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Safe and Together Model Suite of Tools and Interventions: An in-depth look: Gender responsive, gender and sexual orientation neutral, fact based approach to assessment

by David Mandel, MA, LPC

The Safe and Together Model Suite of Tools and Interventions represents a gender responsive, gender and sexual orientation neutral, fact based approach to domestic violence where children are involved.  The focus on perpetrator’s patterns related to coercive control and actions taken to harm children provides us with a strong foundation for fact-based assessment that is far more expansive than most traditional domestic violence related assessments. This provides the ability to detect diverse patterns of domestic violence perpetration in families including women perpetrating against male partners and domestic violence in same sex relationship.   With its clear focus on patterns of coercive control and actions taken to harm the children, the model offers an clear and powerful assessment methodology that focuses on behaviors that harmful to children versus gender.  This fact based, pattern approach helps workers sort out the risk and safety issues for children when more than one caregiver is arrested or have been violent.  In dual arrest cases, the model dictates asking the same assessment questions about both parents.  While the model explicitly acknowledges that both men and women can be violent and controlling, this fact based assessment practice has demonstrated through its application in multiple jurisdictions that the child welfare domestic violence caseload is predominantly defined by male perpetrators and female survivors. This means that when domestic violence is the factor, children are predominantly being threatened or harmed by male caregivers.

The fact based focus also leads to case plans with measurable goals.  Because domestic violence is defined by behavior, behavior patterns to need to form the assessment and intervention focal point.  By mapping the behaviors of both the perpetrator and the survivor, practitioners have a starting point for all their work with the family. From clear behavioral assessment of the perpetrators’ pattern and the adult survivors’ protective capacities, the model encourages case planning that focuses on what each parent has responsibility for and can change to determine a behaviorally defined case plan. Services, when necessary, are then identified to support the achievement of those behavior change goals.   Working in parallel process, we also focus on the behavior of the practitioner and the system by asking focus on the “how” not just the “what.”  Moving the conversation from “Did you screen for domestic violence?” to “How did you screen for domestic violence?” becomes the starting point for practice transformation.

A gender responsive approach is important for two reasons. First, research and practice indicate that gender matters significantly when it comes to responding to families. For example, data indicates significant differences in the men’s patterns of violence and abuse versus women’s patterns.  Men’s violence is usually more embedded in a pattern of coercive control and is associated with higher levels of injury. Both these variables have important significance for child safety and well being, and practice and policy.  (*see italics below for example of supporting data) Second, we still hold drastically different societal standards for men and for women as parents.  High expectations for women as parents and low expectations for men as fathers plays as significant, if often unidentified role, in child welfare policy, practice and service delivery.  Men have been both harmed and helped by this double standard. Some men, often poor men and men of color, have been disregarded or vilified by child welfare systems.  Other men, often violent men, have been able to avoid responsibility and consequences for their behavior.   We work to address the role of men and fathers in a balanced, safe, and meaningful way.  This includes strongly supporting men’s positive involvement in the lives of their families, setting high expectations for men as parents and developing the tools and interventions to supporting as many men as possible to reach them. We also take a wider view of batter accountability than arrest, courts and BIPs.  We start with high expectations of men as parents, and from their move outwards towards interventions, behavior change and accountability.  This focus on high standards of parenting for men as parents does not only help child welfare professionals but also others, like adult probation, who work with families impacted by domestic violence.

*One of the most objective resources for understanding the role of gender as it relates to partner violence is the joint National Institute of Justice/Centers for Disease Control Study on the “Extent, Nature and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence” (2000). A national telephone survey of 8,000 men and 8,000 women, it gives a more representative view of the issue and its complexity than reports based on domestic violence agencies or even reports by police Departments and the FBI. Some points that stand out:

  • “Nearly 25 percent of surveyed women and 7.6 percent of surveyed men said they were raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, or date at some time in their lifetime;”
  •  “Women experience more chronic and injurious physical assaults at the hands of intimate partners than do men.” (41.5% v. 19.9%)
  • “Men living with male intimate partners experience more intimate partner violence than do men who live with female intimate partners.” (15% v. 7.7%)
  • “Violence perpetrated against women by intimates is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior. The survey found that women whose partners were jealous, controlling, or verbally abusive were significantly more likely to report being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked by their partners, even when other sociodemographic and relationship characteristics were controlled. Indeed, having a verbally abusive partner was the variable most likely to predict that a woman would be victimized by an intimate partner.”

To read a bibliography on women’s use of violence click here.

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