What might I need to think about when working with a mother and I am worried about how domestic violence may be affecting her child?
The same good practice principles apply when working with families around domestic violence as they do with other concerns. However, there are specific issues to bear in mind when addressing domestic violence which may help you and the mother work more effectively together to keep her child safe and meet their needs.
It may be helpful for you to think about the power dynamics that may be at play. Both the perpetrator of domestic violence and the child welfare system may exert power over the mother. She may feel particularly intimidated by your statutory social work role. She may feel very powerless both at home and when working with you. This may prevent her from participating fully and expressing her views in assessments, plans and decision-making processes for her child. You may be able to assist her by supporting her to access advocacy from specialist domestic violence services so that she is able to make informed choices and to take part. For more information see where to get further help.
Try to find out what the mother’s own understanding of her experiences and needs are and what she thinks will help. By listening to, and exploring, her views sensitively you may be better able to understand and analyse what is really going on. This may help you to develop together a shared understanding of the harm to any children within the family. If you do need to challenge a mother who is being unresponsive to her child’s needs you will be doing so from an informed assessment.
Impact of domestic violence on parenting capacity
Where the mother’s parenting has been undermined because of the domestic violence she may need your support to help strengthen the mother/child relationship. She may also want you to help her attend a specialised parenting course which acknowledges the impact of domestic violence on children and increases parenting skills and confidence.
It is important to understand that there is no typical domestic violence survivor or perpetrator and that your assessment should reflect the family’s individual circumstances, strengths and difficulties, whilst also bearing in mind what research tells us about the effects of domestic violence on children. Bear in mind that some difficulties may be symptoms of a woman’s experience of domestic violence.
As well as coping with domestic violence, the mother may have compounding factors in her life or additional vulnerabilities with which she may need support. These could include disability, drug or alcohol use; she could have specific needs as a woman from a Black or ethnic minority community, because of her sexuality or because she has uncertain immigration status. You may be able to help her access support from specialist services. For more information see where to get further help.