By David Mandel
By now, everyone is clear about how damaging, counterproductive and dangerous it is when law enforcement officers tell a domestic violence violence survivor that any new reports of violence will lead to the arrest of both herself and her partner. While this is not a sanctioned practiced, some domestic violence survivors report that this is what she was directly told or that it was implied through the interaction with law enforcement. For folks who aren’t clear about the downside to this practice: it blames the survivor for the violence; it adds, for the survivor, the threat of arrest and incarceration to the existing danger posed by the perpetrator; and makes the survivor more vulnerable because of the barrier it represents to help seeking.
There are parallels to this situation in child welfare. The following are similar actions:
These actions, like those of law enforcement, can prevent disclosure of new incidents of abuse and/or neglect; increase the vulnerability of domestic violence survivors and their children; give perpetrators more power; decrease the flow of information on risk and safety factors to outsiders including child welfare; further isolate a survivor and her children from their support system; and ultimately impede the development of effective plans or timely interventions.
The interests of domestic violence survivors and child welfare are, in my opinion, highly consistent with one another. Both the survivor and child welfare are interested in seeing the domestic violence stop and seeing the survivor’s child safe and well. These common interests can form the basis of partnership and collaborative planning. And one of the principle steps to creating an effective partnership with the domestic violence survivor removing barriers to that partnership while taking practice and policy positions that encourage collaboration.
A collaborative approach to domestic violence survivors is characterized by the following:
Domestic violence survivors are assessing outsiders through the lens: “Are you going to make things better or worse for me and my children? When child welfare takes the steps like the ones outlined above, they demonstrate to domestic violence survivors (and their advocates) that they understand her experience, that they won’t blame her for the perpetrator’s actions and that they will actively partner with her in practical, concrete and useful ways around the safety and well being of the children. These steps can lead to more information about what is happening in the home and the development of more efficient, effective case plans. This collaborative approach can ultimately pay huge dividends for child welfare and for families in the form of increased safety and well-being.