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The Construction of Intimate Partner Woman Abuse in Canadian Child Protection Policy and the Impact on Abused Mothers and their Children Kendra L. Nixon,

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Presentation on theme: "The Construction of Intimate Partner Woman Abuse in Canadian Child Protection Policy and the Impact on Abused Mothers and their Children Kendra L. Nixon,"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Construction of Intimate Partner Woman Abuse in Canadian Child Protection Policy and the Impact on Abused Mothers and their Children Kendra L. Nixon, MSW, PhD Faculty of Social Work, University of Manitoba Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference Cardiff, Wales, April 22, 2009

2 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 2 Study Details Dissertation research examining Alberta’s child welfare policy response to intimate partner woman abuse and the unintended consequences of abused mothers and their children Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and Alberta Centre for Child, Family, and Community Research (ACCFCR)

3 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 3 Purpose of the Study To understand how Alberta’s child protection policy on “domestic violence” has been represented How is the problem defined, who are the victims, who is responsible for the violence? How beliefs have framed the policy response To understand the potential impact on abused mothers and their children (focus of today’s presentation) To hear the voices of abused mothers

4 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 4 Study Methodology Case study methodology Extensive document review (Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, 2004; CPS regulations/standards; CPS training materials; CPS protocols; government reports; and media releases) Bacchi’s (1999) “What’s the problem?” approach to policy analysis In-depth interviews with 13 abused mothers who had recent involvement in Alberta’s child protection system Interviews ranged from 1 – 2.5 hours and transcribed verbatim

5 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 5 Study Findings: Policy Review Construction of intimate partner woman abuse in Alberta policy “Family violence” approach Woman abuse is equated with other forms of family violence (e.g., child abuse, elder abuse, sibling abuse) Degendered approach Focus on family or individual dysfunction/Structural factors ignored  E.g., Failure to seek professional help, parenting inadequacies, addiction, etc. Women seen as equally culpable and responsible for children’s well-being

6 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 6 Study Participants (n=13) Six women involved in current violent relationships Four reported physical violence 2 women reported verbal or emotional abuse only Three women recently left physically abusive relationships (single at time of interview) Two women continued to be harassed by ex-partners (one obtained restraining order) Of 13 women, 5 experienced serious physical violence but did not sustain an injury requiring medical attention (e.g., kicked, punched, hair pulled and choked)

7 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 7 Study Participants (cont’d) Of 13 women, 4 experienced severe physical violence Three sustained physical injuries (e.g., black eye, split lip, broken cheekbone, and severe bruising) Not all participants were victims of IPV by current partners Partner assaulted participant’s mother Children witnessed domestic violence between participant’s neighbours

8 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 8 Participants’ Child Protection Involvement Level of Child Protection Involvement No contact at time of interview (n=1) No contact but was reported to CPS (n=1) Voluntary Service (Family Enhancement) (n=2) Supervision Order (n=1) Temporary Guardianship Order (n=8) Permanent Guardianship Order (n=0; but 2 potential) 8 of 13 mothers had children apprehended, representing 20 children Exposure to domestic violence not always the primary reason for apprehension but included on Orders

9 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 9 Study Findings: Interviews with Women Intimate partner violence not the focus of CPS; instead women’s parenting became the focus and reason for CPS involvement Lack of parenting skills (e.g., running a child’s bath, establishing routines, how to engage child in play, what to feed their children) Mandated in-home support, parenting assessments, and supervised visitation (even if no other protection concerns) Violence or “alleged” violence was addressed very minimally Five were mandated to attend IPV treatment group Only one participant mentioned receiving safety planning Some women received occasional pamphlets re: IPV

10 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 10 Study Findings: Interviews with Women (cont’d) “I did tell her [about the violence], but she said she’s not here for us to focus on or dwell on the past but “We’re to move on with your parenting and make sure that you’re a good mother”… and I was like, “Well that was never the issue.”… I’d start to get really mad with some of my social workers or in-home support [workers] ‘cause I just from the start I never got the connection. This was never about my parenting.” (Christine)

11 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 11 Grief and Loss Apprehension of Children “It’s as if the three of them died. One day just died. That’s what it is. And that’s the grief that I went through. That’s the pain that I went through. But meanwhile they didn’t [die]. Somebody’s got them. Somebody’s keeping them from me. (Dawn) "It’s like the first two weeks that she was gone. I didn’t move from her bed, I slept in her bunk bed just cause I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know how to cope. I didn’t want to get up, I didn’t, I didn’t feel like I should get up because there was no reason to get up, like I don’t know how to explain it, it was. So now everyday it’s just trying to work to get through the day and… [teary]" (Joyce)

12 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 12 Health Concerns Increase in physical and emotional health problems Stress, headaches, depression, suicidal thoughts, increase in alcohol use “I’ve even been to the doctor because I started getting headaches, and nosebleeds… I mean my head’s always feeling tight and I’m always taking medicine for headaches.” (Sarah) "It’s been brutal. I mean very lonely, I’ve been depressed you know just that first month that they were taken I didn’t even do anything. I would come home from work, lay on the couch and that would be it. [teary]...I didn’t eat, I didn’t bother to fix myself up, eat, clean the house, like, signs of depression." (May)

13 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 13 Devaluing and Loss of Mothering Identity Most participants experienced a devaluing or loss of their identity as mothers (especially after children apprehended) “I don’t feel like a parent. I don’t feel like my kid’s mother any more. I really don’t… I feel more like a friend to her right now... because she isn’t in my life.” (Jo) “I feel like an aunt or something.” (Christine) “Like they [child welfare] don’t trust me as a mother...You know it just doesn’t make me feel like a mother. It doesn’t.” (May)

14 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 14 Mothering Identity (cont’d) Loss of bond with their children, especially infants Three participants stopped breastfeeding “I had to stop breastfeeding... It was the only bond I had with him”. (Jo) "It [having to stop breastfeeding] was the hardest part, like that’s the only thing that I showed a little bit of anger with." (Sarah)

15 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 15 Women’s Safety at Risk Continued contact with abusive partner: Supervised visits occurred in participant’s home Loneliness after having children removed Increased financial dependence on partner (attributed to child protection involvement) One woman was assaulted by her partner after children apprehended One woman fearful after children apprehended "My husband was freaking out on me – he blamed it all on me. And when the cop cars drove away, they left me there with him!...They left me there with him in a rage!” (Dawn)

16 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 16 Financial Insecurity Participants stated that their involvement with child welfare impacted them financially Social assistance reduced because children removed from home Need to take public transit to appointments (child welfare does not reimburse) Inability to work full-time or have to take time off to attend mandated programs "He [partner] was taking every Tuesday off so like we even started losing money. We were at the point where we had to talk to our landlord..." (Sarah)

17 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 17 Held Accountable Four participants believed that they were held accountable for their partners’ behaviour Seven felt blamed or judged by CPS “bad mothers” “They said my attitude wasn’t you know, for my kids.” (May) “She just turned to me and [said], ‘How can you act this way in front of your son?’” (Christine)

18 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 18 Negative Impact on Children Trauma of removal from primary caregiver, siblings and extended family Emotional difficulty of supervised visits Lack of emotional bond with mother Sadness and emotional distress Abuse by other children residing in foster home Decreased school performance and peer relationships

19 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 19 Response to Future Abuse Seven participants would not seek safety from shelters or police again for fear of child protection involvement “I turn around and tell somebody or press charges and my kids end up going. What good does that do?” (Jo) “I’d take my son and leave but I wouldn’t call [the police].” (Christine) “I would recommend every woman in the world never, ever to do that [disclose abuse to professionals].” (Dawn)

20 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 20 Recommendations 1.) Gender-based approach to intimate partner violence (not a “family violence” approach) Context of violence is important Socioeconomic context of women’s lives (women’s choices understood) 2. ) Protection of children = protection of mothers Well-being of child witness is inextricably tied to the well-being of non-offending caregiver 3.) Women’s mothering should not be defining issue Little attention will be paid to safety needs Allegations of “bad” mother reinforces batterer’s message Difficult for women to muster resolve to leave

21 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 21 Recommendations (cont’d) 4.) Attention needs to be paid to strengthening the positions of abused women Socioeconomic conditions 5.) Women need to be seen as individuals in their own right Not in relation to their children and abusive partner 6.) Promotion of healthy and nurturing mother-child relationship

22 Gender and Child Welfare: 3rd Interdisciplinary Conference 22 Questions or Comments? Contact me at or


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