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Partnering with mothers

The Safe and Together model provides a six step summary of partnership work with mothers:

  • Affirm
  • Ask
  • Assess
  • Validate
  • Collaboratively plan
  • Document.

These steps are used in the process of interviewing mothers to:

  • affirm from the outset that Child Safety are involved because of the father’s perpetrating behaviours and actions (it is our job to say this from the outset and not let the mother guess this)
  • ask about his patterns of behaviours and how they affect her, the child and family functioning, and also ask what she is doing in the context of these behaviours to keep the children safe and well
  • assess her strengths (how she was able to keep the children safe and care for them despite the abuse)
  • validate her strengths—specifically her parenting in the context of the father’s destructive behaviours and how her behaviour shows her commitment to her children
  • collaboratively plan (collaboration means plans are not imposed) based on her priorities and concerns and Child Safety's understanding of the perpetrator’s patterns of behaviours. A plan is then developed to respond to his patterns of behaviour that makes sense to the mother and keeps her and the children safe
  • document the patterns of behaviour, the risk and the safety plan developed. Practitioners ensure that records include explicit reference to the strengths and acts of protection put in place by the mother.

Partnering with mothers is Child Safety's default position. It means being efficient and effective and taking a child-centred approach to the intersection of child protection and domestic violence. 

Partnering with the non-offending parent is the second principle of the Safe and Together model. It includes engaging with the adult survivor to:

  • assume the adult domestic violence survivor is the natural ally of a child-focused practitioner
  • communicate to the adult survivor that the perpetrator is 100% responsible, as a parent, for their own behaviour and its consequences
  • engage with the adult survivor to focus on her safety and wellbeing (not just the children's)
  • seek to understand her protective efforts
  • collaboratively safety plan with her for her own and her children’s benefit.

To effectively partner with mothers, it is critical that practitioners explore and document the full spectrum of her efforts to promote the safety and wellbeing of the children.

Create a safe physical and emotional space for mothers to share their experiences and help them by demonstrating an understanding of their efforts in sometimes dangerous situations (at times with harmful consequences). Partnering with mothers means not blaming them for the violence they are experiencing. It also means holding the father accountable for the actions and the behaviours he is choosing to use to hurt and control her and the children. 

Effective and efficient practice requires practitioners to:

  • ask about and document all forms of violence the mother and children are experiencing
  • ask the mother to describe what she did and felt, outwardly and inwardly, and try to understand the situation from her point of view.

As the picture emerges, ask focused questions such as:

  • How did you manage to stay so calm and remember to protect your children?
  • Is this the first time you have had to stand up for yourself in this way?
  • In what other ways were you taking care of yourself and your children?

‘We [mother and children] would be upstairs and he would come in and he’d be going “Caroline, Caroline” and as soon as you heard that, that was it ... he would come up and he’d be whispering in me ear, “Down the stairs now. If you don’t come down the stairs, I’ll kill you in front of the kids” ... So in my mind, if you go downstairs the kids are not going to see it.’

Caroline, survivor of domestic violence in Listening to children: Children’s stories of domestic violence (2007)

Be clear and honest when documenting violence

  • Explore and document the mother’s experiences of violence.
  • Identify the different ways an act of violence can cause harm, such as: He hit her in the stomach with a cricket bat. The assault caused bruising and internal injuries that left her in significant pain. She took the day off work and saw a doctor. As a result, she lost a day's pay.
  • Do not use language that suggests the violence is the fault of both people or that there is consent. This is ‘mutualising'. For example, when a father forces a mother to have sex, it is rape, not intercourse or sex.
  • Document what he does to undermine her relationship with her children, such as: He puts her down, tells her she is a bad parent, and demands all her time and attention.
  • Record the connection between physical assaults and his other forms of violence and control.

See and ask about social responses

How other people respond to victims of violence is profoundly important. Often their responses can be demoralising, painful and disempowering.

Asking about social responses to the violence helps to understand the full extent the violence has on a mother’s experiences. It gives deeper insight into how and why she interacts with other people, services and systems. It allows practitioners to explore with her how she copes with the violence and what she does to keep herself and her children safe.

Identify social responses

Ask the mother:

  • How did family and friends, police, caseworkers and others respond?
  • How did it go with the police?
  • When the police came, what did they say?
  • What did they do?
  • What has been the most helpful response?
  • What was the least helpful?

Focus on reactions to social responses

Ask the mother:

  • When you told the previous caseworker about the violence, what did they say?
  • What did you do?
  • What was that like for you?
  • How did you hang on to the fact that you did your best to protect your children?

This conversation opens up opportunities to explore social responses they have experienced in their life about other situations such as foster care, child protection interventions, hospitalisations and incarcerations.

'You can’t always trust the response [you get] from the people you turn to help you.'

Rosie Batty (2015).

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