or more family members. However, the picture obtained of the man’s behavioural patterns is often incomplete.

Mapping men’s behaviour change

I have a strong interest in how to build the capability of a range of workforces and sectors to respond safely and effectively to adults who cause family violence harm. I supervise a number of workers from family support services in Australia. Family support practitioners trained in the Safe & Together Model and/or in Response-Based Practice have opportunities to map perpetrator patterns of coercive control. They also can partner with the survivor in ways that MBCPs often can’t.

Family support practitioners don’t rely predominantly on fortnightly phone contact with survivors as many MBCP survivor advocates do. They go into family homes. The practitioners spend hours talking with the adult survivor. They get to see the ways in which she struggles for some degree of normality for her family. Also, they see how she resists the impacts of the violence by attempting to keep some spaces for action open for her and her children. They map what the father is doing to impact family functioning in a range of different realms of day-to-day life. They also map the incredible efforts of adult and child survivors to find dignity in spite of the father’s behaviour.

Engaging men

Based on this understanding – and influenced by the survivor’s perspectives and preferences – the family support service then attempts to shape an intervention with the father. How the family support service attempts to engage him – and the goals that the service works towards when engaging him – are shaped by the survivor’s perspectives and needs. The intervention with him is tailored based on the specifics of the perpetrator pattern map.

This comes back to the notion of ‘perpetrator accountability’. Family support services attempt to work with the man to be accountable for the specific impacts of his behavioural patterns. This includes accountability for the specific needs of his family members arising from these impacts.

For example, say he has modelled misogynist attitudes to his son (to the extent that his son is starting to bully girls at school). He is then accountable for attempting to repair this harm through modelling respect for girls and women. He may also identify non-violent male role models to bring into his son’s life. For example, an impact of his patterns may have been to isolate his partner from services and supports. He is accountable for making efforts to portray her to others in a more positive light.

A long way to go for men’s behaviour change

Of course, what I am describing here is the ideal. Family support services are still at an early point in their journey to apply the principles and practices of the Safe & Together Model. There is still a long way to go to build practitioner capabilities in working safely and effectively with fathers who use family violence. Family support services do not in themselves provide MBCPs. Their work with fathers generally does not have the intensity of what an MBCP can offer. Many fathers avoid engagement with the family support service. They are metaphorically ‘hiding in the shed or attic’ when the service attempts to engage him.

Still, to me, at least, the differences between the MBCP and family support contexts of engaging men who cause family violence harm appear striking. Each context has advantages and disadvantages.

However, the differences lead me to wonder how MBCPs can truly partner with the survivor in the way that family support services sometimes can.

For instance, how they can:

  • individually tailor and plan their intervention with each man based on a detailed understanding of the man’s behavioural patterns.
  • incorporate individual sessions with the man so that the intervention is responsive to the impacts of his behaviour. (How do they do this without jettisoning the group-work component of these programs that can potentially provide considerable intervention power).
  • hold the man accountable for the specific changes that his family needs him to make arising from the impacts of his behavioural patterns.

 

It seems to me that a flexible, responsive, and tailored approach to working with each man might look different from the way we currently run MBCPs.

This raises the question: How can we commission, fund, structure, and integrate these programs with other services so that they can truly partner with adult and child survivors?

 

Check out our resources for working with men:

Working With Men As Parents

Men’s Behavior Change Toolkit

4-Day CORE Training Program

[1] A succinct practice guide outlining quality practices in MBCP-related survivor advocacy work can be found at https://www.anrows.org.au/project/prioritising-womens-safety-in-australian-perpetrator-interventions-the-purpose-and-practices-of-partner-contact/

Liz Kelly and Nicole Westmarland, “Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes: Steps Towards Change. Project Mirabel Final Report,” London and Durham, London Metropolitan University and Durham University (2015) https://www.dur.ac.uk/criva/projectmirabal

Coming Soon! David Mandel’s book, Stop Blaming Mothers and Ignoring Fathers, early 2024

 

By Guest Blogger Rodney Vlais

Rodney Vlais is an independent writer, trainer and change agent focusing on struggles to end gender-based violence and intersecting forms of harm. They are influenced by the politics, principles and practices of transformative justice, and by everyday acts of solidarity towards upending oppressive systems and structures.

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With over 15 years of business operations, strategy, and partnership experience, Kat has led teams and consulted for global organizations, including Amazon, Procter & Gamble, American Express, and Microsoft. She joined S&TI to accelerate the mission and vision by enabling individuals and teams to find more powerful, efficient ways to deliver results for our expanding global community.

Kat’s business expertise spans sales, finance, engineering, product, marketing, HR, legal, and PR. She is an entrepreneur with previous consulting and career coaching business leadership. Kat received her MBA from the Yale School of Management in Sustainability (inclusive of Social Enterprise) and her BFA in Art from New York University.

Christine leads the Finance Team for Safe & Together since her joining in 2023. She has over 20 years of cumulative experience in the areas of finance and business, and change management. Christine is a certified Executive Coach from the Institute of Leadership at United Kingdom. She brings her experience of working in leadership coaching, management training and human resources to her work practice, along with her passion for a mindfulness-based approach.  Having qualified in Computer Studies, she also has a wide-ranging experience of technology gained during her tenure in the technology arena.

 

 

Jackie Wruck

Jackie Wruck has been a Certified Trainer with the Safe & Together Institute in Australia since 2017 and joins the Safe & Together Institute as the Asia Pacific Regional Manager! Jackie lives in Queensland, AU, and has been working within the community sector for over 20 years. This included working within Government and Non-Government agencies that worked with vulnerable individuals and families in Australia. Jackie has worked in the fields of Child Protection and Domestic Violence as a frontline practitioner in both advocating and crisis support of families. She has also worked in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations as a DV Specialist and would consult on cases that involved Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. Jackie has the lived experience, knowledge and understanding of the issue of DFV in the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and was the cultural lead for the Walking With Dad’s program, which is grounded in the Safe & Together Model.  Jackie has assisted in bringing both Safe & Together and the Child Protection Child Placement Principles framework together to enhance the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in Australia to assist in keeping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children out of the Child Protection system.  In addition to training on the Safe & Together Model, Jackie continued to use the Safe & Together Model directly with families as a child protection professional, coaching and consulting on cases with domestic violence. She continues to be committed to the safety and well-being of children and families through practice changes through the Safe & Together Model. Jackie will be representing, assisting and supporting Safe & Together Institute in the development and implementation of the model across Australia and Asia Pacific regions.

Donna Dukes

Donna joined the Safe & Together Institute in December 2022 as a Coordinator for the Trainer Certification Program. She comes to us with a combination of both corporate and non-profit experiences. Previously, Donna held training coordinator positions in the financial sector with The Vanguard Group and Training The Street. In the non-profit sector, she was dedicated to community service, both professionally and personally. As the Training Manager for United Way of Central Carolinas, she managed a leadership development program. Volunteering in her spare time, she became an integral part of domestic violence awareness, advocacy and training. Appointed by the City Council and the Board of County Commissioners, she previously served two years as the Chair of the Domestic Violence Advisory Board in Charlotte, NC.

Donna holds a Masters Degree in Health and Human Performance and a Bachelors Degree in Organizational Communications. Donna has received the “Volunteer of The Year” award from United Family Services, a Commendation Award from the chief of the Charlotte Mecklenburg County Police Department and has had several appearances on local television. Academically, she consistently made the Dean’s List; was inducted into Lambda Pi Eta, The National Communication Association Honor Society; and was recognized by the North Carolina State Senate for her academic achievements. With a sense of humor and a lot of inspiration, Donna loves bringing joy and hope to others.

Nicola Douglas

Nicola Douglas has eighteen years of experience in the field of domestic abuse. Her passion for the issue began when she was an undergraduate, volunteering in a homeless hostel and working with women made homeless as they fled abuse. She went on to work as a front-line practitioner in a range of settings, including refuge, outreach (as an Independent Domestic Violence Advisor – IDVA) and Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA). Nicola’s interest lies in systems change and she moved into strategic roles, successfully implementing programmes to improve domestic abuse outcomes within social care, police and the ambulance service. Nicola spent four years at Standing Together Against Domestic Abuse in the UK, with and alongside partners, to improve the way that systems respond to domestic abuse. This included leading a team of coordinators working in healthcare and child protection settings, as well as developing a health-based accreditation scheme. Most recently, Nicola completed her MA in Criminology and Criminal Justice, achieving a Distinction and award for best dissertation which focused on the impact of the Domestic Abuse Act on strategic partnerships in the UK.
Nicola joins the Safe & Together Institute as the European Training Delivery Specialist, working with the EU Lead.

Kay Stevenson


Coming off of an employment history of managing several small businesses in Connecticut and enjoying the growth and expansion process, Kay is a founding employee of Safe & Together Institute, having started with David in 2006. Now overseeing finance, human resources and technology, Kay balances her commitment to the company’s growth with hobbies of gardening and novel writing.

Mandy Rousselle


Mandy joined the Safe and Together Institute in February 2022 as a bookkeeper. She studied Early Childhood Develop at the University of Maryland European Division in Germany. Prior to working for Safe & Together, Mandy did bookkeeping, customer service coaching, admin support, and managed a transportation charity in Canada for several years.

Janet Penza


Janet joined the Safe & Together Institute in 2022. She has a long history of supporting executives to achieve their goals.

Kim Jurgens


Kim started at Safe & Together Institute in November of 2021. She holds a Diploma in Business (Australia) and Hotel Management (South Africa). She began her working career in South Africa working for a leading hotel chain in Event Management, Food and Beverage. She has lived and worked in South Africa, Australia, Singapore, Oman and the USA and has worked in both the private sector on large-scale events globally – including Hong Kong, Malacca, Zambia, Mozambique, and the USA and then working in a project management capacity for the not-for-profit sector in Australia (Australian Institute of Management). As the Training Delivery Project Administrator, Kim provides logistic support to the UK, USA and AU client leads.  She maintains the training calendar, is a point of contact for clients and faculty alike and is responsible for client correspondence
once training dates have been confirmed. Kim has a strong commitment to her community and has volunteered in suicide prevention in Australia and animal welfare in both South Africa and the USA.

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 the coordinator of domestic violence training and response for the Department of Human Services in Iowa. Leah first became connected to the Safe & Together Institute during her tenure as state coordinator when she helped facilitate the implementation of the Safe & Together Model across the state. She came on board in 2020 as a Resource Development Specialist, creating DV-informed curriculum, eLearning and practice tools. She also worked to coordinate programming for our Events. Leah is passionate about equipping professionals with the tools they need to do effective work with families and 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 TCP and Technology 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 Reymundo Mandel, Communications and E-Learning Manager

Ruth 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 30 years of 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.