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1 Dealing with domestic violence so that children are protected. Dr Heather Douglas Associate Professor, T.C. Beirne Law School, UQ

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Presentation on theme: "1 Dealing with domestic violence so that children are protected. Dr Heather Douglas Associate Professor, T.C. Beirne Law School, UQ"— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Dealing with domestic violence so that children are protected. Dr Heather Douglas Associate Professor, T.C. Beirne Law School, UQ Dr Tamara Walsh Senior Lecturer, T.C. Beirne Law School, UQ

2 2 issues Issues: high rates of removal witnessing violence = harm (Choudhry and Herring 2006); dv households heightened risk for kids (Harwin 2006) See also: ‘Mothers and the Child Protection System’ (2009) International Journal of Law Policy and the Family forthcoming ‘Legal Responses to Child Protection, Poverty and Homelessness’ (2009) Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law forthcoming.

3 3 method Method: researchers invited community organisations that assist mothers in their dealings with child safety authorities to attend one of five focus groups. focus groups comprised of community based lawyers and community service workers in Brisbane, Queensland. thirty-two people participated in the focus groups. study is limited in scope BUT underscores ongoing dilemmas in child protection and domestic violence work and the need for services to work together to support women and children caught up in domestic violence services have chosen to remain anonymous

4 4 dv and child protection legislation ‘harm’ - ‘any detrimental effect of a significant nature on the child's physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing’ caused by physical, psychological or emotional abuse, or by neglect or by sexual abuse or exploitation. (s14(1) Child Protection Act Qld) ‘child in need of protection’ - a child who ‘has suffered harm, is suffering harm, or is at unacceptable risk of suffering harm and does not have a parent able and willing to protect the child from the harm’. (s10 Child Protection Act Qld) ‘domestic violence’ -includes personal injury, harassment, intimidation, indecency and damage to property and threats of any of these behaviours AND the behavior occurs in the context of an intimate, spousal, family or care relationship (Domestic and Family Protection Act 1989 Qld, ss11, 11A.) domestic violence is a factor to be considered pursuant to risk assessment tools used by child protection workers (Davies and Krane 2006, 414)

5 5 understanding domestic violence domestic violence is gendered and women suffer disproportionally to men (Graycar and Morgan 2002) complex power dynamics whereby the abuser seeks to control the victim (Easteal 2001) domestic violence often continues after the parties separation (Cowan and Hodgson 2007) violence and danger may become heightened after separation (Mahoney 1991) not just a relationship issue (Wangmann 2008)

6 6 misunderstanding dv It’s a relationship issue: …there’s definitely that absolute approach that it’s between the parents, that it’s something about their relationship… No protective parent: …there’s this assumption that both parents are problematic … it’s better to have a system that works with the protective parent.

7 7 mother blame and double standards Blame: …[these mothers] are fine … women but they’re being blamed for the domestic violence, and they’re being blamed for his violence, because they’re not being protective enough. ……not about his capacity to cease using violent or abusive behaviour, the emphasis is on her capacity. Double standards: …how can you say that you’re violent but still a fine father? …while he beats the wife, but he’s a good Dad because he takes ‘em to soccer.

8 8 the ‘leave’ ultimatum Problems: Misinformed: ….Often fearful…often misinformed by her partner that should she leave the relationship that she would be deported and the children would remain in Australia... Ousters virtually impossible... World view- moral questions... …..Leaving, thinking about leaving, not even knowing the system: that is an issue…It’s a lot of information, it means for many women to change their world view. Lack of accommodation options- refuge = homeless…debt etc Safer to remain… Experience of agency failure…

9 9 engaging with child protection authorities Women: (see Davies and Krane 2006) anxious, fearful… help seeking requests rejected… Murri women particular issues… ‘…three or four generations of this kind of thing.’

10 10 workers Child protection workers: (see Healy et al. 2007) Lack of experience / practical knowledge Lack of understanding ‘…first year university graduates with no kids and no experience, quite judgemental.’ Lack of supervision Stressed High turnover Support workers: Reluctant to report where on-going relationship with mother: …we don’t readily notify [child safety concerns], we don’t take it lightly and we have significant discussion with the people we work with. … we don’t generally report. Our bottom line is that we wouldn’t report unless we absolutely had to. Cf non-ongoing: …but you have to think, ‘crikey, how am I helping, what am I doing here? I have to act on behalf of the child’

11 11 layers of difficulty 1. address deficiencies within child protection departments 2. improve dv protection orders / ouster orders 3. enhance criminal justice interventions :…response / breach / evidence- gathering / sentence 4. improve accommodation and material resources… 5. build trust between women’s services and child protection services

12 12 selected references Choudhry, Shazia and Jonathan Herring Righting domestic violence. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family 20: Cowan, Sharon and Jacqueline Hodgson Violence in a family context: The criminal law’s response to domestic violence. In Family life and the law: Under one roof, ed. Rebecca Probert, Aldershot: Ashgate. Davies, Linda and Julia Krane Collaborate with caution: Protecting children, helping mothers. Critical Social Policy 26: Easteal, Patricia Less Than Equal: Women and the Australian legal System. Chatswood: Butterworths. Graycar, Regina and Jenny Morgan The hidden gender of law. Leichardt: The Federation Press. Harwin Nicola Putting a Stop to Domestic Violence in the United Kingdom: Challenges and Opportunities. Violence Against Women 126: Healy, Karen, Gabrielle Meagher and Joel Cullin Retaining novices to become expert child protection practitioners: Creating career pathways in direct practice. British Journal of Social Work (in press). Mahoney, Martha Legal Images of Battered Women: Redefining the Issue of Separation. Michigan Law Review 90: Wangman, Jane Different types of intimate partner violence? A comment on the Australian Institute of Family Studies report examining allegations of family violence in child proceedings under the Family Law Act. Australian Journal of Family Law 22 (2):


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