Improving Safety for Women
and Children after Separation
This chapter focuses on the practice issues raised by our previous discussion of post-separation violence and child contact. Women fearing domestic violence may nonetheless want their children to maintain contact with their fathers. Children may also express a wish to see their fathers. Who decides whether this will be safe? What is safety in this context? Child contact in the context of domestic violence is not just a matter of providing a safe venue for parents and children to meet. It can also involve undoing the harm caused to children (McMahon, Neville-Sorvilles and Schubert 1999) and possibly repairing or building an appropriate relationship between parent and child. Current thinking about contact needs to change radically to respond to the needs of children as individuals, so that safety, including the child's emotional safety and need for peace at home, takes precedence over the political commitment to keep fathers in touch with children.
In the last chapter, we argued that it is important to look at the purpose and value of contact between a child and a violent parent. This means that sometimes it is necessary to consider whether there should be any contact at all. The family courts look bleakly on any delay in children's cases, but children who have lived with violence and abuse may need time to recover and cases where there are abuse allegations will take longer to assess. The type of contact that may be appropriate needs to match the specific needs of the child. The complexity of the different issues raised in cases involving violence and abuse can be illustrated in the following case studies: