FACULTY BLOG: “What are you afraid of?” Owning our fears as a step toward partnering with adult survivors

FACULTY BLOG: “What are you afraid of?” Owning our fears as a step toward partnering with adult survivors

by Beth Ann Morhardt

As a Safe & Together Trainer and former child welfare Domestic Violence Consultant, I have consistently focused on self-care as an integral piece of domestic violence-informed case practice. When working with families to improve the lives of children we are often confronted with extraordinary pain and suffering. The harm perpetrating parents create for their children and caregiving parents is also harmful for us. We see firsthand the emotional and physical injuries and scars that coercive control leaves in its wake, and we are impacted as well. Some of us are aware of that impact, while others falsely believe we can be repeatedly exposed to something so dreadful and simply “leave work at work”. Although in the short term we may feel this is possible, and maybe even helpful, the reality is that denial of our own impact negatively impacts us personally and professionally. Often our domestic violence case practice suffers, particularly our ability to partner with adult survivors.

Recently, while facilitating a training with social workers and social work supervisors, I was struck by the depth and intensity of their response to a guided conversation about how fear and exposure to others’ trauma impacts case practice. I was sharing with them two particular interactions I had with a DCFSW that guided how I began to integrate self-care consultations. In preparation for one particular home visit, a social worker insisted that this mother “just doesn’t get it!”. This was common language for this social worker, who really struggled with domestic violence cases. She disliked these cases and truly struggled with how to work with both perpetrating and caregiving parents. In my experience, “She just doesn’t get it” usually meant mother was not presenting in an expected or stereotypical manner. The default position often was she must not understand the severity and seriousness of the coercive control. This particular mother had been severely strangled, to the point that when we met with her about 10 days later there were still visible bruises on her throat. During the assault her seven-year old daughter had heard noises and entered the room. Seeing her mother’s boyfriend pinning her on the bed and strangling her, the little girl ran out of the home screaming for help, which caused a neighbor to call 911, resulting in mother being saved. The perpetrator was arrested, incarcerated and unable to make bail.

As we sat with the woman, she talked some about the assault, but much more about the relationship. She did so calmly and directly. She did not pretend there were no issues nor did she deny her pain. She provided clear and abundant information about his pattern of coercive control and tools she had used to ensure her children’s safety and well-being. The absence of emotion was clear and so I asked her about what she saw and heard at home as a child. Often times, in my years of experience, adult victims/survivors of childhood abuse, have normalized those experiences. So, when directly victimized again as adults, they can present less distressed and emotionally expressive than other adult survivors. This does not mean they enjoy it or seek it out. It simply means the shock of it is less and so the presentation differs. This mother shared with us that she had been exposed to her father, stepfather and one of her mom’s boyfriends physically assaulting her. She continued to share that her Mom was the strongest woman she knew. Her words told me she only saw her mother as strong and not as anyone’s victim. This meant she too would identify with a position of strength not vulnerability or victimization. In and of itself, seeing one’s self as strong is a strength. Unfortunately, in child protection cases it is often misinterpreted as a lack of understanding of the harmful impact exposure to domestic violence has on children. Specifically in this case, despite her calm demeanor, this mother was open to learning about the impacts of domestic violence. She was also willing to  support her children in getting outside help if they needed or wanted it, or if the department recommended it. A safety plan was developed with, and signed by, mother.

On the drive home I asked the social worker how she felt it went and she said she felt okay about it, but the mother  “Still doesn’t get it”. Since that was not at all my experience, I asked her what specifically made her believe that. Again she told me that she had spoken to mother directly about the perpetrator’s danger to her and her children and mother did not understand her concerns. I asked her what exactly she said to mother. She yelled “I told her ‘What part of he is going to come back here and kill you and wipe out your whole family don’t you get?!’”. I paused, then asked if she yelled it at mother like that too. She informed me that she yelled at mother exactly like she just did, maybe even more loudly. I told her to pull the car over and we sat on the side of the road and processed many of her feelings about this case. I asked her what part of yelling at the client was helpful for her. She thought for a bit, then smiled at me and said that judging by what I was saying and the look on my face she thought it probably wasn’t. This gave us both a bit of comic relief that allowed us to continue talking about mother, the perpetrator and mother’s  childhood abuse. We spoke directly of the woman’s willingness and ability to safety plan and how those actions and the social worker’s accurate assessment of mother’s ability to keep children safe were the keys to child safety and well-being.

Fast forward to a few months later, this same social worker and I are on our way to another home visit. As always,in the car, I asked what she hoped to get from this visit and how I could support her. She responded that she wanted to be sure she did not make a safety plan that punished this domestic violence survivor because she really believed in her parenting skills and the protective factors she had been making to keep her baby safe. She stated her concern was that the mother was living with the father and paternal grandparents. The social worker was not convinced grandparents would intervene if father’s violence escalated. I assured her that she, the mother and I would work together on a plan that would not punish her. I  also validated her goal of partnering with the mother from a strength-based position was a positive one.

I then asked her, “What are you afraid of?” Even today, I am unsure what prompted me to ask her about her fear, this was not something I had done before, not with her, not with any social workers in my office. Her response was “Today or in general?” I was struck by the question as I had not even considered fear in general but I was able to respond “Both, let’s start with today”. She repeated her fear about punishing Mom and we went over that again.

When I asked her about her fear in general, she stated something that forever changed my domestic violence consultation practice. She grew more quiet and slumped in her seat.  She said “I am afraid I am going to be the one who makes a safety plan for this mother that gets her killed.” I will never forget it or how I felt when I heard her honest words. I had not thought of her previous victim-blaming and frustration toward mothers as fear-driven. Yet, seeing, hearing and feeling her raw emotion, it became crystal clear.

I immediately apologized for not having asked about her fear sooner. I told her I wished I had a skill, tool or anything that would guarantee this mother, or any mother, would not be murdered. The reality was that the only thing we have, if/when a batterer utilizing coercive control makes the choice to try to kill his partner is the hope that he fails in his attempt and we can then intervene. The perpetrator is solely to blame for his actions, not the mother nor us. We talked about how partnering with a caregiving parent on a solid safety plan is something we can do to assist her and the children. I also shared with her that as a domestic violence advocate I had lived through the murder of a client and if that was something she ever had to face, I would do all I could to provide support and share the ways I coped. I thanked her for being honest and we continued on to meet the mother at the home.

Once there I watched her partner with this domestic violence survivor  in a way I had never seen her do. When we returned to the car she thanked me for helping her with that plan because she felt it was a good one. I laughed and told her it was all her and the mother. I commented on my experience of the visit. I had  introduced myself and my role but then simply observed social worker and the mother create the plan. All I did was watch and validate. Initially, she was resistant to this perspective, yet when we reflected over the visit she was able to see that it was indeed all her and the mother partnering together for the safety and well-being of the children. With her fear expressed and some honest support she was able to navigate her domestic violence case practice in a new, empowered and more effective manner.

It was not a miracle cure, but it was a pivotal moment for this social worker and it shifted how I practiced within my office. I was able to look back and see office-wide domestic violence case practice differently. I stopped waiting for workers to bring their fear to me, I would ask directly, “What are you afraid of for these children? For this family? For yourself?” Assessing for their fear and impact became an integral piece of my practice. I committed to creating a safe space for them to acknowledge fear, which allowed them to clear up emotional and critical thinking capacity in the space where fear had settled. They were able to build new skills and focus their energy on case practice that supported child safety and well-being. When given the opportunity to talk safely, they were able to lessen the fear that clouded their judgement on domestic violence cases. This allowed them to open to new and creative ways to work with families living with domestic violence. When we are unaware of fear it can truly wreak havoc on our decision-making skills. In domestic violence case practice, it makes it more difficult to differentiate between cases with homicide indicators and cases where those indicators are not present. If we are hyper-alert because we are afraid every case is going to be the case where a perpetrator kills the caregiving parent, we make it almost impossible to create child-centered partnership. If we rant at a mother because we are afraid, we are engaging in domestic violence destructive case-practice and we miss opportunities to partner in a way that focuses on child safety and well-being. If our secondary trauma is unexpressed and/or invalidated we meet each case with “here we go again”, and we miss key assessment information and partnering opportunities. Our fear and its impact cause us to miss information or assess information inaccurately, as we are focused on what we are afraid of and not the unique pieces of the perpetrator’s pattern of coercive control.

As a Safe & Together™ Model Trainer, when I work with groups and openly discuss the issue of fear and impact of our work on case practice, there are always powerful interactions. Workers and supervisors share their own experiences. There are some times tears and always mutual acknowledgment that fear and its impact are real. Workers share past and current experiences and we openly talk about how decisions based in fear are harmful. I have yet to meet a single word or exchange spoken in resistance to the importance of self-care as it relates specifically to domestic violence- informed case practice. In fact, the opposite occurs. I hear many expressions of thanks. In the recent group when several people were openly shedding tears, I offered to stop if it was too uncomfortable.  I was quickly reassured that the tears were because it hit so close to home and was needed, so I was asked to please keep going.

And keep going we must. We must stop hiding our fear. Domestic violence case work within child protection services is hard and scary work. It is also important and much needed work. We cannot take the fear out but we can create space to speak it and work through it and we must do that as we continue to work toward more empowered domestic violence-informed case practice.

Beth Ann Morhardt is a Safe & Together Institute faculty member. She trains and provides case consultations in the US and abroad. You can follow Beth Ann on Twitter at @bethannempower.



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.

Dani Upham, MS


Dani has been with the Safe & Together Institute since 2021. Dani has extensive experience in digital marketing, social media marketing, growth strategy, business development, and brand management. Dani has over 12 years of experience in the field of domestic violence in Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina & South Carolina. Work includes domestic violence advocacy, child advocacy, sexual assault advocacy, and forensic interview. Dani is a certified Digital Marketing Expert with two marketing degrees from Southern New Hampshire University. She is certified with the American Marketing Association, Google, and Facebook, and is an executive leader with the National Society of Leadership and Success.

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 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 Reymundo Mandel (Stearns), 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 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.