Stories to Inspire

Working with survivors of domestic violence and their families requires specific strategies, and sometimes it can be challenging for workers to hold the perpetrator accountable while keeping the children safe and together with the survivor.

To help address this, the General Authority held an important training session in January with two     facilitators from the Children’s Research Centre (CRC) called Domestic Violence: Maintaining Rigor when Partnering with Families.

The facilitators from the CRC provided valuable instruction, linking family safety/facilitation with Safe and Together training for GA supervisors and All-Nations Co-ordinated Response network (ANCR) management from Jan. 9 to 12 at the General Authority’s training centre.

Participants were introduced to or were re-familiarized with Safe and Together concepts to increase proficiency in engaging domestic violence survivors, using solution-focused, safety organized strategies.

“What we are trying to do is create a DV-informed child   welfare system, and that can be challenging,” said Heather Meitner, a senior program specialist at the CRC. Meitner conducted the training with Luck Lucky, a trainer with the CRC.

Safe and Together is the domestic violence training program embraced by the GA and its agencies and service regions since 2016 that is child-centred and puts the onus on the perpetrator of abuse, while focusing on the survivor’s strengths. Safety Organized Practice (SOP) is a framework designed to help all those who care about the child, including parents, extended family, child welfare workers, lawyers, etc., assess and enhance child safety during the case process. A safety-organized approach is built around working relationships between all of these stakeholders.

Lucky and Meitner were impressed with the Safe and Together training that had already been received by those at GA agencies and service regions and ANCR. “You guys are way ahead of us,” said Lucky, who works with families in California.

The trainers dedicated much of the two-day training using a lengthy case scenario with a survivor of domestic abuse who had protected her two children while her spouse held them at gunpoint, until police arrived.

Using that scenario, participants learned to use the Safety Organized Practice Domestic Violence Timeline (SOP DV Timeline), an actual visual timeline that can be written out with survivors, which incorporates the tools of SOP, the Structured Decision Making (SDM) system, (a tool used by workers to make decisions to ensure child safety), and the Safe and Together model.

The SOP DV Timeline was created by Lucky to “engage the survivor in wanting to partner with the   agency, and jointly make a balanced assessment of safety and danger.”

It is used when interviewing for danger and safety. Much of the discussion during the training was focused on working with the survivor of the domestic violence, and other stakeholders, to create a future safety plan for the family.

Attendees practised each step of the timeline process, using the case scenario.

They used the SOP DV Timeline to map out events that happened in the family’s lives related to the DV, and included the year/month the events happened. Events are divided into Danger events and Safety events. (For example, as part of the Danger portion of the timeline, in July 2013, dad cheated on mom and didn’t support her after her parents died.)

The trainers noted that the SOP DV Timeline is most   effective for survivors who have been through several relationships in which they and their children were harmed by violent or controlling partners.

“The SOP DV Timeline can really help us have a balanced assessment. This can be used at your family meeting,” said Meitner.

She added, “It’s important to get workers to ask in-depth questions so they get it right.”

The purpose of the SOP DV Timeline includes:

  • Assess for safety and risk by partnering with the survivor to document harm and danger by the partner
  • Help CFS focus on perpetrator’s past and present patterns of coercive control
  • Recognize survivor’s courageous actions to protect her/his family and their supporters
  • Keep children safe and together with survivor by creating a plan for future safety

In introducing the timeline to a survivor, Lucky uses the following statement: “It’s really going to help me understand what happened. I want to find out about how he/she harmed you.”

When working with the survivor, Meitner and Lucky said it’s important to include what they call “windows of opportunity.”

“These are gaps in the survivor’s life, where there was no harm or danger present, and the survivor was parenting safely,” said Lucky.

During these times, (i.e., he was sober, he was working full time) it’s helpful to praise the survivor for actions she/he took and to use these positive events to help them plan for future safety, the   trainers said.

One of the major goals of   doing the SOP DV Timeline is that it directly involves the survivor, and helps her/him want to work with the worker to come up with solutions together.

Meitner said it’s often helpful to say to the survivor, “I’m here to partner with you.” That way, they are directly involved in coming up with a safety plan.

One of the key takeaways, said Meitner and Lucky, is that removing the father from the relationship or home “does not always equal child safety.”

The pair also talked about the importance of being culturally aware and sensitive, and seeing through the lens of those who may be LGBTQ, and not through a white, middle-class point of view.

Meitner and Lucky.

The plan for working with the survivor also includes getting the perpetrator to the table and involving them in being accountable for their behaviour. In terms of getting the perpetrator to be included in creation of a safety plan when at all possible, the trainers recommended that they appeal to the perpetrator as a parent first, and one who cares about his/her children.

Meitner had several pieces of advice when interviewing the perpetrator.

One is to always discuss acts of domestic violence as parenting choices, which is also central to Safe and Together training.

Another, said Meitner, is “if you could turn back time, what would you do differently?” Or, looking into the future, “five years into the future, where do you see things. How will your child be safe?”

To best work with the perpetrator toward change, Meitner said, is to get a 360-degree assessment of the      perpetrator pattern. “Ask parents, grandparents, friends…how far back does this behaviour go? That gives you way more detail than this current relationship.

“Then you connect the dots between the perpetrator’s behaviour and the pathway of the child’s safety and wellbeing or harm.”

The perpetrator then needs to take responsibility for his behaviour and go on to create objectives for the future, including demonstrating behaviour changes, agreeing to make safe parenting choices by putting children’s safety first and developing a positive support network of family and friends who are informed about the past harm and will hold them accountable to prevent future harm.

The final step in Meitner and Lucky’s DV training is to create a DV-informed case plan.

The plan should:

  • Be created with the family and the child
  • Be behaviourally specific and detailed
  • Require demonstrated change in behaviour
  • Hold perpetrator accountable
  • Involve network members
  • Keep child safe and together with survivor

Above all, said Lucky, the survivor and CFS have the same goal, “to keep the child safe.”

Adds Meitner, “They have been using strategies that we probably don’t even know about.”

The next step for CRC training will likely be focused on perpetrators. The GA is currently exploring this for the next fiscal year.