At our 2013 New Orleans National Safe and Together ™ model Symposium, David Mandel & Associates introduced a continuum of practice framework to describe the progress from a “domestic violence destructive child welfare system” to a “domestic violence proficient child welfare system”. Inspired by earlier work on cultural competent (Terry Cross et al. 1989)  and trauma informed systems (Hodas,2006), the continuum applies the Safe and Together model to the challenge of helping child welfare systems and their communities envision meaningful, systemic change that focuses on child safety and well being through partnerships with adult domestic violence survivors and interventions with perpetrators.

The framework identifies six systemic stages for child welfare systems related to domestic violence. The purpose of the framework is to provide a method of self-evaluation and a road map for change for child welfare and their partners.   The six stages are:

  • Domestic Violence Destructive
  • Domestic Violence Incapacity
  • Domestic Violence Blindness
  • Domestic Violence Pre Competence
  • Domestic Violence Competence
  • Domestic Violence Proficiency 

The following are a brief description of each:

  • Domestic Violence Destructive:  Engages in policies and practices that actively increase the harm to adult and child survivors of domestic violence.
  • Domestic Violence Incapacity: Doesn’t engage in active efforts to harm adult survivors but lacks the capacity to really help them, their children or intervene with the perpetrator.
  • Domestic Violence Blindness: Identifies domestic violence as an issue that impacts children but hasn’t really committed to making the systems changes that will provide consistent sustainable best practice. Treats domestic violence cases in the same way it treats other cases-no specialized policy, practices or services. Victim blaming remains pervasive and there are little to no structures to intervene with the perpetrator.
  • Domestic Violence Pre-Competence: Understanding is higher and there is a stated commitment to improve responsiveness to the issue by being more supportive to adult survivors, and there are beginning attempts to change practice but changes aren’t supported fully.  In this stage, commitment to improve practice is likely to be driven by outsiders encouraging/ expecting/demanding better practice.  These expectations are usually focused on stopping revictimization but don’t often address intervening with perpetrators.  It’s been identified as genuine issue but not really in child welfare’s DNA.  Lots of disconnects e.g. “DV is one of our top three issues” but no real policy and service infrastructure to really respond to families. The connection between domestic violence and children is still not fully spelled out. Danger of token change.
  • Domestic Violence Competence: Domestic violence isn’t perceived as an add-on but as a core part of child welfare practice.Commitment to domestic violence best practice is internalized by the child welfare system.  Its relevance and connection to other issues e.g. substance abuse and mental health is clear and integrated in terms of assessment and treatment.  Specific commitment to partnering with adult survivors and to intervening with perpetrators as ways to enhance child safety, permanency and well-being.  Assessment is culturally and linguistically competent, and behaviorally focused allowing for appropriate assessment in both heterosexual and same sex relationships.  Coercive control is the assessment lens and provides the ability to differentiate between defensive violence and on-going patterns harmful to child safety and well-being.  Perpetrators and survivors are not lumped together as a unit as it relates to domestic violence dynamics.  There is a well thought out, strong relationship with domestic violence services for adult survivor; programming for children exposed to batterer behavior supports the relationship between the survivor and the child and considers the relationship between the child and the perpetrator. Improved practice is more prevalent but isn’t consistent. Some areas of agency are better at DV practice than others.
  • Domestic Violence Proficiency: Domestic violence best practice is consistent, dependable and pervasive.   Commitment to develop and maintain (institutionalize) domestic violence skills/practice. Domestic violence is built in to organizational performance improvement plan or other quality assurance efforts.  Child welfare regularly accesses expertise in the community and takes a leadership role in developing community capacity through training of others, as part of contracting.  This level is characterized by all aspects of the system using the same framework, sharing a focus on keeping children safe and together with the non-offending parent, partnering with the survivor to that end and intervening with perpetrators.

These categories are intended to describe a child welfare systems response to domestic violence. It doesn’t just apply to state and county child welfare agencies. It also applies to community providers who provide services to families involved with child welfare, the courts and related professionals such Guardians ad Litem and even law enforcement.    The framework is multi-dimensional  in that it addresses  policy and practice, leadership and frontline social work practice, service delivery and cross system collaboration. It is integrative in that it addresses the the intersectionality of domestic violence with substance abuse, mental health, poverty, housing insecurity, racism, the marginalization of fathers in our systems and other issues.  Agencies and communities may fit into more than one category depending on how far along they are in their process of becoming a domestic violence informed child welfare system.  For example a system that is in pre-competence or even competence is likely to still have some aspects of their practice, policy and services fall somewhere in the destructiveness to blindness range.  The Safe and Together model is designed to help child welfare agencies and communities , wherever they are on the continuum, move through the stages until till they reach proficiency. Each category in the continuum is associated with a continuum of implementation of the Safe and Together model principles and critical components, and specific system characteristics.