Expectations of social workers, intimate partner violence, food insecurity, working in the best interests of the child, resources to support victims, safety planning, child aware practice, young people with disability
This page has three sections:
Background Material that provides the context for the topic
A suggested Practice Approach
A list of Supporting Material / References
Times of Risk
Pregnancy – onset of pregnancy has been found to increase the rate of psychological abuse among those women who have already been subject of violence. Women who experience violence during pregnancy are more likely to smoke, use drugs and anti-depressants, and have a poor diet.
Separation – violence among separated women is nine times greater than for married women. They are most at risk in the 12 months after separating. Children are also at increased risk of experiencing violence perpetrated by their fathers after their parents separate—physical, threats, witnessing violence and manipulation.
Natural disasters – reasons for family violence could include increased stress (e.g. financial), and perpetrators’ loss of control over aspects of life motivating them to seek more control over their family.
Lockdown situations, e.g. in 2020 with COVID-19 -
People expect and desire the following from healthcare professionals
Safe and supportive environment – make sure the environment is safe and supportive
Strong patient-professional relationships build on trust – establish a strong relationship before asking about FV
Believe – “That must have been very frightening for you.”
Validate – tell people they are not to blame for the violence, such violent behaviours are wrong, and they don’t deserve to experience violence; acknowledge the difficulties and challenges the person has overcome in speaking about their experience – “It must have been difficult for you to talk about this,” and “I am glad you were able to tell me about this.”
Emphasise that violence is unacceptable and not their fault – “You don’t deserve to be treated in such a way.”
Provide emotional and material support regardless of disclosure – people want to learn about their options and sources of support available to them, but they may not be ready to discuss the violence
Explain what is happening, e.g. partner arrested, or AVO. Explain what AVO means and how court proceedings will occur.
Tell client she should not feel responsible for what’s happened.
Talk about confidentiality. Use questions to get an idea of the violence and what happened.
Make a safety plan: friends and family members to contact in an emergency; organise to go to a person’s home when it is not safe and call police; how would you feel about going home if know partner cannot come back – kids would like it. Changes may be able to be made to the house (and funded by a FV organisation) to ensure safety of person and kids.
Respect autonomy – allow people to make their own choices and gain a sense of control over their lives
In a 2018 study Heward-Belle et al. warn that institutional policies and practices may inadvertently mirror the tactics of power and control exerted by perpetrators of domestic violence, expressed in the Power and Control Wheel. The authors suggest that domestic violence proficient systems should seek to partner with women, hold abusive fathers accountable, promote equal parenting standards, and attend to multiple risk factors that may sit alongside domestic violence. They suggest that these systems can actually compound the oppression already experienced by women and children survivors by, for example, using intimidation, minimising, denying, and blaming.
See the supporting material section below if interested in the Power and Control Wheel and how it can be used by those seeking to support victims of family violence.
Intimate partner violence is the most common form of family violence. Things that make you think of IPV:
Recurrent presentations of herself or with her children,
Ashamed or evasive,
Mentions in passing partner out of sorts or a bit angry at times,
Often drop cues to see if GP willing to listen, “I’ve had a bad week”
Women don’t disclose to their health provider because the health professional do not ask. Be prepared to ASK ABOUT VIOLENCE.
A recent publication investigating intimate partner violence among Australian 18 – 19 years olds (O’Donnell et al., 2023) found:
Around three in ten adolescents aged 18-19 years reported at least one experience of intimate partner violence in the previous year.
Emotional abuse was experienced by one in four adolescents aged 18–19 years in the previous year.
Physical violence was experienced by one in eight adolescents aged 18–19 years in the previous year.
One in 12 adolescents aged 18–19 years experienced sexual abuse in the previous year. Sexual abuse was more prevalent among females aged 18–19 years than males of the same age.
Supportive friendships throughout adolescence reduce the risk of later emotional abuse victimisation by 36%.
High trust and good communication with parents during adolescence reduce the risk of later emotional abuse victimisation by 39% and sexual abuse victimisation by 77%.
In Australia, women are more vulnerable to food insecurity than men, and women affected by domestic and family violence (DFV) are particularly vulnerable. These women may face controlled finances, the restriction of money for food, and financial hardship after leaving an abusive partner.
How do women and children affected by domestic and family violence experience food insecurity?
Perpetrators can withhold money to control victims, which can result in a lack of access to food and restricted diets.
Both DFV and food insecurity are risk factors for each other and the experience of one can also exacerbate the experience of the other. Food insecurity is linked with stressful events, poor mental health, housing stress, low income and unemployment.
The experience of food insecurity for women affected by DFV is not only about limiting food but about restricting the decision-making capacity of women. Depending on an abusive partner for access to food can influence a woman’s decision to leave an abusive relationship. DFV has a long-term impact on food security for women and children, and children experiencing violence or food insecurity risk a number of cognitive, social, behavioural and nutritional challenges (Paterson & Farrugia, 2020).
[The Australian Federal Government has recently released a national plan to end violence against women and children (Commonwealth of Australia, 2022). Appendix A in this plan suggests intervention across four areas is necessary: prevention, early intervention, response and recovery/healing. Some of the points mentioned in this plan are listed below and, in general, are reflected in the material that follows.
Give women and girls the confidence and strategies to challenge sexism, harassment and violence/abuse.
Recognise and check with older women, women with disability, LGBTIQA+ people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and families of veterans, as they are groups vulnerable to increased risk of violence.
Respond in a timely way to potential at-risk behaviours or attitudes that may lead to violence. Support individuals with referral pathways and treatment programs to assist them to change behaviour. For example:
Promote non-violent parenting to assist in preventing child abuse, ensuring interventions are culturally safe, community owned and tailored to different community groups.
Explore potential violence with individuals at risk, e.g. during pregnancy and after relationship breakdown.
Work with children and young people who use violence in their family setting to address behaviour and divert them away from the criminal justice system.
Increase support for children and young people experiencing or at risk of using violence including dating violence, online harassment and image-based abuse.
Responding to Victims
Do not justify, excuse, trivialise, normalise or downplay violence against women and children.
Reinforce that it is not the responsibility of women and children to end the violence; rather the perpetrator is accountable.
Raise awareness among service user of the need to challenge male control of decision-making processes. Support women to make decisions about their own lives.
Discuss prevention approaches with service users, especially those who feel as though leaving a relationship is not an option.
Respond to the serious impacts on children, young people and women of technology-facilitated abuse, in which perpetrators misuse common devices, texting and social media.
Increase support for children and young people experiencing violence including dating violence, online harassment and image-based abuse.
Support children who have been removed from their families due to violence. Provide children and young people with access to holistic and flexible care models that are responsive to the needs of diverse population groups and local communities and that focus on repairing the mother-child relationship.
Support military and veteran families to access support that understands and can respond to their experiences.
Recognise and check for increased risk of violence against older women, women with disability, LGBTIQA+ people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. For example,
Listen to and work with Aboriginal people and communities to address violence in a culturally appropriate way.
Recognise the distinct needs of Aboriginal victim-survivors in recovery and healing, including connection to culture and understanding of social and emotional wellbeing.
Recognise that intergenerational trauma and past policies and practices of governments create complex barriers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children in accessing services.
Develop whole-of-family approaches to healing for Aboriginal people, underpinned by an understanding of intergenerational trauma.
Recognise the diversity of experiences of women from migrant and refugee backgrounds.
Be aware of the need to accommodate the language needs of linguistically diverse communities.
Develop approaches for culturally and linguistically diverse communities that are underpinned by trauma-informed and culturally safe healing approaches.
Support victim-survivors to find safe housing options in the private market. Recognise the particular housing challenges faced by women and children with disability, LGBTIQA+ communities, migrant and refugee women, women in remote and regional communities and Aboriginal women.
Ensure victim-survivors have access to timely legal and welfare services, medical care and trauma specialist counselling, including for intergenerational trauma.
Intervene with employers where necessary to address gender-based violence and victim blaming in the workplace. Make perpetrators accountable.]
Acting in the best interests of the child
Christine Craik (2016) draws attention to the complexities of working in family violence situations:
A parent who abuses the other parent in a family is not a good parent. Yet time and again perpetrators are given unsupervised access to their children because perpetrating domestic/ family violence and parenting capability are viewed as separate issues by the decision makers.
Non-offenders fear being labelled as ‘unfriendly parents’ or obstructionist if they wish to protest the contact arrangements for a ‘perpetrator parent’.
Child protection systems demonstrate that domestic family violence is harmful to the child and puts pressure on non-offending parents to remove themselves from the situation. This fails to hold the non-offending parent as responsible for the consequences of abusive behaviour.
The decision to go or stay is often made without consulting the child(ren).
The non-offending parent often has to stay in a threatening situation because leaving does not guarantee safety for themselves or children. A large proportion of the women and children killed each year are killed after separation because the community does not have adequate supports in place (housing, legal, educational and emotional) to make safe a family fleeing violence.
Non-offending parents often stay with abusers in order to be present and physically available to protect children and this protection, and the behaviours that are a part of it, are rarely acknowledged as good parenting.
Social workers need to constantly ask themselves these important questions:
In every specific situation, does my risk assessment suggest it is safer for the non-offending parent and children to leave, or safer to stay?
Am I blaming the non-offending parent for the abuse and expecting her to take steps to stop the perpetrator’s violent behaviour even though as a professional who has legislation and other tools in my armoury, I cannot?
If a non-offending parent and children leave, am I advocating and agitating to ensure practical support in terms of legal assistance, housing, family support – and is this even available?
Have I taken the steps to ensure that the needs and wishes of the children are taken into account during risk assessments and decision-making?
How am I or my agency recognising and supporting the protective behaviours of the non-offending parent, and honouring the parent–child relationship between the non-offending parent and children?
Am I or my agency holding the perpetrator responsible for the abuse and accountable for the damage they are doing to everyone in the family?
Moore et al. (2020) offer the following as ways of assisting children and young people (CYP) in coping with family and domestic violence (FDV). They suggest that children and young people experience violence rather than being passive witnesses. They are often direct victims, play a part in protecting their parents (mostly mothers) and siblings and actively help them to manage the impacts that violence has on their lives. These experiences of family and domestic violence can have life-long ramifications for children and young people, but research shows that if a child is provided the right support and assistance to overcome the impacts of violence, they can cope and develop resilience in later life. While being separated from the situation is often used, being separated from family members can compromise their emotional safety and wellbeing. This brief provides young people’s accounts of their experiences of violence and reunification and what they need to be safe and feel safe as they journey towards recovery.
People expect and desire the following from healthcare professionals
A safe and supportive environment – make sure the environment is safe and supportive
Strong patient-professional relationships build on trust – establish a strong relationship before asking about FV
Have as much information available as possible before the discussion begins. Basic information about options and agencies that can help is useful.
Some Resources (Hospitals (nurses or social workers) should be able to update this information for a given location.)
NSW Police Assistance Line: 131 444
DV line for referral and seeking accommodation: 1800 152 152 (Link2home)
Counselling and Support
o 1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732
o Lifeline – 13 11 14
o Suicide Call Back – 1300 659 467
o Kids help line – 1800 55 1800
o Men’s referral service – 1300 78 99 78
o Men’s behaviour change network – 02 4624 8700
Domestic Violence Legal Advice Line: 1800 810 784
Indigenous Women’s Legal Contact Line: 1800 639 784
Women’s Legal Contact Line: 1800 801 501
Support If a victim tells you about a violent or abusive situation, listen, offer support and help them decide what the next step is. Ask Questions!
When the two of you argue or have a very bad fight, what happens?
Do you ever feel frightened of him?
Are you free to speak freely to him? What happens when you express an opinion that is different from his?
Does he ever throw things or punch holes with his fist?
How does he speak to you when he is angry or frustrated?
Does he pressure you to have sex when you don’t want to?
Are you able to obtain enough food to feed yourself and the family?
Never assume that the violence is not serious. Some victims will minimise their experience or only refer to less serious incidents. Let her know that abuse of any kind is wrong, and name the behaviour for what it is without verbally attacking the abuser.
Remind victims that the violence and abuse is not their fault. Acknowledge her bravery and courage in breaking the silence and seeking help. Realize that she may feel like she is betraying her husband by talking about the abuse. Help her understand she has done the right thing for the whole family to seek help.
Give victims choice Ensure protection and safety for those in danger. Provide a safety plan and make the client aware of resources/options available to her.
Call the police 000 Tell them you need help now and ask them to come. They can use the law to protect you.
Talk to someone you trust If you have a friend or a family member that you trust, tell them what is happening to you and how it makes you feel.
Call the Domestic Violence Line – 1800 65 64 63, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Reassure the victim that there are many agencies that can help. Let victims decide for themselves what they do next so that they feel in control of their lives, e.g. let her phone a shelter. Let the victim know about protection orders, e.g. AVOs. If you feel that you are not the best agency to provide advice, contact one of the specialist agencies in the Domestic Violence and Abuse Services handout.
Children Find out all the details about children: number, where they are/were, ages, etc. There may be a need to complete the Mandatory Reporter Guide.
A recent article (Moss et al., 2021) from the Emerging Minds suite of resources discusses the role generalist social workers can play in supporting children caught up in FDV. The resource warns workers that fathers and mothers can minimise the impact of FDV on children in a number of ways.
1. Portray themselves as victims of their children or partner’s faults and ‘bad’ behaviours.
2. Suggest their violent behaviour is a result of their own victimisation.
3. Discuss unhelpful beliefs about women and children.
1. Take responsibility for their partners’ use of violence.
2. Fear the consequences of telling too much.
3. Be affected by their partner’s version of what’s happening.
Using videos and sample questions, the resource provides practical ways social workers can move the conversation away from a focus on the mother or father to the impact FDV is having on children. This enables workers to make plans to support children’s safety and wellbeing.
Remember to be non-judgemental Victims must know that any information they give will be treated as confidential, including their whereabouts, and will not be passed on without their permission unless there are safeguarding or legal reasons for doing so.
Safety Planning Safety is the paramount issue.
Assist the woman to assess her own safety. Is it safe for her to go home? Are the children safe?
If violence starts, to use furniture as barriers between herself and the perpetrator. Avoid being cornered.
Keep an extra key to the house and car in a safe place.
Save some money for emergency transportation fares.
If possible let a neighbour know the situation and arrange a signal if in danger.
Program the local police number into the telephone.
Keep a list of emergency numbers including police, refuge, friends or family.
Consider keeping some clothing, medications, important papers (e.g. birth certificates passports), keys and cash at a friend’s place.
Discuss with the patient her options for safe accommodation. Safe accommodation may include overnight hospitalisation (social admission). Are there friends or family she could stay with?
To promote future safety, practitioners should encourage patients to access specialist support services. These may include women’s refuges, women’s health centres, social work services, counselling services.
If the perpetrator has access to firearms or other dangerous weapons and has threatened to use them, try and get the patient’s consent to notify police.
Inform the patient of her legal right to protection, and that of the children. This can involve obtaining a restraining order or laying assault charges.
Record Details around name, contact details, children and names, relationship to perpetrator, name and contact details of perpetrator, residence of perpetrator, risk factors for victim (pregnancy, mental health, substance abuse, isolation, suicide ideation), perpetrator violence (use of weapon and access to, harm or threat to harm to victim or children – how, stalking, sexual assault, previous intervention order, substance abuse, mental health).
Child Aware Practice
Parents with mental health, addiction, homelessness and family violence issues can cause major difficulties for children. These can have life-long consequences, e.g. suicide, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, high-risk sexual behaviour, violence and criminal offending, homelessness and abuse and neglect of one’s own children.
Therefore, it is important that those supporting adults also assess the impact of adults’ issues on children and take steps to support adults in their parenting role.
This is what Child Aware Practice is about. You will find this topic covered in more detail on the website at https://www.thesocialworkgraduate.com/post/child-aware-practice
Structural Social Work Practice With Families Affected By Violence
Structural social work links individual “problems” to broader societal injustices. It views social inequalities, rather than individual deficiencies as the root of people’s problems. The twofold goal of structural social work is to address people’s problems by examining the social order that surrounds them while simultaneously working to transform society through social reforms and fundamental social change. Social workers operating from a structural perspective foster an open, supportive and (where possible) “equal” relationship with people by recognising and honouring the person’s expertise in their personal situation (George & Marlow, 2005).
Witnessing and experiencing family and domestic violence has profound effects on adults, children and young people. However, FDV services are more likely to focus on the needs of parents than the immediate needs of children.
A child-focused approach to family and domestic violence planning
Planning for children and families affected by violence should be grounded in a holistic and systematic assessment of children’s safety and needs. A holistic assessment evaluates a child’s:
unique stage of development
familial context and circumstances
culture and identity
risk and trauma response; and
relationship to the perpetrator
Establishing a relationship of trust is critical for working with children and families in ways that facilitate the development of meaningful plans.
The focus needs to shift, so the child is part of the situation and is being impacted like the women. Children have a right to be involved in the decisions that affect them. They should therefore be given opportunities to contribute to their own assessments in ways that are both appropriate to their developmental capacity and that respect their cultural, spiritual, gender and sexual identity. Children should be provided the time and space to communicate when they feel ready, in a way that suits them; and may require support to ensure that their voices are heard and taken seriously.
Children’s needs are best met by whole-of-system responses involving universal, specialist and tertiary services as required.
Services responding to FDV must always be conscious of the risk presented by perpetrators. It is important to monitor changing circumstances, along with any behaviours that might indicate a heightened risk of harm and lethality.
Social workers must guard against taking away or minimising a woman’s agency. Social workers need to shift the conversations from ‘he’s strong and you’re weak’ to recognising women’s agency in those situation. Social workers need to be compassionate and understanding and sensitive around what women are living with.
Children and Young People with Disability
Research by Robinson et al. (2022) exploring the impact of family violence on young people with disability found the needs of children and young people with disability who experience domestic and family violence are not currently being met. Young people with disability often become socially isolated if they experience domestic or family violence. They can feel alone and believe that no one cares. They need support that is both trauma-informed and youth-focused. In other words, adults working with young people with disability use their knowledge about the impacts of trauma to guide all of their responses. They recognise that help for children may need to be separate from the help that others in the family might get, e.g. speak with young people separately, include them in decisions from the beginning and treat them as experts in their own lives.
Robinson’s et al. research (2022) heard that children and young people with disability need the following:
Planned, thoughtful ways for children’s and young people’s ideas and what matters to them to be heard and acted on by the services they use. Adults can look for better ways to talk to children and young people and find out what is important to them. These better ways include drawing together, taking a walk, spending time playing a game, or learning what young people need to be able to have their say and for adults to really listen.
Adults need to help children feel safe talking about these important things. They need to listen to what is important to children and young people and build relationships with them. The same also needs to be done with the people that children and young people trust. Their families and their workers are examples.
An understanding of how disability and trauma are closely linked for children and young people with significant support needs, and how this can make things very hard for children and young people.
Help for children and young people to feel better and recover. To do this they need workers who really understand them and their needs and how to do things that really help.
Robinson et al. (2022) found that services need to improve.
Put children first and realise that children and young people with disability have their own trauma, needs, likes and dislikes. They are still very much part of their families even when they are not living with them.
Workers need to better understand disability and the experiences of children and young people when there is violence at home. When workers only think about one part of a child’s life, they can miss important things. This can make things worse.
Children and young people with disability have the right to support that meets their needs. It should not rely on their families having funding or making a good application. Children and their families might need someone to fight for them.
When workers find the problems are too big, or they are unable to help, workers shouldn’t opt out. Instead, workers from different services and systems should work together and learn from each other. Children and young people with disability and their families can have lots of problems and workers need to get together to make sure that all their needs are met.
(available on request)
ANROWS: Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety https://www.anrows.org.au/
Children’s exposure to domestic and family violence (2015)
Commonwealth of Australia (Department of Social Services). (2022). National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032. https://www.dss.gov.au/women-programs-services-reducing-violence/the-national-plan-to-end-violence-against-women-and-children-2022-2032
Craik, C. (2016). Acting in the best interests of the child: Are we there yet? Social Work Focus, 1(3), 16-17.
Domestic violence booklet: A guide for family and friends
Forms of domestic violence
Family violence in rural and remote communities (2015)
George, P., & Marlowe, S. (2005). Structural social work in action. Journal of Progressive Human services, 16(1), 5-24. doi:10.1300/J059v16n01_02
Heward-Belle, S., Laing, L., Humphreys, C. & Toivonen, C. (2018) Intervening with Children Living with Domestic Violence: Is the System Safe?, Australian Social Work, 71(2), 135-147. doi: 10.1080/0312407X.2017.1422772
Moss, D., Mandara, M., & Wendt, S. (2021). Child-focused practice in social work: Beginning the naming journey when family and domestic violence is present.
Moving Forward, DFV case management services has developed a range of resources on relationships, domestic abuse and coercive control. Tailored resources are available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, culturally and linguistically diverse and LGBTQI+ people, including a range of language translated pocket guides. Two resources, in particular, appear helpful: Coercive Control and Charmed and Dangerous: A woman’s guide to reclaiming a healthy relationship. These are available from http://www.movingforward.org.au/resources/
O’Donnell, K., Rioseco, P., Vittiglia, A., Rowland, B., & Mundy, L. (2023). Intimate partner violence among Australian 18–19 year olds. (Growing Up in Australia Snapshot Series – Issue 11). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. https://aifs.gov.au/research/commissioned-reports/intimate-partner-violence-among-australian-18-19-year-olds
PACTS: An innovative primary care program advancing competency to support family violence survivors http://www.pactsproject.org/files/pacts-study-guide-june-2016.pdf
Paterson, N., & Farrugia, C. (2020). Experiences of food insecurity for Australian women and children affected by domestic and family violence. Child Family Community Australia. Retrieved from https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/2020/12/02/experiences-food-insecurity-australian-women-and-children-affected-domestic-and-family
Power and Control Wheel https://www.theduluthmodel.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/PowerandControl.pdf
Power and Control Wheel applied to public organisations. (Extracted from Heward-Belle et al., 2018)
Robinson, S., Burton, J., Valentine, k., O’Donnell, M., Brebner, C., Moore, T., & Marshall, A. (2022). Connecting what matters: Children and young people with disability and their families share their views on how services can help when they experience domestic and family violence. https://www.anrows.org.au/resources/connecting-what-matters-children-and-young-people-with-disability-and-their-families-share-their-views-on-how-services-can-help-when-they-experience-domestic-and-family-violence/
Wendt, S., Rowley, G., Seymour, K., Bastian., & Moss, D. (2023). Child-focused practice competencies: Structural approaches to complex problems. Emerging Minds Practice Paper. https://emergingminds.com.au/resources/child-focused-practice-competencies-structural-approaches-to-complex-problems/?audience=practitioner