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Talk with mothers

Talk with the mother to assess safety

Mothers who are living with domestic violence are trying to care for their children while responding to tactics of coercive control. A father’s violence and control will significantly affect how she is able to protect her children.

Many mothers do leave violent relationships and make safe lives for themselves and their children. But expecting women to make a quick decision to leave doesn’t take into account the significantly heightened risk to mothers and children following separation.

It’s critical you think about a mother’s everyday experience, both as an individual and as a parent, and keep that in mind as you assess safety. Mothers may face financial and social obstacles that make them reluctant to work with you. They may also be using Alcohol and other drugs as a way to cope with the violence or have Mental health problems that are exacerbated by the violence.

Practice prompt

How well do you know your local service system? If a mother tells you that she wants to leave, how can you assist her to do this safely?

Be honest and clear about why you're there

  • Make it clear you're there because of the father’s choice to use violence against her.
  • Explain the impact of domestic violence on the children and that if the mother is unsafe, her capacity to care and nurture is affected.
  • Let her know you are going to work with her to help keep her and her child safe.
  • Be transparent about why Child Safety works with families, and that this will involve getting information from her, the father, the child and other important people about what is happening for her child.

Know that violent fathers may stop mothers from telling their story

Be aware of common techniques that fathers may use to minimise the abuse and prevent children and mother from telling others about the abuse. This can impact on your assessment of safety. You can read more about this in the part of this practice kit that focuses on Working with fathers.

Safety assessment conversation table

Go to Working with mothers experiencing violence for detailed advice on how to talk with mothers about domestic violence and give your support. The following table provides more ideas on considerations and conversations.

Practice considerations Conversation ideas
Explore all tactics of domestic violence, both physical and nonphysical.

Use The Power and Control Wheel and The Equality Wheel to understand what tactics of power and control he is using.

This can help you to understand what causes mother the most distress and help you to create a realistic safety plan.

You might ask:

  • When do you feel the safest?
  • When do you feel the least safe?
  • What are you most worried about?
  • Are you able to see your friends and family when you want to?
  • Who is in charge of family finances?
  • Have you noticed tell-tale signs, such as looks, body language and words that tell you your partner is escalating?
  • What do you do when you see these signs?
Use language that highlights that violence is a parenting choice. We are here because we are worried that Paul’s choice to use violence makes things unsafe at home for you and the kids.

Ask what she does in response to violence, not what she feels.

Be careful when asking these questions that you don’t imply she could have done something differently. Your intention is to uncover acts of protection

  • What did you do when he was not letting you leave the house?
  • What have you been doing to make sure that the violence isn’t worse?
  • So you ran outside because the kids were inside. And he followed you outside, away from the kids.

Ask what she worries about when it comes to her children.

Remember your intention is not to place responsibility on her, but to help her understand that domestic violence makes her children unsafe too.

Let her know both her safety and the children’s safety is important to you.

  • What do you think the children see or hear during an assault?
  • What do you know about what the children do to keep themselves safe?
  • It is important that you know I care very much about your safety too. I am worried that he is going to hurt you again.


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