with child welfare
EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network http://www.europrofem.org
How woman abuse interacts with child welfare
The Assaulted Women and Children's
In response to the discussion on ways in which strategies to help prevent and eliminate violence are occurring at a government level, I would like to describe an initiative that the provincial government of Ontario (Canada) has undertaken. This year the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services has developed collaborative curriculum for child welfare workers (Children's Aid Societies) and violence against women (VAW) workers. Two sector experts deliver this training jointly to the two sectors in a two-day training. It is designed to increase the awareness of CAS workers on woman abuse and the VAW workers on the work of the CAS, explore the ways that women abuse affects the work of each sector as well as how it causes the two services to intersect.
Although the structure, mandate and philosophies of the CAS and VAW sectors are quite different, both play a significant role in the assessment and provision of safety to abused women and children. By identifying additional ways to work together, they have the potential to improve services to vulnerable and abused women and children and to increase the ways that perpetrators can be held accountable. For example, in custody and access cases, the child welfare sector can play an important assessment role whereby woman abuse is included as an example of poor parenting skills. Or, the VAW sector can provide resources to child welfare workers who identify the presence of woman abuse, but for whom the issue has historically been outside their mandate of service.
The objectives of this training are:
"1) To assist CAS workers to increase their ability to identify when woman abuse is present and how it interacts with their work, as well as their understanding of how to respond and the implications of their response.
2) To assist VAW workers to increase their understanding of how woman abuse interacts with child welfare, increase their knowledge about reporting child abuse and neglect as well as their understanding of how child welfare workers respond to reports.
3) To assist CAS and VAW workers to identify additional ways they can collaborate to increase the safety of children and their mothers and to have perpetrators held accountable for women abuse."
VAW and CAS workers from across the province were asked to assist in the development of basic values to guide their work together:
"1) Child abuse and woman abuse is the result of abuse of power in family relationships. Neither women nor children can be responsible for changing the abuser's behaviour.
2) Children experience trauma in families where women are abused.
3) Ensuring the safety of children is paramount, as children are most vulnerable and have the least power in our society.
4) Increasing the safety of abused women will increase the safety and well being of children.
5) Perpetrators must be held accountable for their abusive behaviour.
6) CAS and VAW services can provide a community leadership role to influence system changes."
Regarding policy change, new child abuse legislation has been introduced in the province. Bill 6 is an amendment to the 14 year old Child and Family Service Act, (CFSA). Among other things, it will allow for a heavier focus by courts and social workers on the past behaviour of parents or other caregivers, including any spousal abuse. The training is in the final stages of editing and translation into French. It will soon guide the creation of community protocols across the province.
Here is an excerpt which describes the reason for the differing philosophies of the sectors:
"Philosophies regarding the welfare of children, once held in common by early women's organizations and children's services, began to diverge in the 1960s.... This divergence turned on an emerging analysis of the division of labour within families and on the differing responses of the two sectors.
Although historically there was, and is, general agreement between the sectors concerning state responsibility for vulnerable and abused children, advocates for women in the 60s began to argue that it was not families that cared for children but women. They saw child-rearing as devalued work and saw women who cared for children as more likely to be disadvantaged than those who did not. Feminists began to advocate publicly on behalf of women based on this analysis.
The establishment of woman-run services for abused women and their children, attentive to the numbers of women raising children in poverty and the frequently immediate condition of poverty for women after leaving abusive partners, brought about a feminist redefinition of the child-rearing/family unit. This redefinition recognized women as the primary caregivers of children and exposed the advocacy needs of women against the power and financial resources of male partners who had state entrenched rights to children. This divergence in ideology affected the subsequent historical development and connection between the sectors.
While both VAW and CAS sectors have long been concerned about the vulnerability and the abuse of children, ideologically they began to differ sharply with respect to causes and remedies for children. As an instrument of the state, the CAS reflects widely held societal values and therefore views the family as being responsible for children. Women's rights activists challenge the common belief that the preservation of the family unit was in keeping with the best interests of the child.
Although an overlap between child abuse and woman abuse has long been identified, few collaborative solutions have been initiated. In order to work effectively to end violence against women and children, service coordination between the VAW and CAS sectors along with a shared understanding of woman abuse are essential."
This exciting new initiative may have similarities to work being done elsewhere in the child welfare sector. Maybe it will offer ideas to countries where child welfare and VAW sectors are beginning to look at ways to strengthen each other's work. In some areas where child welfare legislation is just developing, it could provide a model of working with the VAW sector from inception.