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Working with mothers

Case planning with mothers

Case planning with mothers needs to be practical, fair and empowering. The following paragraphs outline how to do this.

Be guided by mothers

Safety assessment is constant. Checking in and re-assessing how safe mothers and their children are should be a part of your routine. From the very beginning, let the mother guide your case plan and trust her decisions. She knows more than you do about what she needs to keep her and her children safe.

Be practical

You have to meet a person’s basic needs before anything else. For a mother, safety will be the first priority, followed by housing, food and material needs.

A fair and ethical approach to case planning requires you to meet basic needs before expecting her to make additional changes. Always consider the practicalities of the circumstances—what things need to happen before she can think about large and significant change? These could be support (such as child care or respite) or they could be financial, such as a crisis payment or a regular income.

Make it fair and empowering

Make case planning fair. It is not fair for mothers to have multiple tasks on a case plan if the father is not responsible for any tasks to change his behaviour.

She needs to have control and be empowered. Interventions that make her feel powerless, that she is unable to do, or that do not meet her current priorities, may reinforce the experience of control and coercion she experiences from the father. They are also likely to affect her ability to work towards making her and her children safe. Work together to decide on the best interventions and goals.

When thinking about what interventions will best support a mother to make the changes she has told you she needs, consider her:

  • acts of protection 
  • sense of belonging
  • resources and strengths
  • skills.

You need to partner with a mother to support the journey away from violence and towards safety for herself and her children. This support needs to uphold her dignity and position her as the expert in safety for herself and her children. Learn more about this in working with mothers.

Look at what has and has not worked

Learn about her past experiences of intervention and help. What did she think the interventions were for? Did they help or hurt her? These stories will give you a sense of what she has been through and where she is at. Use them to think about what you should and should not try.

Keep in mind that many mothers fear their children will be removed as a result of the father’s violence. This fear can make them anxious and wary of you.

Practice prompt

Do not make assumptions about a mother who has never sought formal help before or who services find difficult to engage with. She may want help but not feel safe enough to talk about the violence. She may worry seeking help could make the violence worse. Or the father’s controlling behaviour may stop her from getting help.

She may also have had negative social responses to her experiences of violence in the past.

Some tips about case planning with mothers

Talk about the DVO:

  • Openly and realistically discuss the conditions of the DVO.
  • Does the mother think the DVO will keep her safer?
  • What has been her experience of using a DVO in the past?
  • How does she feel about reporting any breaches of the DVO to police? (Remember you can support her in doing this.)

If the mother is staying at home:

  • Talk about what she needs to feel safer. This can include security doors, changed locks, security lights, and personal alarms.
  • If the woman is staying at home, does she have friends or family close by who can provide assistance and help to her and the children?

If the mother is staying in the relationship:

  • Have a contingency safety plan in place
  • Ask about times of heightened risk for her and her children and use your knowledge about when a father’s violence may escalate.
  • Create with her a realistic contingency safety plan involving police and other safety networks.
  • Use the Daisy app (which connects to domestic and family violence support services in the local area).

Work with other agencies and supports:

  • Work with integrated services to provide practical support so the mother and her children can remain safely in the home.
  • Having a supportive general practitioner (GP) who knows her story may be a good short-term intervention to support any mental health or substance issues she has (as a result of violence) until things are stable.

Bring mothers and children together:

  • Create opportunities to bring mothers and the children together so they can share their lived experiences and work towards healing.
  • Help them to see and appreciate what they have to offer and to support one another in rebuilding relationships.

Be clear about what you are referring her to and what she should get out of it:

  • Think realistically about the sequencing and timing of services and your expectations.
  • Be clear about what the service can offer her.
  • Make sure she is ready for the intervention you refer her to.
  • Know what you’re referring to and what she can expect to get out of it.

Learn about interventions that work when working with mothers.

What not to do when case planning with women experiencing violence

  • Do not expect a mother to embark on therapeutic or parenting courses when she is not safe.
  • Do not expect her to manage any mental health problems or problematic substance use without considering how these may be related to the father’s violence against her.
  • Do not ask mothers to put into practice an individualised safety plan without any effort on your part to address a father’s violent behaviour. This can be both dangerous and disempowering.

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