Narrator Welcome to the Emerging Minds podcast.
Host Chris Dolman [00:00:08] Hello, everyone, and welcome to this second episode of our Family and Domestic Violence podcast. I’m Chris Dolman. And in this episode, you will hear from experienced family violence. Practitioners and other leaders in the field discuss the topic of family and domestic violence and child aware practise. In our earlier podcast, we highlighted the climate of fear that children experiencing family and domestic violence live in and the impact of family and domestic violence on children, including its impact on the mother child relationship. We also looked at some of the practise dilemmas that accompany conversations with mothers about their children’s well-being in a context of family violence and some ways of responding to these dilemmas, too. In this episode, we’ll be considering some of the possible entry points into conversations about children’s well-being with mothers experiencing family violence. And fathers who are using violence. We’ll also be looking at themes of safety, complexity and organisational support. We know that many women experiencing family violence will not typically present at specialist family violence services. In the first instance, they’ll access other services. So it’s important for generalist practitioners to have the skills and confidence to work with parents who are living with family violence. We hear first from Sara when professor of social work at Flinders University.
Sarah Wendt [00:01:19] I think it’s particularly important for generic practitioners to have an understanding of domestic and family violence, mainly for three reasons. If you think about the prevalence of domestic and family violence, that is good reason in and of itself. So we know in Australia at the moment, one in four women will experience domestic violence and we know that over half of children will witness or experience that violence themselves. So that’s a really good reason for why we need outdrawn generalist practitioners to understand this issue. We also in Australia have some big policy drivers like how National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their children and the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children. Both these platforms say that we have to understand this issue in the community and in our practise.
Chris Dolman [00:02:10] Along with prevalence and policy considerations, generalist practitioners also have a role to play in helping women make sense of their situation. Megan Hughes, Executive Manager, Strategic Projects at Women’s Safety Services South Australia, explains further.
Megan Hughes [00:02:25] It can’t just be seen as specialist work because then we’ll be missing a whole cohort of people that require a service, women and children don’t necessarily come to domestic and family violence services, first incident in fact, the last place they want to go for a number of reasons. One is they might not even recognise that what they’re experiencing yet is domestic and family violence. They just feel like they’re going crazy. Things are really terrible. She feels unable to manage anymore. And of course, she’ll think that’s her fault. So in a sense, our first job is to see domestic and family violence and to talk about what she’s experiencing is this. So that helps her build a context and a way of understanding her situation. So generalist services play a really important role in knowing about domestic and family violence, recognising it when they see it so that they can, say, help women come to a new kind of understanding about that and referring to the specialist services.
Chris Dolman [00:03:39] The limited capacity of specialist services also elevates the importance of generalist practitioners having an understanding of domestic and family violence. Is Sarah Wendt from Flinders University again.
Sarah Wendt [00:03:51] I think unintentionally downplays the enormity of this issue or the prevalence of it. And also, we have an assumption that this sector has the ability and the capacity and the workforce to be able to respond to this tsunami. And I think that they’re dangerous assumptions about what these sectors are resourced to actually do. When I think about what’s important for generalist practitioners to know, as opposed to the specialist’s practitioners, I think that across all human services or health services that we need a strong understanding of domestic and family violence. And I’m talking about coercive control, patterns of behaviour, fear and intimidation, because once you understand that as a general practitioner, you’re able to engage safely and you’re able to assess risk through an informed lens. So I think everyone should understand the danger of power and control and the gendered nature in how that’s played out. And that’s why we have such significant impacts on women and children’s safety. So for me, it’s paramount that generalist practitioners have a strong understanding of that foundational knowledge of domestic and family violence. When I talk about the specialist knowledge, I want to acknowledge that our foundational knowledge has come from the specialist sectors. So it is they is those sectors that have grown the evidence base from the grassroots up and from the practise and lived experiences of men, women and children. And I think we need to acknowledge that.
Chris Dolman [00:05:25] As Megan Hughes indicated. If women do access a generalist service, they may not initially speak about the violence they’re experiencing for a variety of reasons, or they may refer to it or indicate it’s happening, but in less obvious ways. We spoke with experienced practitioners from Uniting Communities, Specialised Family Violence Service about the kinds of things mothers might say in a conversation with a practitioner that could alert the practitioner that she might be experiencing coercion or threats, put downs, control, fear of violence. Here’s Aerinn Morgan and Jo Allen.
Aerinn Morgan [00:05:55] I can remember times when I’ve had an appointment to meet with a woman. And, you know, I’ll say to her, you know, we do the preliminary stuff and I say, you know what’s brought you today? And she say, well, I’ve been feeling really anxious and really depressed. So I will explore that with her. You know, tell me a bit more about that. And invariably, when I hear women start of conversations like that, I will find that there is some form of violence in her life, either currently or in the past or some sort of trauma there, again, current or previous, that has had her focussing on the fact that she is mentally ill rather than a victim of violence or abuse. So that for me is one that, you know, when I hear women start the conversation with that, I start to think I wonder if there’s any violence or abuse around here. Another common way women start conversations is that, you know, my husband and I are having a few problems. And I might say you can tell me about those problems and they might say, ‘oh, well, we’ve been arguing a lot’. Okay. Can you tell me what sorts of arguments you’ve been having? You know? ‘Well, we yell at each other’. And so I tend to ask for quite detailed particulars, you know, so when you talk about yelling, what do you mean? And so women often start off very vague. They’ll say, ‘oh, well, we yell at each other’. So I might ask a question about ‘does one of you yell more than the other one?’ You know, ‘do yell more or does your partner you more?’ And so I’m starting to get more and more clear about the situation because often it starts off as a very general, ‘we’re not communicating’ or ‘we’re not we’re not getting on well’ or those sorts of vague things.
[00:07:57] And so I’m wanting to know the specifics. Who does most of the yelling? And, you know, when does it happen? And women will often say to me, ‘oh, well, yeah, he has been violent to me, but I’m violent to him, too’ and so I’ll say ‘okay can you tell me a bit about that?’ ‘So can you describe to me something that’s happened to you’ and then a woman will give me a description and then I’ll say, ‘well, can you describe something that that you’ve done?’ And then she’ll give me a description. And then I might ask her, ‘well, what effect did it have on you when that happened to you?’ And she’ll probably say something like ‘well, it really frightened me’. Some women sometimes say to me,’I thought I was gonna die’.
[00:08:44] And then I say, ‘well, when you did what you do, what what effect do you think that had on your partner? You know, did it frighten him?’ ‘well no, he laughed’. ‘Okay What do you make of that then, that, you know, you felt frightened or are you sure you were going to die? And he laughed or it didn’t bother him or he walked out. What do you make of that?’.
[00:09:04] So I try and invite women to think about this. So I’m not saying to a woman, your partner’s violent. You know, I’m sort of inviting her to think this through for herself because she knows but this may be the first time she’s ever had a chance to articulate these things. And so often for women, it’s when they’re asked these questions and ask these specific details, they start to realise themselves that there’s actually a difference here. There’s a gender and a power imbalance in what’s going on, which is what makes the violence not equal. So violence is never okay whether women are doing it or men are doing it. But often women have an idea and men support this idea that the violence is mutual or it’s equal. And that’s very, very rarely the case at all. There may be violence going on from both parties, but usually the woman has far more to lose than the man does.
Joanne Allen [00:10:12] Things that women have maybe said in the counselling room that fits with experiencing, quote, coercion or control or manipulation or abuse would be things that just fit with them downgrading their own needs or stories of them compensating around their partners needs or sense of that they’re not sort of equal to that other person in the home or outside the home. Yeah, that there’s sometimes a sense that they’re protecting or guarding something, maybe respectfully say, or that, you know, there’s sort of unexplained bits to the story or injuries or tentativeness or around they’re looking like they want to say something, but they haven’t quite worked out whether that’s safe or okay or they’re ready yet. So bit of a pulling back kind of feeling. Sometimes they’re quite explicit and quite can quite clearly name their practises of abuse they’ve been experiencing and can really give it names. Yeah, I think it’s hard for women when they go to believe that someone who claims they love them is also harming them and their children. That’s a big thing to step into and big realisation. Or maybe it’s not something people want to do straight away.
Chris Dolman [00:11:21] So Aerinn and Jo have highlighted the importance of practitioners slowing the conversation down and seeking to understand the particular circumstances, the context of what mothers are describing and listening out for subtle cues to that are worth opening up a conversation about. Jo further explains.
Joanne Allen [00:11:37] Women, I think, who only share what they really feel comfortable or ready to share, and they’re pretty agentive in doing that. So I don’t think there’s any dangerous kind of question. I think it’s dangerous to ask loaded questions or make assumptions about their situation. But, you know, we can gently enquire if they’re sort of wanting to go further into a particular story or if there’s things in their context that’s making their life as a parent a little bit more of a struggle or a challenge, taking them away from their preferred parenting practises. But if they kind of really, if we’re really transparent from the start about our responsibilities to them and their family around safety, there shouldn’t be any major surprises in having those conversations. And I think most people feel like a deep sense of relief and being able to share that in some way in a comfortable scaffolded kind of way for them. Others aren’t ready. And they may come to 10 sessions and eventually say, ‘actually, there’s this thing I really want to say. I’m not quite sure where it’s going to go and I’m a bit scared of what’s going to happen can we talk a bit more about that?’ Yeah, and I think when when people start wanting to talk about their children’s experience, they can start hypothesising what it is like to maybe be a 10-year-old and love your dad, but also kind of hate seeing dad hurt mum or yell loudly or sort of maybe sometimes harm them as well. So it’s easy for us to look at things with an adult set of eyes. And, you know, we can gently start enquiring about how they see their child through their own child eyes, but making the children like everyone in the family, really visible in the conversation. So it doesn’t get loaded onto the mum is that she’s the only one that should be doing anything about this problem, given that she’s not necessarily causing this problem. She’s responding. She’s resisting. She’s collaborating with other services, she’s trying to break this isolation, she’s trying to do many things to enrich her children’s lives largely, I think it’s okay to make those positive assumptions and ask from that place rather than you know, you need to get out of there kind of place.
Chris Dolman [00:13:42] We’ve been hearing from Aerinn Morgan and Jo Allen of Uniting Communities Specialist Family Violence Service. Sarah Wendt explains the positive differences these conversations can make for women and their children.
Sarah Wendt [00:13:54] I’ve heard women lots of times say, I think I’m going crazy or I feel really depressed and anxious. And so it’s easy to interpret women through those lenses as well, that you just need to get your anxiety under control or you need to take some time out to deal with your depression. But if domestic and family violence is part of her life and you change that conversation to what is happening in your environment, what is happening in your life and where is this coming from? It can give her a whole other lens to look at what’s happening to her and her life and how she might be feeling. But it also gives the practitioner another way to engage with her. That’s not all focussed on her, where we can slip into blame, where she’s already feeling probably guilty and blame herself. We don’t need to reinforce that. So you can then start to partner with her and work alongside her if you turn to the environment and often turning to the environment might be safe also before you start pointing fingers at him. But it also then gives a lens to say this is what fear does, this is what intimidation does. And then that can help open up the conversation about, well, who’s perpetrating this and how is this happening and what can we do around your safety and how can we then engaged with him. So the focus starts to turn. And I think that that can just be a small thing that a practitioner does in terms of how they understand women. When women present with a range of issues, if domestic and family violence is present, opening up, that discussion with that lens gives a whole other platform to start a conversation. It’s not all about her.
Chris Dolman [00:15:31] Safety is of paramount importance, and these types of conversations can support practitioners to engage in child focussed conversations with mothers. Here Sarah explains further.
Sarah Wendt [00:15:42] I think it gives you a good platform to engage in conversations about their children without fear that their children might be taken or without fear that she’s not doing a good enough job. So I think it does give a safe platform where you can both look at it together. It’s not about her. And I also think it can give a safe platform to start opening up discussions about him when she might be also fearful to name him and what he’s doing and the shame that she might feel from that. So by stepping out of individual focuses and using your domestic violence lens, it just gives you a wider scope to explore things in a safe, not so confronting way or an individualistic, unintentional, blaming way. So one can think about safety in lots of different ways. So one can think about safety in terms of a good warm referral to a specialist agency. One can think of safety in terms of as practitioner, just having the confidence to hold their nerve and or an assessment with whoever’s presenting so that they can do a bit of safety planning. But also for me, I think what I’m also thinking about a safety or a safe response, I’m also talking about when you have a lens of gender, it invites you to look somewhere else.
[00:17:00] And so in domestic and family violence, often what happens unintentionally because of the big social messages around how we understand relationships, how we understand parenting, we can unintentionally always turn our mind to the primary caregiver in children’s lives, which is often always the mum. And so we can start to stereotype about what we expect of mums, what she’s doing to stop the violence, how she protecting the children or what she’s actually doing wrong, whether it’s her drug or alcohol use or her mental health that she’s actually struggling with. So we can also think about how unsafe it is to bring all our assumptions and responsibilities to one person. And I think in the past, because of our big cultural messages about men and women, we put a lot of assumptions and a lot of expectations on women around domestic and family violence. And so I think responding safely can also be as small as turning attention to the perpetrator. And that might be simple things like where is he? Are you safe? Or it could be through to changing the way you use conversation or language with the woman, for example, saying you must be feeling tired because lack of sleep can happen when you’re experiencing hyper vigilance and fear. So it gives her another lens to look at her experiences or her children’s. So that’s that’s probably what I also mean in terms of safety, is that we can move down some of those big assumptions that we have of men and women and start to engage with them differently.
Chris Dolman [00:18:36] Aerinn also discusses safety and the importance of working together with parents, if possible, and transparency around mandatory reporting.
Aerinn Morgan [00:18:44] When I’m speaking with people, I try and be very transparent about, you know, my responsibilities. So if I’m going to hear anything where a young person is unsafe, then obviously I’m going to have to report that. And I don’t just declare that I do that in a conversation that lets the parent know that I’m on their side and their side is about wanting to keep their child safe. Right. So I come from the position that parents love their children. They want the best for them. They want to keep them safe. And I want to assist them to do that. And they might be in very difficult situations where it’s not only difficult, but it is impossible for them to achieve those ends. And so then I want to show that I can I can help them to do that. So I strongly believe that. I firmly believe that most parents, obviously not all parents, because we know some parents are a danger to the children. But most parents want the very best for the children and they want to keep them safe. And they don’t want to hurt them. And so they want to stop any sort of violence or abuse that’s happening as quickly as possible. But they need assistance to be able to do that. So trust is very important. Trust me to respect that they’re doing the best that they can and that there would be lots of things in their way then you that that’s vital.
[00:20:11] I think one of the vital things in this work around keeping children safe is to support their mothers because often mothers get blamed for their partners violence towards the children. And often women accept that responsibility, and I think it’s a big part of what I do when I work with women is to try and alleviate that responsibility from them, to try and reconnect with their sense of the best mothering they’re able to do under the circumstances. We often talk about it as mothering, you know, in a foxhole. You’ve got to use the best of your skills under the most arduous conditions and then still get blamed for being a bad mother. So I think it’s vital that we support mothers because if we can support mothers to see that they’re doing the best that they absolutely can in the situation, then that can support them in so many ways to maintain a closer relationship with their children, to feel a bit more confident about what they’re doing.
Chris Dolman [00:21:27] We now hear from Jo.
Joanne Allen [00:21:29] I think the challenges are we can make assumptions as practitioners. We can assume people are coming in to the service because they don’t want to be in an unsafe or harmful situation anymore. And I think it’s really important to get their sort of rich descriptions of why they’re here and what they’re hoping to change in their lives. And sometimes that is about just wanting their partner to change or they’re not ready or wanting to end that relationship. They really value and respect certain behaviours that their partner uses in the family. But there’s certain behaviours that they’re totally not okay with. We want to be careful. We don’t jump to the binary that our job is try and sort of get them out of that situation. I think we’ve all made those mistakes of assuming that people would definitely want to leave these violent or harmful kind of men. But that’s not always the case. And yeah, I think it’s about scaffolding, their safety in those situations. And they already have a lot of knowledge about that. So really, the challenges are sort of find out what they’re here for, whose idea it was. Sometimes it’s not their idea at all. They’ve been kind of pushed into doing it by certain agencies that have come into their life. And they don’t actually say there is a problem. They don’t necessarily want to be having these conversations. If some some are very much ready to and really relieved to be ever speak about these experiences.
[00:22:49] Some have been doing counselling for many, many years and know exactly what they want and are quite clear about what they’re expecting from us. And sometimes that changes. Sometimes what we think we’re working on ends up being entirely something else. So I guess being flexible and sort of keeping checking in around is what we’re doing what you thought you wanted to do when you came to counselling? or should we be going somewhere else, but keeping safety of women and children at the top of our kind of interest and hearing the stories that they’re proud of, the things that they know they’re doing to respond constantly to the sort of threats of harm around them is pretty important to building some kind of collaborative relationship. Sometimes the therapeutic conversations can get quite practical with women and children, like it might be that women feel powerless when their children go to stay the night at their ex partner’s house and they’re concerned when their children are safe.
[00:23:44] So really kind of trying to understand what they’ve put in place already. You know, whether there’s some practical things they could do that assist them to have confidence that their children can contact them if they’ve got concerns or opening up conversations to checking with their children and really acknowledging the efforts the parents are going to to manage a really complex situation. And, yeah, whether it’s codewords or different apps on their phone, safety apps that they can their children are aware of, should something happen to sort of have those conversations with children when it’s developmentally appropriate. But I think starting in a really general space around safety, how women have conversations with children around their safety and well being, that can start from a very young age. And yeah, I think, you know, women are really good at coming up with really creative ways to manage those really complex situations. So I think making sure that we are also considering the practical as well as the emotional well-being of their children. But to get a bit practical sometimes and give their children a voice when they haven’t had a voice, whether that’s in the counselling room or a home running up their stories. Yeah. I think all these things can be quite impactful. And it may not be the children seeing us it might be that they’re really celebrating the things women are doing.
Chris Dolman [00:25:01] That was Jo Allen and Aerinn Morgan from Uniting Communities. For many practitioners and services, the children, parents and families they are working with are facing multiple complex issues. What does this mean for responding to family and domestic violence and child aware practise? Here’s Sarah Wendt
Sarah Wendt [00:25:18] When we want to understand domestic and family violence and we want to understand and centralise gender. I’m also saying that doesn’t have to reduce the complexity of the issue and it doesn’t have to be sidelining other issues. So I think it’s also very important to understand that gender, yes, is central. But it can give you a lens to understanding some of those other complexities, often present in domestic and family violence, such as drug and alcohol use, mental health, poverty, those other particular issues. Then when you have the gender lens, you can actually see and interpret or understand behaviour around drug and alcohol use, maybe differently. Or you can understand the impacts of mental health differently. So it doesn’t mean that these issues go away or they’re not relevant. Again, the lens of gender just gives you another interpretation or another view that you might not see. I also think similarly that if in contexts of children, if we don’t take a gendered lens and we have parents who are struggling with their trauma through mental health or drug or alcohol issues, some of those options can feel really punitive and really deficit like it’s inevitable that somehow this is never going to be fixed or your child might be removed. But the lens of domestic and family violence and gender gets you to understand how that influences parenting. And it gives you options then to address parenting through another lens. And yes, drug and alcohol might be a part of that or mental health. But you’re working towards something, and it’s to do with parenting and how trauma impacts on parenting.
Chris Dolman [00:26:58] We’re going to turn our attention now to working with fathers. We know there are only a minority of men who use violence, attend specialist intervention programmes. And so it’s important that practitioners and services working with men on other presenting issues also engage with them around their use of violence. You’ll now hear from Phil Martin from Uniting Communities Specialised Family Violence Service. We asked Phil about some things that fathers might say in a conversation with a practitioner that can provide an entry point into engaging him in a conversation about his use of violence and abuse and its impact on children’s social and emotional well-being.
Phil Martin [00:27:36] Often men will use ‘she’ statements. She pushes my buttons. She doesn’t listen to me. She always does this. She nags me all the time. So hearing those and so I will ask, ‘what do you do when that happens?’ ‘Oh well it pisses me off. And I get I get angry.’ ‘And then what do you do?’ And then often that leads to some sort of action. So when men are saying,’ oh, yeah, I’m alright for a while and then and then she just gives me the shits or or I feel myself just, you know, I feel that the tension building and I feel myself, I get myself worked up and then I just explode’. So that’s that’s often, you know, often men will talk about I explode or I just lose it. Yeah. Things like that will be, so enquiring into that and to find that that becomes a pattern of behaviour. And then to be wondering what that pattern of behaviour is like for the partner. So that would start a whole series of conversations. So noticing patterns, I guess, is a very particular thing. ‘Oh, she always does that’. And then ‘So what do you do when you do that?’ Well, ‘you know, I do this’ so kind of really tracing these patterns and then kind of unpacking the patterns of getting them to notice them as a pattern or a cycle of violence. Sometimes in first conversations when men will say, ‘oh, you know, we when we have arguments’, when I’m enquiring into conflict, when they say ‘when we have arguments, there’s sometime’s a bit of push and shove’. So those kinds of things, obviously for, ‘what does that mean? What does push and shove look like? You know, your your six foot forward. How tall is your wife? Five foot six. Yeah. What’s what’s the push and shove like?’ you know, so to be really checking into that.
Chris Dolman [00:29:31] So once the conversation with a man has begun to get onto descriptions of violence and abuse, even initial broad descriptions, practitioners can begin to enquire about how the children might be affected by his actions. Here’s Aerinn and Phil from Uniting Communities
Aerinn Morgan [00:29:47] Might be having different conversation with a man who is contributing to the unsafety of his children, which is not necessarily about blaming him, but it would be holding him to some sort of accountability for his actions and getting him to think about the experience of his children. Because often what I find above, having conversation with a man about his use of violence or abuse, that he’s much more able to connect with a sense of how his children might be experiencing that than to connect with his sense of how his partner might be experiencing that. And so that’s often a way of opening up that conversation about the effects of his actions on the family.
Phil Martin [00:30:36] Often, men particularly will be a bit reticent to talk about the effects of violence on their children. So in those conversations, when we’re starting to move towards having conversations about the violence, I’d be asking questions about ‘where were the children when this was happening?’ ‘oh, they were upstairs. They’re upstairs. They weren’t in the room. They weren’t around’. So then I would then ask, ‘so where where were they? How far away was it? How loud was your voice? What was you know? What actually happened?’ If the event was that became physical or there was property damaged or furniture tipped over or glass broken. I’ll be asking, ‘what would that have been like for your children to hear that? No, they were in the house. They would have heard something’. So I’d be asking ‘what would that have been like if they’d been hearing that?’ And they say ‘they wouldn’t have heard that they were in a room down the back’. ‘What would happen if they heard some noise and were worried and it crept up to overhear the conversation? What would they have heard?’ And so to really be drilling down in a very focussed way for that man to be putting himself in the shoes of the children, that child. And again, this these would be scaffolded conversations. So I wouldn’t be launching into that ten minutes after the beginning of the session, because I would want to be having this conversation in the context of a man’s ethics around parenting was what’s his preferred ways of being a dad? How did he know about that? What a times when he did that. What got in the way of that? And some of those would be, you know, ‘she pushes my buttons’ or ‘I had a lot going on at work’. And so that’s another conversation in relation to parenting as well. How do you manage those things so that they don’t spill over to your partner and particularly children in this case.
Chris Dolman [00:32:38] Aerinn and Phil highlight two key areas of conversations with men. Firstly, those questions that are intended to enable the father to identify and highlight their hopes, strengths, efforts, capabilities of themselves and their relationship with their child. And secondly, alongside of that, to be asking those questions and inviting him to be considering the impact of his violence and abuse on the children. Of course, this may be the first time or one of the few times where he is invited to speak about these things both what’s important to him as a father and also what he’s doing that’s a contradiction as those values and hopes.
Phil Martin [00:33:13] For a man that’s really opening up ideas around his parenting, that a very strong part of our work is that violence is a parenting choice. And so to be talking to that man about when he’s being violent towards his partner, that he’s actually making a choice around his children and that these descriptions sometimes of a man as being a good dad, you know, he’s great with his kids and he takes them out on the weekends and then he’s violent to his partner. Well, that’s not being a good dad. And so we’re opening up conversations about that to kind of expose these sort of dichotomous ideas about men being good dads while being violent to the partner, that if a man is being violent to his partner or the mother of his children, he’s stopping her from being the best mum that she can be at the very least.
Chris Dolman [00:34:04] Phil also speaks about the importance of conversations that expand fathers understanding of what violence encompasses so they can more closely consider its effects on their children.
Phil Martin [00:34:13] That’s a very important conversation to be having in any work with men, is their understanding of the different types of violence when they get clear about that or when I kind of feel that they understand that, then I can enquire more specifically about the effects of their behaviour on children to be pointing to those kinds of violence that they’re developing and understanding of, to enquire more specifically about the effects of what that might have been on the child. So if they understand initially, they might just think yelling is not violence, violence is when I hit my partner or hit the children. But for them to have other understandings about the types of violence is then to be able to enquire ‘so what was it like? What do you think it was like for your child when you were yelling at them with your face only 20 centimetres away from their face? What did you notice in their face when you were yelling at them? What did they do after you yelled at them? What did you notice they were doing in the hours after that? What have you noticed about the effects of this violence?’ And I’ll call it violence once they have named it as violence. Or even more specifically, ‘what do you notice about the effects of this yelling in the face of your child so closely has had on your relationship with your child?’ I think in these it’s not about naming and shaming men, but it is about being really clear about the specific behaviour. So when a man, for instance, might punch a wall near a woman and describe that as venting or that ‘I just lost it’, it’s very important to unpack those descriptions of him about that violence and put them in the context of the effects on his partner and on his children who might have seen that or even heard it or even saw the hole in the wall later and enquired after that. So the effects of violence can be indirect by those children becoming anxious and worried about what their mother might have experienced when their father punched the wall, even if he’s not in the house at the time.
Chris Dolman [00:36:40] Sara Wendt offers some further reflections on conversations with men about fathering.
Sarah Wendt [00:36:44] I am intrigued of this idea about using fathering as a motivation to engage men who use violence, because I think it can be a way that enables men to think about their ethics, about who they want to be, it enables a safe conversation about potential behaviour change. So I am intrigued or curious about engaging men to address their use of violence through the use of fathering. However, I do have a I have to say I have a little concern is that if it stops with fathering, what does that mean about the long term attitudinal changes around gender and power relations? So how how can you also use fathering as a way to advance conversations or curiosity about respect towards women. So it’s kind of that old saying can you be a good father and a bad partner. I am intrigued about how you I don’t think those conversations can just stay in fathering. Plus, fathering doesn’t happen in isolation. What does it mean? Also, in terms of trying to shift behavioural attitudinal change around gender.
Chris Dolman [00:37:52] You can hear more about engaging fathers who use violence in our podcast with David Tully from Relationships Australia, South Australia. Where he speaks about engaging men who use violence and its role in supporting children social and emotional wellbeing. So let’s now turn to consider what organisations can do to support practitioners, to open up child focussed conversations with both mothers as well as fathers around the impacts of violence on their children. Here’s Megan Hughes, Executive Manager, Strategic Projects at Women’s Safety Services South Australia, followed by Sara Wendt from Flinders University.
Megan Hughes [00:38:28] I think services can look at how are they responding to the epidemic of domestic and family violence that they will be seeing whether they like it, whether they see it or not. It will be there. And so it is about thinking about practitioners skill and capacity to be able to respond effectively. But I also think it’s about design as well. You know, how are we designing our receptions, what spaces do we have that are good for women and children coming in in pretty distressed states? How do we create environments where that’s a good experience for women and children walking in? I think often women and children come in, and particularly if they’ve been exposed to violence for a long time, will not be in a great space. Often a bit dishevelled and not organised, often won’t have the right paperwork because they’re living in pretty stressful crisis environments. So some of the work that I’ve done with our lived experience people past clients is that they’ve talked about how critical that first meeting is when they walk in, and because they’ve come with a backpack of guilt and judgement about their own situation.
[00:40:12] And if they meet that on the other side of a desk, they’re not going to come back because that’s too painful for them. So just those first responses, they say, make such a difference to them feeling able to take the next steps, you know, in the journey. So offering a glass of water, not getting cross if they haven’t got the right forms at the right time, if they are not articulating themselves well, if the kids are a bit all over the place and throwing things around. It’s about coming in in supportive ways rather than judgemental ways and actually, you know, kind of engaging and saying, ‘gee, it’s been hard, looks like it’s been hard day to day. How can I help you?’ Those things make all the difference for women to stay in the building. So I think they’re really important ways in which we can encourage women, to say this is a place for you. And this is a place for your children as well.
Sarah Wendt [00:41:21] I think one of the first important things is, is to have a practise framework, a foundation that’s built in evidence. So having a shared understanding of domestic and family violence and a shared language about it creates a strong platform to then have conversations as an agency and amongst practitioners. I also think it’s important for that to be sustainable, that an organisation has a policy and a practise approach and that’s embedded in their organisation that then is layered with particular governance, like training, professional development, supervision, and just allowing a learning culture to developed where people don’t feel scared to have conversations around this complexity, where they have permission to ask these tough questions and to receive supervision and joint decision making around some of these things. So I think a practitioner’s confidence can be elevated so much when you’ve got a learning culture and you have the support of your colleagues and your organisation. I think a good practise framework in domestic and family violence has a couple of multiple layers. I think it has to be gender informed. I think it has been trauma informed and I think it has to be culturally safe and particularly culturally safe with ourAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and our colleagues that we work with.
[00:42:39] So I think a practise framework starts with those three pillars in domestic and family violence. I think also a good practise framework will have an understanding of risk and risk assessment. And then it will have an understanding in the context of your agency, then how do you respond to that risk? So what are your options? Is it a crisis response? Do you need collaboration with another agency? Is it financial support? Is it general support? Is it counselling or is it longer term therapeutic work? So I think having a good platform to start with and then having a risk assessment that then can lead to coordination, integration or collaboration with other agencies or inside your own agency about what your response can actually be. Once one starts to delve into domestic and family violence, it’s okay to feel uncomfortable because it is a challenging social issue. But I think what it can do is if one can get over one’s uncomfortableness and start to address one’s fear about it, and you can truly open up conversations about this complexity around gender, oppression, it gives you a whole other understanding instead of being paralysed by complexity, it gives you tools to engage with the complexity. And so that’s why I’ll always encourage people to talk about this. No matter how contested or debated it is, creating a climate we can talk about it is often the best practise because that’s where you’ll get your learning is from the people you work with and the people that you are trying to assist.
Chris Dolman [00:44:15] This has been the second of a series of two podcasts on the topic of family and domestic violence and child aware practise with family violence practitioners, service leaders and researchers. It’s featured Aerinn Morgan, Joanne Ellen and Philip Martin from Uniting Communities Specialist Family Violence Service. Sarah Wendt, Professor of Social Work at Flinders University and Megan Hughes from Women’s Safety Services, South Australia. In this episode, we’ve discussed some of the possible entry points into conversations about children’s wellbeing with mothers experiencing family violence and fathers who are using violence. We also looked at themes of safety, complexity and organisational support. Thank you for listening.
Narrator [00:44:56] Visit our website at www.emergingminds.com.au to access a range of resources to assist your practise brought to you by the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, led by merging lines and delivered in partnership with the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the Australian National University, the Parenting Research Centre and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. The National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Programme.