By David Mandel, MA, LPC
Domestic violence and substance abuse co-occur in both the alternative response and traditional response pathways. Despite this day-to-day contact many in the child welfare system have with families experiencing both domestic violence and substance abuse, the understanding of the intersectionality of these issues is still plagued with misconceptions, simplifications and a failure to apply existing knowledge of perpetrators’ behavior patterns to improve assessment, case planning and outcomes for families. This lack of understanding can interfere with identification of either problem, a thorough assessment of child safety and well being, and finally the development of a successful child safety plan to mitigate the safety and risk concerns. The Safe and Together model’s foundation is a focus on assessing perpetrator’s patterns of behavior and their nexus with child safety and well being. When this is combined with setting high standards for fathers and protective efforts of mothers, it forms a powerful, holistic assessment lens that can help us better understand the intersection of domestic violence and substance abuse issues. The following are a few practical ideas and questions using a perpetrator pattern-based approach to the intersectionality of substance abuse and domestic violence to guide assessment and improve positive outcomes for children and families.
For more a 10 item checklist on the intersection of domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health issues, click here. Click on these links for more information on the Safe and Together model and Ohio Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Collaborative.
(This piece was originally written for Ohio’s Department Jobs and Family Services’ Differential Response Newsletter Winter 2015. To read more about Ohio’s Differential Response efforts. )
 The Safe and Together model approach is both fact based and gender responsive. While domestic violence perpetrators can be both male or female and domestic violence can occur in heterosexual and same sex relationship, we believe it is important to acknowledge that the child welfare has often approached mothers and fathers with different parenting expectations. To comprehensively address perpetrator accountability and change in the context of child safety requires a thoughtful examination of the impact of biological or social father’s abusive behavior across a full range of domains of child and family functioning, effectively taking the position that the domestic violence when directed at the adult survivor is a “parenting choice.” In parallel, good practice dictates a comprehensive, gender responsive assessment lens for looking at mothers’ protective efforts related to the domestic violence. This means going beyond calling the police, getting a court order and/or leaving to seeing how day-to-day parenting efforts deserve validation and documentation as strengths related to protecting children from the physical and emotional harm of the abuse. In effect, good practice means ensuring that all the work that adult survivors may be doing to promote safety, stability, nurturance and healing from trauma will not be overlooked because “it’s just what mothers do.”