Finding our way through unchartered territory can be stress-inducing. Some of us want/need to know everything. Others want/need to feel less inundated by all of the swirling and ever-changing information and recommendations. We are currently being asked to change almost everything about how we live our lives. Some of us are required to be the ones who step up, ready or not, willing or not. Others are facing the realities that we are far more vulnerable than we are comfortable with. We have individual and collective needs and are doing our best to meet and manage them. We are worried yet hopeful. We are doing our very best, yet we know this is only the beginning, and we are deeply unsure of what is to come. It is hard and heavy, at best.
Child and adult victims/survivors of domestic violence feel this all of the time, and never more acutely than when statutory child protection enters their lives via a phone call or a knock on their door. Yet, we often think their responses are over-the-top or lack the appropriate level of understanding of their own circumstances. We may judge how things got to this place, or why there were not different choices made sooner. Sound familiar? There are far more feelings and experiences we have in common than we differ within. And as we all currently find ourselves in unchartered territory, it may be the perfect time to increase our partnership abilities with adult victims/survivors by leading with empathy and compassion.
Even now, during these very challenging times, we have what it truly takes to partner with the caregiving parent. We may need to fine-tune some communication skills or listen a bit more than we talk. We will need to be even more direct and honest in our communication than normal, while also asking more questions than typical. As is often the case, external pressures add to the perpetrator’s excuses as to why his violence is escalating, while simultaneously impact options for victims/survivors to respond and/or cope safely. Partnering with the caregiving parent means listening intently to what she is already doing to keep herself and her children safe during typical times and how she and the children are adjusting during these higher stress times. None of this differs much from what we each currently need. It is just, the circumstances in which most of us find ourselves, are not also fraught with intimate partner violence.
So, as you do the extremely difficult and emotionally taxing work of meeting with families who live with violence, simply add some extra empathy to your toolkit. Pull from the skills and tools you have accumulated. It matters. It will allow you to gather more relevant information to increase child safety and well-being. It will also allow you to make a difference during a time when it feels we are not able to do much else. Breathe, remember you have done this, can do this and will do it well if you bring your tools with you. And for those who need reminding, here are a few of the greatest tools you already have:
Plan purposefully prior to visiting
Ask open-ended questions
Validate the caregiving parent’s strengths
Be honest in your communication
Ask what she is already doing
Focus on perpetrator pattern
Remind her, the abusive partner’s choices are the risk to child safety and well-being
Tell her what she is doing well with her child/children
Be creative with the victim/survivor-guided safety planning
Assure her it is okay to feel uncertain
Be specific when asking about what the perpetrating parent is doing and/or not doing to support her parenting
Be clear that his choices are parenting choices
Express concern for her children as you offer to support what she is already doing
Ask what she needs
Give her information in various ways to ensure you are reaching her
Encourage natural support systems
Trust what you have learned and developed
Validate her some more
Express concerns clearly and directly
Clarify where things stand
Provide clear expectations.
Doing these things with added empathy moves children closer to safety and well-being. Leading with partnering skills rooted in empathy can, and most likely will, simplify the process and create an alliance with the caregiving parent that benefits the children. Allowing her to see your willingness to partner creates an environment of mutual exchange that leads to both involved in the partnership being able to rely on the other. When this happens, it is better for all involved, the children, the caregiving parent, even you. So, trust yourself, ask for what you need, extend empathy toward yourself. You are doing the hardest work there is during a time when everything feels more challenging. Honor that. We are all grateful for you and are cheering you on.