David Mandel-a fresh approach to family violence

I was very fortunate recently to hear David Mandel present about family violence. David is a practitioner, educator and researcher from the USA who has spent his career developing a new way of approaching the issue of family violence. He has highlighted a number of dubious assumptions that have underpinned our attitude to identifying and dealing with this issue. He has turned these on their head and developed a new model based on different principles and critical components.

David promotes concepts and skills for successfully intervening with DV perpetrators, and partnering with DV survivors around safety and the well being of children. This model is a child centred and survivor strength approach and called the Safe and Together Model.

There is general agreement that it is vital to partner with survivors, to intervene with perpetrators, and improve the situation for children. The legal and welfare sectors usually focus on the family violence survivor, they see this person as unable to act protectively for their children and their intervention flow from this underlying assumption. This approach is based on the nature of the relationships between the parents, and the parents and their children

The Safe and Together Model provides service delivery based on family violence survivors as being willing but not able to act protectively. The assessment of harm and safety is based on patterns of behaviour of the perpetrator, and any intervention is driven by the need for behavioural change on the part of the perpetrator, rather than the ability of the survivor to act protectively.

The current actions of the survivor are seen in the context of the past pattern of behaviour of the perpetrator-for example her inability to leave the home: not as her not acting protectively, but a response to his pattern of control and intimidation; her current substance abuse, as a need to deal with her extreme feelings of inadequacy arising from a pattern of verbal abuse and constant criticism, rather than indicating her neglect of her children.

This enables a better alliance with the survivor, a better ability to provide the necessary supports and therefore safety and well being of the children. The trauma assessment is undertaken hand in hand with an assessment of safety. Questions must be asked about the past as well as the current patterns of behaviour and the impact of these on parenting and the wellbeing of the family. This minimizes the risk of making assumptions that current behaviour is seen outside the proper context, and misinterpreted as a failure to act protectively.

The violence of the perpetrator is seen as a negative parenting choice that has a far reaching impact on the other parent and any child. They must be regarded as completely responsible for the impact on the children. This avoids the shame and guilt of the survivor, and paves the way for partnership with the survivor for better outcomes, based on behavioural change of the perpetrator.

In Family Dispute Resolution, family violence involves a power imbalance and a history of control. An identification of the patterns of behaviour is necessary, and the acknowledgement of these as parenting choices. The challenge for the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner is to be able to manage this engagement and accountability constructively, to be able to facilitate the path forward for behavioural change and better outcomes for the family.

Those working in this area know all too well the emotional leverage from comments such as “I love my children, and would never knowingly do anything to harm them, I just want to be there for them as their father”.

Working with the perpetrator, the aim is to follow the mediation principle of “separate the person from the behaviour”. By engaging the perpetrator, investigating the situation from a behavioural perspective, and making him accountable for his behaviour, it is possible to move towards positive behavioural change.

What do they need to do to be more responsible as parents-to provide safety for the children, to assist them to heal from trauma, to support their ongoing stability and security? If they want to support their children, what action can they take to make this happen-return the car, pay the rent and for food, supporting the children’s relationship with the survivor?

This approach is described as child centred. There is a need to explore how involved the parents have been in their children’s lives. Often these questions are responded to with broad sweeping statements. There must be unpacking to understand the behaviours underlying these statements, to get to the concrete and pragmatic.

What are their biggest concerns about the children’s behaviour, what could be their contribution to the problems, or the struggles that the family is facing?

The problems must be acknowledged, they must be viewed as behaviours and parenting choices, and contribution must be explored to the situations that have arisen, the problems that have presented and the family struggles. The perpetrators behaviour and impact on the family is so closely connected that this can be hard to unpack. But basic questions can be useful such as: What is he like as a parent? How is this impacting on the family?

As family lawyers in the legal system we have a big responsibility to present our story to the courts in a way that does not portray the current situation out of context. Magistrates and those making decisions and recommendations, rely on the information that is put before them to understand the overall picture and to make the best decisions for children. By asking the difficult questions to understand the pattern of behaviour and the impact of this on the quality of parenting and the best interests of the children, we can have a big part to play in provision of all required evidence and responsible decision making. A description can be factual, but also domestic violence destructive, or perpetrator pattern based.

David Mandel provides a fresh approach to family violence that sits well with the principles underlying the Family Law Act and our role as officers of the court, charged with promoting these principles. For some time the dialogue around family violence has felt like one of the fundamental pieces of this conversation has been overlooked. David points to what this might be, and provides very pragmatic ways of changing and improving this conversation for the benefit of survivors and most importantly the children stuck in these situations.

David’s ideas can be found at

www.endingviolence.com and

www.facebook.com/safeandtogether .

This approach needs to be explored and a conversation needs to happen to investigate how this might be implemented into our approach, understanding and management of these issues. If you would like to be involved in this please contact me at Creative Family Law Solutions.

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