2003 Jordan Institute
8, No. 3
Talking about Domestic Violence
Practice Tips from a Child Welfare / Domestic Violence Liaison
No matter how much experience you have, talking with families about domestic violence is never easy. Just ask Morgan Cromwell, the Domestic Violence Social Worker for Mecklenburg County Department of Youth and Family Services.
As the only full-time child welfare/domestic violence liaison employed by a department of social services in North Carolina, it is her job to assess suspected batterers and their victims and to teach social workers to do the same. Despite years on the job and many years prior experience working with sexual assault and domestic violence victims, Cromwell is still challenged when the time comes to talk about this kind of abuse.
But she also knows that these tough conversations can be the gateway to healing and better times for women and their children. Here are her suggestions for how to have successful conversations about domestic violence.
Speaking to the Mother
Cromwell suggests child welfare workers follow these guidelines during conversations with victims of domestic violence:
After you have expressed your concern and set the tone for your conversation, define domestic violence for her. Explain that the abuse is almost always more than physical. The power and control wheel developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project can be a useful tool at this stage.
Begin your assessment with nonthreatening, general, open-ended questions. Cromwell suggests the following as an example: All families argue. In fact, disagreements can be healthy as long as people dont feel threatened or intimidated. Tell me about some good and bad things about your relationship with [HUSBAND/BOYFRIEND]. What do arguments between you and [HUSBAND/BOYFRIEND] look like? What is it like when things get hot? Is there any time when one person gets pushed or shoved?
Avoid questions direct yes and no questions such as, Have you been hit or beaten?
If the mother denies or minimizes the domestic violence but the children have made clear and convincing descriptions of it, consider sharing the childrens descriptions with her.
However, use your judgement on this pointif you suspect that the child has colluded with the batterer or that the child will be put at risk if you share these statements, do not use them in your discussion with the mother.
Be careful about leaving information with the mother. Leaving behind pamphlets about domestic violence or other information that suggests the woman may be thinking of leaving could place her and the children in greater danger.
Conclude the discussion by thanking her for talking with you about this difficult topic. Express again your concern for her safety and the safety of her children: A lot of our clients are exposed to domestic violence. We want to be aware of whats going on in your family so we can help and support you.
Speaking to the Batterer
Ensure your own safety. Interview the batterer in your environment, not his. This will give you a psychological advantage (remember, the violence is about his need for power and control) and it will make you physically safer.
Prior to the interview, make sure that others in the office know who you are interviewing and why, and that people understand and will follow your agencys safety protocols (for more on this, see Practice Notes vol. 3, no. 2).
Recognize that the batterer may try to manipulate you or physically intimidate you. NEVER let him know you are scared of him. He may also attempt to charm you and your supervisor in an effort to identify himself as the victim and to convince you that he could never harm his partner.
Normalize the fact that you are discussing domestic violence. For example, you might say: This is information we talk about with everyone. Were not singling you out.
Protect the victim and her children. Do not confront the suspected batterer with information obtained from the mother or children. Instead, use information contained in the CPS referral and other third party reports (e.g., police reports, hospital records, prior CPS referrals).
Allow the batterer to talk about himself. Batterers enjoy talking about themselves and receiving attention from others. By allowing him to speak freely, you may be able to obtain more information from him.