Monday, September 7, 2015

Domestic Violence Needs a Better Approach

Frankly, Violence should stop. It is abhorrent to any reasonable person that, we as a species, keep violating each other in the most horrific ways. While we are shocked by the violence of terrorist groups, war and despotic governments, including those of western cultures, we are failing to focus on the horrific violence which is evident around us. We fail to care that the violence perpetrated within our communities and by our neighbours is as horrific as anything we may see on television. Yet there are women and children who are trapped in relationships which are extremely violent and abusive. Often they feel powerless and in too many cases fearful for their lives. They live in an environment where they are captors to a tormentor who is only interested in having his narcissistic needs met.

Currently two women per week are murdered at the hands of men who would prefer to kill their partner and sometimes their children rather than have them leave. As someone who has worked in this area for over twenty years I often feel powerless when it comes to making a difference in this area. When working with men who are violent I know that I am confronting and cause men to feel uncomfortable because there is no shying away from the impact their behaviour has on those closest to them. I refuse to make excuses for men who behave in this way. I also refuse to blame women for remaining in these relationships.

I understand the reasons why men choose to behave violently as I understand why women remain in these relationships. However there is no excuse for any behaviour that belittles, threatens or damages another human being. There is no excuse for another person to want to control another for the purpose of self gratification or because one person feels unworthy of another. As a species we have to learn that we are not dependent on another for our happiness. Men generally believe that without their partner and children they are not complete, that an element of their sense of self is intrinsically attached to other people. This is a debilitating view which governs our actions and eventually destroys our sense of freedom and well-being.

It is with great sadness that I read an article in the Age by Psychologist Sallee McLaren. Here she insists that she has an authoritative understanding of Domestic Violence when all she reveals is that she has no understanding of the trauma women, who are in Violent relationships, find themselves. She reinvents the old chestnut about girls wanting to wear pink and being socialised into positions of powerlessness. This is a poor argument because it makes girls responsible for a socialisation process for which they are not responsible. Lets imagine that all men decided they would act respectfully under all circumstances. Imagine if all men understood that their happiness wasn't dependent upon the relationship with their partner. Imagine if all children saw this modelled.

Unfortunately children are caught in the middle and have no power to change or influence their experience. The failure to protect children from violence is a rapidly increasing problem. The Federal Government decided to decrease the funding to DV services and then made Rosie Battie Australian of the year. Through this appointment they have turned the focus back on Domestic Violence and by doing so have highlighted their inadequacies. If we truly care about children we would be funding prevention programs which address issues of power and control. We should accept that women and children are not responsible for the violence perpetrated against them. We know that women are berated for remaining in violent relationships without any understanding of the mental abuse they experience and the impact this have on their decision making, even there inability to protect their children. It is our responsibility to find the space to work with parents so that they can better protect their children.

I know that it took me many years to develop skills and understandings that enabled me to work more effectively with those who were victims and abusers. I know that Child Protection workers wont necessarily have the skills to work with families where Domestic Violence is a concern, but it is not unreasonable for them to do this work and realise what skills they need to develop. However, if they continue to "mother blame" and fail to confront the impact that violence has on women and children then their learning will be limited.

How they can get it so wrong - Response to FSA

How can John Rau, the Child Protection Reform Minister, get it so wrong. He stated “Social workers cannot act in the best interests of a child and the child’s irresponsible parent simultaneously.” I am unsure as to what he is actually telling us? Perhaps he means that the Social Workers that Families SA employ are so bereft of Social Work skills that they are unable to do what most of us do every day. If this is the case then perhaps there is a need for Social Workers to be better trained and for someone to identify the skills that are required for them to perform their tasks at a professional level. I am even more curious as to where they are going to find the Social Workers to work at the professional level he is alluding too. At this stage there has been little evidence that these people exist within this dysfunctional department. If these people do exist then they are not being utilised. 

This is also a direct admission that the department recognises the need to work differently with families who are at risk of having their children removed. If this is a new realisation one wonders why they have come to this realisation now? Surely as long as we have had the State removing children from their families this has been the dominant problem. Some parents struggle with life for a variety of reasons. We know that if you are unemployed, uneducated, live in certain post codes, have a drug problem or of a low income you are likely to have contact with child protection services. We know that these people are always under the gaze of the State. 

If they adopt this two tiered system it is doomed from the beginning. The first group will be the removal police who will not engage with the parents but will have the sole task of deciding if a child should be removed. I can assure you that this will mean the first encounter will not be a pleasant one. Anyone who follows, no matter how good their intention, will fail. 

I would like to suggest that we have a National approach to child protection notifications that are assessed in accordance to the national child protection framework. It is time we looked to a unified national approach which means that State and Territory Governments need to give up their role of assessing Child Protection notifications. A Federal approach will provide a centralist view which should lead to a more consistent approach. Hopefully this may also mean that the there will be greater oversight of Child Protection and it will become a genuine national concern. So Mr Rau perhaps you should be thinking more broadly and work with the Federal Government to improve your funding and to develop a framework which makes you accountable.