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Toward domestic violence-informed child welfare agency policy

by David Mandel

When David Mandel & Associates works with agencies and systems to become more domestic violence-informed, they cover a range of organizational issues including policy. These efforts are guided by our Domestic Violence-Informed Continuum of Practice, aspects of which are referenced here. While the policy issues will vary depending on the type of agency, here are some items that should be considered when statutory and third sector/NGO/non-profit child welfare agencies want to become more domestic violence-informed. While other items might be included, a domestic violence-informed agency policy would express the following:

● The agency’s commitment to implementing a perpetrator pattern, child centered, survivor strength-based approach to the intersection of domestic violence and child and family functioning. It would outline a commitment to address domestic violence in all its programs, not just in situations where cases are referred for domestic violence or the program specializes in domestic violence, e.g. substance violence programming needs to be domestic violence-informed too. It would articulate how domestic violence organizational proficiency is critical to the agency’s mission related to children and families.

● The scope and nature of the relationship between domestic violence perpetrator behavior patterns and child and family functioning, including the intersectionality of domestic violence and other commonly occurring family issues such as substance abuse, mental health problems, poverty, and discrimination. It would touch upon severity, relationship to child fatalities, and prevalence in the general population, and the child welfare caseload.

● A commitment to a comprehensive, accurate, behaviorally-focused assessment framework which combines 1) a gendered analysis of the issue of domestic violence through a commitment to high standards for men as parents and ensuring that mothers’ parenting strengths are comprehensively assessed, and 2) the use of coercive control and actions taken to harm child and family functioning as an assessment lens. It would identify that this approach increases the likelihood that domestic violence will be accurately assessed in varying situations, e.g. same sex and heterosexual relationships, and that systems are less likely to be unduly influenced by gender, race, class, ethnicity, education and other factors in their assessments.

● A commitment to work toward, whenever possible, keeping children safe and together with the adult domestic violence survivor.

● A commitment to partnering with adult survivors around the safety and wellbeing of their children.

● The importance of intervening with perpetrators as part of efforts to improve outcomes for families. It would also express that this occurs within the overall context of safety for family members and staff.

● The commitment to avoiding “domestic violence destructive or neglectful” practices which compromise the safety of adult and child domestic violence survivors or push them away from assistance and support. This includes the development of specific protocols and practices to manage risk and safety including the confidentiality of information, which if inappropriately shared, may increase the risk of harm.

● Broad practice guidance for domestic violence specific services, and non-domestic violence specific services, e.g. the importance of developing practices that encourage partnering with adult domestic violence survivors around the safety and wellbeing of their children.

● Mandates universal screening for domestic violence across all services and at multiple points in the case process.

● Has expectations for basic minimum competence in domestic violence for all staff, and appropriate levels of training for specialized domestic violence staff.

● The commitment to be a community leader in the area of domestic violence-informed practice, e.g. public communications, participation in multi-agency efforts to use a perpetrator pattern-based approach as a shared framework for multi-disciplinary teams.

● The commitment to support the safety and wellbeing of staff who are themselves domestic violence victims. The agency would also express its policy on staff members who commit domestic violence. This would include its stance on continued employment or termination related to domestic violence perpetration and, without colluding with their violence and jeopardizing the safety of others, the agency would also express its commitment to offer staff members who perpetrate violence appropriate levels of intervention and support to change their behavior.

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