Child welfare agencies must be “domestic violence informed” in order to accomplish their core mission of addressing child safety, permanency and well-being. Why? Because domestic violence can be involved in almost any type of child welfare case from the physical abuse to neglect related to parental substance abuse to delinquency. While we often focus primarily on the physical and emotional danger resulting from incidents of violence, the reality is that domestic violence perpetrators hurt children in myriad ways. Whether it is through their choice to expose children to their violence against another parent, through direct physical maltreatment, or by using a child as a weapon against the other parent, domestic violence perpetrators create safety and risk concerns for children. A domestic violence perpetrator can harm children by interfering with another parent’s substance abuse recovery or sabotaging a child’s mental health treatment. At the extreme of the spectrum, domestic violence perpetrators’ patterns of coercive control are frequently present in cases that end in a critical incident or child fatality. While some children appear to be resilient and show no symptoms, many children who are exposed to a parent’s battering behavior display externalizing and internalizing behaviors including aggression, anxiety, depression, PTSD, educational and social problems and long term adjustment issues.
The Safe and Together™ model provides a concrete framework for advancing practice, improving coordination and collaboration with community partners and reviewing and updating policy. As a child-centered model, it is consistent with the mission of child welfare agencies and provides child welfare workers with an enhanced capacity to practice in cases that prove to be challenging, frustrating and at times dangerous. Skills such as interviewing, case planning, assessing, safety planning and documenting are critical to child welfare practice; the Safe and Together model supports meaningful ways to both better understand domestic violence as it relates to children and improve these skills to support the safety and wellbeing of children.