The goal of all social work and probation intervention where there is or has been abuse should be to help make women and children safe, including by confronting men. The evidence that local authority child care work was not traditionally directed towards that goal, especially for women, was presented in Chapter 3. There is also a legacy to overcome in marital counselling in both the voluntary and statutory sectors; one classic text, for example, because it totally lacks a gender power analysis in relation to men’s sexual violence, includes women’s suicide attempts under coercive techniques employed by one partner against the other, on a par with men imprisoning and raping their wives (Mattinson and Sinclair, 1979, pp.120-1). Indeed, in all work with couples and families, including family court welfare work undertaken by the probation service, issues of women’s safety have only belatedly and incompletely come to the fore. The growth of mediation between couples seeking a divorce could also reinforce power imbalances and dangers to women; even if all those disclosing assaults are successfully screened out, there are still risks for those not disclosing violence or experiencing other forms of abuse, as well as questions as to what is considered to constitute violence and who decides on this.
This chapter will outline the enormous challenge that has been posed to couples counselling, family therapy, and all work with families in recent years, including in the general child care field, by the recognition of widescale violence and by a broader feminist rethinking of the dangers inherent in intervention where the man is violent. In family court welfare work, which will receive separate attention within the chapter, this has directly resulted in changed policy concerning joint interviewing, although unfortunately there is no guarantee that practice has uniformly improved. In wider child care work, it will be shown that there has yet to be a consistent recognition of the ways in which women’s safety needs and children’s welfare and safety needs can be considered together, particularly in contexts where legislation and court practice too often favour the abusing men.