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Recap of the National Safe & Together™ Model Symposium New Orleans May 2013

Over 90 professionals from 22 states participate in first annual National Safe & Together™ Model Symposium: Shaping Practice to Effectively Respond to Domestic Violence When Children are Involved.

 Held at Hotel Monteleone in the historic French Quarter, the symposium brought together over 90 child welfare professionals, domestic violence advocates, policy makers, batterer intervention providers, social workers and many others from 22 states.  The event provided existing Safe and Together model sites to come together to compare experiences, learn from one another, build and strengthen cross-site relationships and gain new information on sustainable implementation of the model.   It was also a chance for agencies and communities less familiar with the model to learn about how it can be used to enhance competencies and collaboration in cases where children are exposed to domestic violence perpetrator behavior.  Over half of the attendees had never been to Safe and Together model training before.

The Symposium was bracketed by two keynotes by David Mandel. The first keynote focused on practicing as if domestic violence perpetrators, not adult survivors, were the source of the safety and risk concerns to children.  This simple premise has profound implications for policy, practice, services and collaboration if it is truly used to guide everything from risk and safety assessment to strategies for engaging and partnering with survivors.   David worked with the audience to identify ways child welfare systems continue to practice as if the adult survivor is the source of the danger to children and practical ways to shift the focus more onto the perpetrator.

In the second keynote, David introduced brand new material to help agencies and communities to focus on creating domestic violence informed child welfare systems. David presented on a newly developed continuum of practice framework that describes the progress from a “domestic violence destructive child welfare system” to a “domestic violence proficient child welfare system”.  Inspired by earlier work on cultural competent (Terry Cross et al. 1989)  and trauma informed systems (Hodas,2006), the continuum applies the Safe and Together model to the challenge of helping child welfare systems and their communities envision meaningful, systemic change that focuses on child safety and well being through partnerships with adult domestic violence survivors and interventions with perpetrators.

The framework identifies six systemic stages for child welfare systems related to domestic violence. The purpose of the framework is to provide a method of self-evaluation and a road map for change for child welfare and their partners.   The six stages are:

  • Domestic Violence Destructive
  • Domestic Violence Incapacity
  • Domestic Violence Blindness
  • Domestic Violence Pre Competence
  • Domestic Violence Competence
  • Domestic Violence Proficiency 

David asked the participants to consider the question: “How can we shift our policies and practice toward domestic violence proficiency?” and walked them through a series of exercises to assess their system and to develop an action plan of specific steps they could take to help them move them further towards domestic violence proficiency.  To read more about this continuum of practice framework, click here.

The two-day symposium not only focused on collaboration and enhancing practice related to the intersection of domestic violence and child maltreatment, it also fomented a deep discussion on how we can assess our institutional policies. With breakout sessions devoted to individual professions, expert plenaries and a panel discussion covering various implementations of the Safe and Together model, attendees learned how to move practice from potentially destructive responses through to a form of competency and ultimately becoming proficient in their handling of domestic violence, especially when children are involved. Other highlights including sessions focused on improving the understanding between domestic violence advocates and child welfare regarding the myriad, often underappreciated ways, advocacy agencies’ services support child welfare’s mission of safety, permanency and well being of children.

The attendees gave the symposium very high marks. 95% of participants stated that they were satisfied with the symposium and 93% of participants stated that they would definitely or possibly attend another conference.  (A fuller picture of the event feedback will be available in the next newsletter.)  Post event feedback has been overwhelmingly positive with many reporting that they have already seen the beginnings of collaboration in their community around the intersection of child welfare and domestic violence. Thank you so much to those who took time out of their schedule to travel to New Orleans and join us for such an exciting few days. (We are fully aware that the world famous beignets might have been another incentive to visit NOLA too.) The DMA team is looking forward to putting on the next annual symposium in 2014. More information will be sure to follow.

*DMA greatly appreciates the support of the Office of Violence against Women, who had approved grantees the use of training dollars to attend the Symposium.

*DMA also wishes to thank the National Association of Social Workers and the Louisiana State Bar Association, who had approved 10 hours of Continuing Education Units (CEU) and Continuing Legal Education (CLE) contact hours, respectively. 

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