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Key messages

Attention

We hold fathers accountable for their behaviour choices and engage them to improve child and family functioning.

We recognise mothers’ protective efforts and partner with them to create safety and wellbeing.

Domestic and family violence is a significant gendered social problem that has become the focus of increased community concern. Whether children experience violence themselves or witness this behaviour, it can have long-lasting impacts on their wellbeing and development. The seriousness and prevalence of domestic and family violence means that practitioners need ways to minimise risk to children and adult victims/survivors and to support their safety and wellbeing.

Child Safety’s practice is guided by the Safe and Together model (Mandel, 2017) and is underpinned by the Strengthening families: Protecting children Framework for practice.

Fathers must be held accountable for their violence through skilled, direct conversations that encourage them to take responsibility and keep their family safe. A father’s violence should not be assessed in isolation. His parenting practices, relationships with his children and patterns of coercive control should always be assessed as well.

Mothers

Keeping mothers safe often keeps children safe. Domestic violence can lead to other forms of abuse and heighten the risk of childhood death. Mothers and children develop strategies to cope with the violence or to protect themselves from the violence. Sometimes it is easy to see; other times it is in thoughts or small acts, which often go unnoticed.

A mother’s parenting practices, bond and attachment to her children are affected by domestic violence. This effect may continue even once the violence has ended and can lead to other risks for the child.

Mothers must not be punished or held accountable for father’s violence or for protecting children from a father’s violence. We partner with mothers who are harmed by violence.

Children

Children are not ‘exposed’ to domestic violence, in that it’s not just something they witness and move on. They experience direct and lasting harm.

Domestic violence can impact on every aspect of a child’s life—from how they experience each day, to their self-esteem and their own relationships.

Language note—default and assumptions

Throughout this practice kit, the word ‘father’ is used to describe the person who uses violence, patterns of abuse and/or coercive control towards their adult partner. The term ‘father’ encompasses reference to biological fathers, partners, step-parents or other people significant to the non-offending caregiver, either residing in the household or external to the household.  It is acknowledged that in the context of domestic and family violence, not every person who uses violence is the biological father of the children. For the purpose of consistent language and due to the gendered nature of domestic and family violence, the term ‘father’ has been used.

‘Mother’ will be used as appropriate to describe the adult partner who has been harmed.

Children will be assumed to have been harmed or to be at risk of harm when their parent or carer has been a victim of domestic and family violence. In the Safe and Together material, the adult victim is referred to as the ‘non-offending parent’.

There are cases where mothers are violent and this can be harmful to fathers and children. However female violence is often different and retaliatory in the wider context; it is not normally within a pattern of coercive control and it is not usually in a climate of threats, fear and intimidation. Female violence is less likely to be life threatening (for example strangulation) and much less likely to include sexual assault, but a Perpetrator Pattern approach and the related tools has a focus on naming specific individual behaviour. Therefore the approach can be utilised regardless of the gender of the perpetrator or victim.

Be aware and acknowledge that domestic and family violence also happens in same-sex relationships with the same set of consequences for the children of those couples.

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