When we encounter abused and neglected children, we can usually trace the root cause to one of three family problems: substance abuse, mental illness or domestic violence.
By its very definition, child abuse is domestic violence. But I am referring to the violence that takes place between the adults in the home. This often spills over and puts children in unsafe situations.
Traditionally, we have handled domestic violence as we handle the other root causes: place the children in a safe situation – usually removing them from the home — and require treatment and services for the perpetrator. Our mandate is to keep children safe and that is always our number one concern.
But recently I came to the conclusion that we cannot achieve our core mission of safety, permanency and the well being of children without really tackling the issue of domestic violence head on.
We needed to serve the family as a whole:
- serving the victims of domestic violence while also working with the batterers
- improving our understanding of the batterer’s behavior and its impact on the children we are serving
- doing a better job of safety planning with the survivors of domestic violence
That brought us to two things:
- a unique relationship with the Cincinnati YWCA that has led to a much better response to domestic violence cases
- an introduction to the Safe and Together Model.
We are one of only a handful of Children’s Services agencies in the state that has domestic violence advocates on site. We have four YWCA advocates housed in our agency who can respond with us any time we encounter a domestic violence case. They are consultants who provide valuable guidance and a helping hand when it comes to consoling and counseling a domestic violence victim.
One example of how this has helped: we have a much greater success rate at getting Temporary Protection Orders because of their assistance in communicating how important these are for the safety of children and convincing victims to appear in court.
We also use these advocates to teach our new workers the Safe and Together model. The guiding principles behind the model are:
- keeping the domestic violence survivor and child together
- enlisting the survivor in a partnership for the good of the child that is based on a comprehensive assessment of the situation
- improving child welfare outcomes by intervening with domestic violence perpetrators.
This new method has led to a new way of thinking, focused on keeping the child and the domestic violence victim together, so a solution can be worked out that allows both to heal together.
We are not going to end domestic violence, just like we cannot put a stop to all child abuse. I wish, more than anything, we could put ourselves out of business.
But we must remain open to new approaches and always strive to get better at serving Hamilton County residents. I think our new approach does that.