Social Work, Domestic Violence and Child Protection: Challenging Practice

Social Work, Domestic Violence and Child Protection: Challenging Practice

Social Work, Domestic Violence and Child Protection: Challenging Practice

Social Work, Domestic Violence and Child Protection: Challenging Practice


The 1990s has witnessed a resurgence of interest and concern in the issue of domestic violence. While women are predominantly targets of this violence, there is now a recognition that children are also significantly affected by violence towards their mothers. This report explores the problems and opportunities presented for child protection workers responding to child abuse that occurred in the context of violence towards the child(ren)'s mother. This particular aspect of domestic violence intervention is frequently overlooked as issues such as policing, child contact, interagency working and offender programmes have gained precedence in the development of intervention strategies. The responses of social services departments to child abuse arising in the context of domestic violence remain some of the most contentious and controversial in this area. This report:gives a detailed account of social work practice in the area of domestic violence, using many case examples which illustrate the barriers to effective intervention;looks in particular at the needs of Asian families in the context of domestic violence and child abuse;recognises the difficulties of developing sensitive child welfare practice in an area where there has been a traditional separation of services for women and services for children;provides good practice examples for overcoming the traditional difficulties in this area. This report is important reading for practitioners, policy makers and managers in social services, and their equivalents in a range of other agencies involved in child protection. It is also valuable reading for social work academics and students interested in the area of domestic violence.


The connections between the abuse of women and the abuse of children are now well recognised. However, the ways in which intervention and services which focus on child abuse can be structured to take into account both the needs of children and of their mothers is an issue which is emerging as a pivotal one in responding appropriately to this knowledge. This report explores the problems and the opportunities presented to statutory social workers responding to child abuse which occurred in the context of violence towards the child’s mother. Research was undertaken with two children’s and families’ teams in Coventry Social Services Department and the findings from this research form the basis of the report. Since the research project has been completed (1997), further work has been undertaken throughout the UK and each chapter will draw on areas in which innovative practice has occurred.

What is domestic violence?

The term ‘domestic violence’ is a contested one. On the one hand, it names explicitly violence in the home and does not cover up this violence with terms such as ‘relationship conflict’. It is also a term in common usage and therefore provides a convenient and well recognised shorthand. On the other hand, although the term has the advantage of covering a range of relationships in which violence occurs–including between gay and lesbian couples, women’s violence against men, and violence by other family relatives, both men and women, in extended families (Hendessai, 1999)–the gendered nature of domestic violence is hidden by the term.

Between 80–97% of domestic violence is directed towards women (Mayhew et al, 1993, p 83). Even studies such as that undertaken by the Home Office (Mirrlees-Black, 1999), which on a self-completion questionnaire showed relatively similar levels of recent domestic assault in the last year by both men and women, makes the point that this did not mean that men were equally victimised:

Men were less upset by their experience, considerably
less frightened, less often injured, and less likely to seek
medical help. (Mirrlees-Black, 1999, p 61)

The term ‘violence’ is also often associated with physical attack, whereas the forms of abuse experienced by women from known men cover a range of abusive behaviours. These include among other things: sexual abuse, economic deprivation such as keeping the woman without food or money, intimidation, threats, emotional abuse through undermining and belittling comments, isolation, humiliation, using or abusing the children to force compliance from the woman, and a myriad of other ways in which dominance and control are enforced to position the woman in a role of subservience. Cultural, religious and social context may increase the impact and range of abusive strategies that can be directed at women (Mama, 1989; Bhatti-Sinclair, 1994), as can the issues of disability (Mullender, 1996). The term covers a wide range of relationships through which mostly women are abused. These include abuse by husbands, boyfriends, partners, ex-partners, fathers, sons and other close relatives, particularly of the husband. Domestic violence occurs across all communities irrespective of race, culture, religion, social class or . . .

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