By Kristen Selleck, MSW
National Training and Consultation Director
In order to maintain the safety and well-being of children with limited resources and following policies and statutes which weren’t necessarily developed with domestic violence cases in mind, child welfare workers need to be creative or think outside the box. This skill can assist child welfare workers in their application of the Safe and Together model . Workers committed to intervening with perpetrators and partnering with survivors can develop innovative strategies to achieve child safety. In recent months, I’ve seen this creativity in action in several states currently using the Safe and Together model.
In Florida, attorneys recommended keeping domestic violence survivors’ safety planning information and confidential disclosures separate from the rest of the case record. This is a creative solution to an issue of survivors’ disclosures being provided to batterers in case plans. Because of the work of this group of attorneys, their colleagues along with case managers and supervisors now have better resources for maintaining the confidentiality of survivors which can directly enhance the safety of children.
In Ohio, a child welfare manager discussed ways to create separate case plans for domestic violence survivors and perpetrators. Currently, families receive one case plan which creates expectations of survivors to end the domestic violence. Because domestic violence survivors do not have the power to change the perpetrators’ behaviors, these plans are inaccurate and set up survivors to fail if their partners choose to continue behaving in an abusive manner. The proposed changes are a creative way to ensure that domestic violence perpetrators are clear on the expectations set for them as well as ensuring survivors are not given the responsibility for ending his abuse. Beyond that, this change can be a creative way of enhancing the children’s safety by ensuring that perpetrators don’t have access to interfering with survivors’ case plans.
In Connecticut, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) has found ways to use the criminal justice system to intervene with perpetrators or find other ways (including subpoenaing perpetrators who are not biologically related to children to juvenile court proceedings or testifying in family court on behalf of the safety needs of the children). These interventions allows DCF to connect perpetrators to services or have court orders in place that assisted in protecting children. In addition, there have been numerous examples of how DCF has partnered with survivors to find creative ways to get children into treatment, to use resources and kin networks to maintain safety for children in the care of the domestic violence survivor.
In each of the above cases, child welfare professionals made significant advances in the practice of partnering with survivors or intervening with perpetrators without having to resort to changes in policy or statute. So I pose the following questions to the child welfare professions reading this blog: What kind of changes can you make in your practice or the practice of your staff today that will lead to stronger partnerships with domestic violence survivors and/or stronger interventions with perpetrators? What out-of-the-box actions can you take today that will enhance child safety and well being in cases where domestic violence is a factor? You don’t need to wait for policy or statues to change in order to make real changes that lead to real improvements in safety and well being.