Child-focused approaches when working with parents affected by family and domestic violence

Content type
Event date

29 May 2019, 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm (AEST)


Sarah Wendt, David Tully




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This webinar was held on Wednesday, 29 May 2019. 

The ability of generalist practitioners to identify adults who are either perpetrating or experiencing family and domestic violence (FDV) is crucial for the prevention and early identification of its effects on children. In this webinar, Professor Sarah Wendt discussed research she is leading on the skills, understanding and support that practitioners require to be able to identify and respond to presentations from adult perpetrators and victims, and to ensure a focus on children’s social and emotional wellbeing.

This research shows that over two-thirds of parents presenting to Relationships Australia SA (RASA) identify as being affected by FDV, either as perpetrators or victims. David Tully discussed this research from a service perspective at RASA, sharing some of their experiences that have led to specific child-focused policies and practices and how these have supported positive outcomes for children. He also discussed practice models that support practitioners to have child-focused conversations with adults.

Throughout this webinar, Sarah and David shared their experiences as a researcher and a practitioner in working with parents in child-aware and parent-sensitive ways. This webinar supports practitioners to: 

  • work with perpetrators and victims to understand the impacts of FDV on their children in order to support children’s social and emotional wellbeing
  • examine the skills and competencies that can be supported in generalist organisations to meet the needs of children
  • consider the research and practice evidence of how particular understandings of FDV have directly benefitted the social and emotional wellbeing of children.

This webinar was the fourth in a series focusing on children's mental health. It was co-produced by CFCA and Emerging Minds. They are working together as part of the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, which is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.

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Audio transcript (edited)


Hello and welcome everybody. Welcome to today's webinar, which is on child-focused approaches when working with parents affected by family and domestic violence. So this is the fourth in a series of six webinars on children's mental health, that have been facilitated this year in partnership between CFCA and Emerging Minds. And I'd just like to say thank you for the abundant interest in this particular webinar. I think we've had about 1800 registrations so far, so it's been really great to have your support for today and today's facilitators.

So my name's Dan Moss. I'm the workforce development manager at Emerging Minds National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health. And as mentioned, today's webinar we're going to be facilitated by Professor Sarah Wendt and David Tully, who are going to be examining some approaches to be identifying domestic and family violence, where it occurs in adult-focused services, but also ways to be able to bring children into the focus and to be mindful of children's safety. So we're really looking forward to what Sarah and David both have to say today.

But I before I introduce them, I'd just like to acknowledge the traditional custodians on the lands on which we are meeting, and so here in Adelaide, that's the Kaurna people; but I'm also mindful that people from all over Australia are joining us today. So I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and the elders from other communities, who may be participating today.

So firstly some housekeeping details. So one of the core functions of the CFCA information exchange is to share knowledge. So in today's webinar, we'd like to invite you, everyone, to submit your questions via the chat box at any time during the webinar. So after Sarah and David's presentation, what we're really interested in doing is getting your questions to Sarah and David so that they can answer as many of those as they can. But please note, any unanswered questions may be published along with your first name, on the CFCA website for a response from the presenters after this webinar. Please let us know if you don't want your question or first name to be published on this webinar.

We'd also like to continue the conversation that we have today. So one of the things that Emerging Minds is doing over the course of the next month, due to be released in late June, is producing an E‑Learning course, which has many of the advice from practitioners and people with lived experience across the country, on how to have child-focused conversations with both fathers and mothers, where family violence is an issue. So please remember that this webinar is being recorded and the audio, transcripts and slide will be made available on the CFCA website and the CFCA YouTube channel soon.

So the slides are now available also in handout section of GoToWebinar. So it's now my great pleasure to welcome both Sarah and David, and I'm sure that they great interest and registration numbers that we have had in today's webinar is in no small way connected to the esteem that both Sarah and David are held in for the work that they do. Professor Sarah Wendt will be known obviously to many of you, both as a professor social work and social policy at Flinders Uni, and also as a tireless advocate for the safety of women and children through her research and authoring of books and journals.

Recently Sarah has opened the social work innovation research lab at Flinders University, and there's an address for that at the bottom of the page. So through that, Sarah is working with social work professionals and students to build the skills and confidence that they need to identify and respond to issues of violence. David Tully is currently the Practice Manager for Specialised Family Violence at Relationships Australia, South Australia. His role looks at the overall organisation approach and practices in the area of domestic and family violence. His role is focused on the northern region of South Australia, and also on developing organisational practice approaches around working with perpetrators of domestic and family violence.

David's work with men has been ground-breaking in many ways, and in particular, including his focus on engaging men as fathers. So that's what we have in store for you today, so without any further ado, I now like to warmly Professor Sarah Wendt, to talk about child-focused practices.


Thank you very much, Dan. It's a privilege to be with you all today, to be talking about this important topic on how we can have conversations about child-focused approaches, particularly when working with parents affected by domestic and family violence. I think it's – though before I start, I think it's always very important that when we start this conversation that we're all quite clear about what we're actually talking about, and so I want to acknowledge the work of the national plan to reduce violence against women and their children here in Australia

So I'm going start by just reading the definition that's been accepted. And I want to read this definition because it provides us with a foundation or a platform in which we're going to have this conversation today. So domestic violence refers to acts of violence that occur between people who have or have had an intimate relationship. Now while there is no single definition, the central element of domestic violence is an ongoing pattern of behaviour. I'm going to emphasise that. It's the ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling. I'm going to emphasise controlling, a partner through fear; and I want to emphasise fear.

For example, by using behaviour which his violent and threatening. And so in most cases, the violent behaviour is actually a part of a range of tactics to exercise power and control over women and their children. And this can be both criminal and non-criminal; and domestic violence includes a whole range of facets and tactics, including physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse. So that's what we're talking about today. And I also want to acknowledge the high prevalence of this issue. If people aren't familiar with the recent statistics, it's worth having a look on the ANROWS website, where Peta Cox did a thorough analysis of a personal safety survey.

And so using that definition, we now know that one in four women will experience intimate partner violence, so domestic violence. I also want to acknowledge when we're talking about this issue of domestic violence, that the term family violence is most widely used as a term to identify the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, because it includes the broad range of marital and kinship relationships in which violence may occur, and the ripple effect that it can have across families, groups and communities. I also want to recognise that family violence is a term used, because it recognises the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in statistics, but because of the impacts of colonisation; and so I also want to acknowledge that.

So domestic and family violence brings trauma. And so trauma – we can't forget about trauma and the cumulative effects and exposure that domestic violence has on children. And so I wanted to paint the picture about being very clear what we're talking about. A climate of fear, intimidation, power and control. This is an environment that creates trauma, and children also experience this trauma. So in the statistics that I've shown you, and talked through with you today, there are high numbers of children that also witness or experience this.

So I want to talk about why have I started with this platform; because it gives - this knowledge comes from evidence, and what knowledge does, is it guides our practice. And so if we have this knowledge that domestic violence is about coercive control, power and patterns of behaviour, this theory guides us. It will guide us in how we work. It will offer a variety of ideas about our focus of our work, the objective and the processes of our practice. So what theory does, what knowledge does, is it helps us understand this complexity of domestic violence, instead of being paralysed by it.

This knowledge also provides accountability to the service users, to employers and our funding bodies. We need a solid practice framework or a solid knowledge so that we're clear about what we're doing and why we're doing it. So theory, or knowledge that I've just described to you, improves service quality and allows us to critically examine common sense ways of seeing and doing things. Also, when we have a clear practice framework or knowledge, we can then share responsibilities for developing this knowledge as professional.

I also want to then pause, that if you've got this knowledge base, this knowledge guides your practice. So we know that domestic and family violence negatively impacts on children in many ways, and effects on children have been accounted for throughout various studies. So we know that children who live with domestic violence are at risk of other form of violence, such as sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Domestic violence can negatively impact on children's emotional behaviour and social development, and it can impact negatively on children's mental health and physical development. So when we want to look at child-centred approaches, this is about privileging children's perspectives in the context of domestic and family violence; and this is about acknowledging the complex and multi-layered effects on their own social, emotional, behavioural and physical well-being.

So for me, child-centredness refers to being child-focused in the work undertaken in the context of domestic and family violence. And so this might mean privileging the safety and well-being of children, see the world from the child's perspective, locating the social worker or the practitioner or whoever you are as professional, as someone who can work alongside that child; understanding the complexities with working children, who also want to have a relationship with their parents, abuse and non-abusive parents. And so work with children, in the context of domestic and family violence, requires knowledge about the effects on a child's development, but also the effects on parenting, and the use of a trauma-informed framework can help us look at these effects quite differently.

So when we go to maybe what does this mean then, when you have this knowledge, and you know that this knowledge impacts on children in multiple ways, and it impacts on parenting in multiple ways; what can we do in practice? What can we learn from that knowledge and apply it? And so I've just put up on the screen five kind of practice principles that I think are important when working with children; and so I want to kind of talk these through with you. So I think all human and medical services need a very good understanding of domestic and family violence, because what it does, it then translates to our skills on how we can engage safety and offer a warm referral, if needed, to a specialist agency.

So we can't be scared or feel unskilled in this space across the sectors, because the prevalence of this issue is way too high. And so there are a range of practice principles that you can bring to your work when domestic and family violence is recognised, and so your practice skills become a really important part of brining the knowledge to the fore. And so I've put up there child-centred practice. I think that that is crucial to ensuring children's safety when domestic and family violence is present, but also – so not just about immediate safety, but it's also about a focus on their long-term needs and recovery from the trauma.

Working in partnership with a non‑offending parent, in domestic and family violence is vital to ensure children and young people are connected to family and culture, whereby families can be strengthened; and I've learned a great deal about this working with Aboriginal specific agencies. Protecting children when domestic and family violence is present, also actually requires cross-system collaborative approaches. So practice is actually enhanced when we, as workers, want to engage with each other or engage with the specialist organisations, or engage with your Aboriginal community controlled organisations.

Knowledge, skills and perspectives can be shared through collaboration, that ensures the safety of children. And so if we bring a common practice framework and a knowledge base, and we extract these practice principles, what we're doing as a community of professionals, is building reflection and a learning culture, and that's how we best learn, is by talking to each other about this, and that increases our knowledge of domestic and family violence. So I might stop there, and then let Dan refer you back over to David, and introduce David, because I think David's going to give us a discussion more from a practice point of view as well.


Thank you so much, Sarah. That was a really fantastic presentation. I'm sure you'll all agree. And one of the things that we might like to pick up and I'm already getting a few questions along these lines from that chatroom, is the difference in this space between what we think that generalist practitioners need to know in terms of identifying child-focused approaches to family and domestic violence, between what specialist services might need to know. So I look forward to asking you a little bit more about that after David's presentation. So I'm now going to pass over to David Tully, who is going to talk a little bit about his experience in working in this field, particularly from a Relationships Australia, South Australia perspective. David.


Thank you Dan, and thank you, Sarah, for I think an amazingly thorough introduction in terms of the way we can position the work and again, what's quite critical in terms of that statement around knowledge guiding practice, and what I'd then like to explore then is, what in terms of then, what do we need to, what I call, positioning ourselves in terms of workers, to be able to hear these stories that may come from mothers or fathers from children to be able to then provide a useful response around family and domestic violence.

So I think one of the fundamental ways of being guided by understanding practice around family domestic violence, is being really clear what we're trying to do. What are we actually trying to achieve? We're not just being there as passive listeners to these stories. What do we need to do? And I've got some little grabs; a little phrases at the end of these, and this is sort of what helps me remind. Obviously we're trying to expose and explore violence, and the phraseology I always use around this and talking to practitioner is, have we got the issues on the table, or do we feel like we're just walking around the edges of it, knowing there's family domestic violence, but the issue isn't on the table.

And why I think that's important is, you know, I'm going to use a quote here from a guy called Alan Wade. He's done a lot of work around what's called response based practice around family violence. So he said this recently at a presentation I heard, and I really like it, and other people have said it in many different ways, but I thought he grabbed it quite well in a simple statement. So if we getter better addressing violence, we get better addressing everything, because it's the bottom of so many diverse forms of suffering, and so therefore, regardless of our role, whether we see ourselves as a family intervention specialist practitioner, whether it's something that comes up occasionally in our work, the ability to be able to conceptualise and understand family and domestic violence and what it means in our practice is critical, regardless of where we work.

So to do that, and I think this is one fundamental concept we need to be really clear on, is what I call clarifying responsibility. And the way I remember this for myself is which way is the mirror facing. Now this concept comes a lot with work around men who are using violence in relationships, that often we find the pattern for them is that the – where the finger's pointed, where the sense of blame, where the responsibility is facing, is often they're holding a mirror and pointing it to other people, and that's where the sense – you know, and that creates a sense of shame and people feeling paralysed and going back to Sarah's (indistinct) feeling controlled as well.

So really, really need to think about, from our perspective, about where – which way is this mirror facing, and in terms of thinking about this presentation, I was reminded of my – some of the first work I did, working around child sexual abuse, and my first ever counselling supervisor, a woman called Maxine Joy. She introduced me to this idea of what's called the politics of abuse. So it's not just the practices that individual men may use in relationship, there's a societal context where these practices have emerged from. So really we're about trying to unmask the politics of power and responsibility. So we understand that all abuse occurs in a context where there's a power difference and that power is misused.

The person's awareness of that power difference greatly impacts of how they make sense of abuse. Also importantly, from a social perspective, and again, regardless of our role, whether we're a counsellor, a social worker, a support person, a mentor, whatever role; we have an important role as social responders, and have an important capacity to influence the way the person makes sense of being abused. So we need to be very clear, where is the mirror being pointed? And so we have some really clear language about what the issues are. So what I think, this is also important, is when we understand around the perpetration of violence, around the concepts of power or control.

It's not just some abstract need for power or control; it's more strategic and personal than that. It's about needing to control the social environment around the person, to where the persons responds inappropriately. So it's creating the social environment around women, it's the social environment around women, children, boys and girls as well, how they control that response. And important note, also think about engaging and working with perpetrators as well. That when people have perpetrated violence, it's important we treat them with dignity, even though we're really clear about stepping up and engaging that behaviour, because many people who've violence, deny the violence, excuse violence, partly take responsibility, but not fully, and one of the reasons I think, is there's external factors in terms of the capacity to control the situation, but also we know that perpetrators are concerned that their sense of shame around that behaviour, if they're confronted in a way where they're not seen as a capacity to take some responsibility and make change as well. So it's about helping them maintain that dignity, because what we're really about is how to recreate what we call a responsive sense of shame, where the person owns the behaviour, looks at making change, rather than reactive shame, which creates a lot of the behaviours which we, as service providers, find very challenging, where they deny, blame, minimise as well.

I think also it's important that when we work with people, that we understand that people aren't just passive in the face of violence. This doesn't mean that they have the capacity to stop the violence, but women, children, boys and girls often do lots of active steps to attempt to keep themselves safe, protect each other, create a sense of nurturance and support in the context of this violence. So I think one of the really good antidotes to not get into a place where we inadvertently or advertently get involved in what we call victim blaming practice, is honour and understand the way victims respond.

So victims don't just have a history of violence, they have a history responding and resisting to violence; and children are no less likely to resist violence than are adults. Children resist violence in many, many different ways, and that might be about keeping other people safe, it might be by creating problems in a classroom that may then have the teacher worried and thinking there may be issues going on in the classroom as well. But importantly, we often get caught in thinking resisting respond means they have managed to stop the abuse.

We know the context that power relationship abuse occurs in, that may not be possible, so it is important that we understand the resistance here sits in the social context of that behaviour. And again, really what we can do to contest victim blaming. Again, the way I remember this again is an article, again, a woman called Maxine Joy wrote, called 'Shame on Who', and this is about the work she was doing with children who are subject to sexual abuse, being really clear about how, through the tactics of violence and abuse, people often internalise a sense of shame or responsibility. You know, the mirror is pointing at them; that makes it very difficult to process and deal with that sense of trauma, because of that sense of shame.

So this idea of shame not just being a psychological construct, but sits in a social context where these behaviours are often people are made to feel responsible for them. So in terms of then, in the spirit of turning that mirror, I think it's really important that we are aware in the context that, you know, the ideas of mother blame, aren't just something that are used by men using violence in the relationship. These ideas can be quite powerful in models in the way we do social work, the way we do counselling, that sit within social institutions, that way these things go. So what can we do to be aware of the way those ideas maybe being influenced?

So to me, one of those ways of doing that, is expecting high parenting standards of men, and being engaged in questions around parenting with men as well. So what I think is important is the focus needs to be directed to the issue of what different researches such as David Mandel, who was the Safe & Together model, Davies and Crane as well; this idea of invisible men, fathers in our services as well. So when men use violence in their intimate relationships, they are often solely constructed as the perpetrators, and I think this is a dilemma from any discipline in the way we work with people. You know, people who are focused on a relationship will see as conflict, people who work in drug and alcohol will see them as an addict, mental health will only see in that lens, but we need to be able to hold those multiple identities.

So often when they're only solely constructed as the perpetrator, the identity as a father, often disappears. I think this has quite serious policy and practice implications, not only lead to experience a poor engagement, but to poor risk assessment around the effect the behaviour has not just on his partner, but also on the women and children. And I also I believe often where with the service systems come to provide responses to children, they're often are doing this without a clear understanding of the pattern of behaviour which I think, Sarah's work clearly illustrated with family domestic violence. It's not about one-off incidents; it's about patterns of ongoing power or control.

We plan the way we respond to children without having a good insight around how those patterns are affecting the child's well-being. So in terms of then how we understand the response to violence; we need to have a clear understanding of the pattern of violence and control, and the factors what we understand, what they are, is they're called unilateral nature. It's very inviting, or we often get invitations by men to construct their use of violence, as it's about both of us doing it, we both need counselling, we both need help; but to understand in terms of the power relationships, the unilateral nature of that violence, meaning that somebody has power and control, and they're willing to use that to control and manipulate the situation. And often even women or children's responses to that control, can then be used to try pathologies or see them as being, you know, somehow mutually causing the issue as well.

So one of the pieces of practice which comes from the Safe & Together model, is this idea of mapping survivor's protective capacities, and this particular work emerged from working with women in the context of the child protection system. But what for today, I'd like to just comment, what this model – this tool, I think does, it is really starts essentially to understanding the family and children's well-being, because we need a clear picture of the actual pattern of coercive control and domestic violence that that family's been exposed within, in terms of the man's use of violence.

So by doing that, then we can have a better understanding of the way the woman actually has responded to those issues. So what has she done in the context of those coercive control, to attempt to keep the children safe as she can; to actually provide nurturance to those children, to provide responses that may – around healing from trauma as well. But what we need to understand, that doesn't mean that she's able to stop that violence, and often I think that's where people get caught, oh well, she didn't stop it, so therefore these things haven't been – aren't worth noting or useful.

In terms of engaging in a way that allows us to avoid victim blaming, I think it's really, really clear that we do this. And what this also allows us to do, is actually grasp what I call the situational logic. When it might seem not a wise to do when she's concerned about his violence being directed towards children, to then create an argument with him to bring the violence, you know, his behaviour towards her. But if you understand that in a context of she's actually trying to avoid him harming the children and is willing to bring the violence and abuse to herself, not that it's her responsibility, because she knows that that's going to be protective of the child.

That's a really important thing, and that becomes another thematic in honouring her response to try and keep children safe, and the idea of honouring, I think is really important. So once we understand the pattern of violence, we can then start to honour her resistance and response to that violence within the context of those particular behaviours.

I'd also like to just then talk a little bit about some practice leads or some ideas around how we can, a agencies or as individuals in those agencies, really respect and honour the level violence and abuse that is a reality our service. We know within our experience around screening around family domestic violence that 89 per cent of women who come to our services are mothers, and 32 per cent then fear for their family's safety in the last year alone. And these women score much higher on their levels of parenting stress as well.

So what I believe the holistic screening around asking questions around family and domestic violence, safety, around behaving safely, being safe, around other stresses in people's lives, around children's well-being, I think allows a particularly important practice invitations that we can take. I know from my work around men, these safety questions have often created a really break in that well-rehearsed pattern of the way he may respond to a situation, because I say look, you've ticked a question here where you've said that at times your partner's afraid of you. You know, what does that actually mean? Does this really – is this really the partner you want to be, the father you want to be? You know, at times people are afraid of you. And it allows a different sort of conversation to be constructed as well.

So the well-being of children question also helps slow down the process of establishing what I call parenting intentions, compared to actually behaviour. You know, if there's a note that the children are feeling a sense of fear or concern by their behaviour, we can then slow that conversation down, and then start to sort of track into how his behaviour may be affecting the children, in a way that's sort of honouring of his intentions of he wants to be as a father, but actually comparing his actual actions as they're experienced by others to that.

Now I'd like the last slide to talk a little bit about some research which think has been quite interesting. I think a lot of the work around men using violence on the obviously really critical aspect of needing to you know, work out what external system and processes we can put in place that can you know, frame what they call the web of accountability for men to be engaged in services or systems that can look at creating change as well. But over time I think we also then need to realise just getting men to those services in itself is not enough. We need to then start to understand what might be the internal motivating factors that may have men stay engaged in a change process, which we know isn't a short process of time.

Realistically, most research is saying we need to keep men engaged in processes for 12 months, 18 months, two years, to really see the outcomes as well, but I particularly like this research, because it focused on men's experience as being fathers. It was done through a range of practitioners at Relationships Australia, New South Wales. It's called, 'I miss my little one a lot': How father love motivates change in men who use violence'. So when considering the attitudes that men in the study held towards the children, there's a clear potential for fatherhood relationships to be used as a powerful leverage point, to where the impact of their violent behaviour can be realised and confronted.

The frustration point of not having contact with children, emerges as a powerful experience that could be harnessed to encourage men to acknowledge the severity of their behaviour, and to find alternative ways of relating to family members. So I think importantly this, we're not just saying because men can't see their children, we suddenly say well you can do a therapeutic program, you can see children. It's actually how that sense of incongruity between you know, their behaviour and actual real effects on the children can be used as motivating factor around we're helping men understand the relationship between their behaviour and how it impacts on the children, the boys or girls who may in their life as well.

So again, it's how we can actually identify, not just external motivating factors, but internal motivating factors, in terms of working with men being really important. So I'll finish my presentation at that point, and I'll hand you back to Dan, who will walk us through some of the questions.


Thank you, Sarah and David. I really appreciated both of those presentations, and I think they were really valuable, in the fact that they were kind of quite different in some ways, but I was hearing very many of the similar sort of messages. And I think for me, probably the main message I was hearing from both of you, and I'll invite you to comment on this, is that there needs to be universal adaptation of basic understandings, skills and competencies, not just in specialist family violence services, but in family and relationship, in other counselling services, and in social work and psychology practice more generally, so that every practitioner who are working with parents are sharing basic understandings and skills to be able to identify and work in a child-focused way, where there is family violence. Sarah, I'm wondering if you'd like to comment on that.


Sure. Thanks Dan. I think you know, to answer that question or to comment on it, makes sense to me, Dan, in terms of when you go back to the data, it's very, very clear how prevalent domestic violence is, and it shows up in multiple agencies, in multiple fields of practice. And so we need, as generic practitioners, to be able to have the skills and confidence to actually work with domestic and family violence. And so, one you could argue, the statistics gives us rationale of why we need to know this, particularly around children and the exposure of children to domestic violence is extremely high. There's another driving factor for why we need to understand this issue, and our policy terrain also gives us need to look at this.

So the national plan reminds us that we all have to have good basic knowledge and skills around this, and so does the national framework for protecting Australia's children, also mentions domestic and family violence. So for me, when answering this question, you know, should all generic agencies, you know, have a good solid understanding of domestic and family violence? Yes, because of the prevalence and because of the policy drivers. But I think also what it does, and I want to go back to my point about – I want to kind of talk about this specialist knowledge or these specialist agencies as well, is that's why I started my presentation the way I did, is because to really understand this issue, I want to acknowledge the decades of research that's been done in the field around naming gender, and about naming coercive control.

As soon as you understand that foundation, and you have domestic and family violence as your knowledge or your platform, you actually start to see practice quite differently. And so if I can kind of give an example, is that, you know, when one understands the prevalence and the seriousness of domestic violence, and you start to understand the climate of fear that a perpetrator can produce through control, violence and abuse, you might then start to see changes in child development in quite context and understood in more nuanced ways. So changes in child development can then be seen through a lens that actually notices environment contexts, it does just focus on the individual, the biological or the pathological.

So not saying that these things aren't important to understand children, but it gives you another lens to understand behaviour or effects or trauma. So similarly, if you have that lens working with adults, and you think again, coercive control, patterns of behaviour, a climate of fear, just think about how you would parent under those circumstances. So a parent's ability to protect and meet a child's needs become significantly impacted on by domestic and family violence, and so this will impact on the non-offending parent. And in our society, we know, often the non-offending parent is a woman, and so if we don't have this lens, we can slip into unintentional practice, like putting very high expectations on her, blaming her for violence and what happens is, when we've got all our attention on what she's doing, and those high standards continue to rise for her, we've traumatised children, she's traumatised; what we're unintentionally doing is the perpetrator is invisible.

And so I think, going back to answer this question, one must have a very good general understanding of what this issue is and what we're dealing with, because that will set the scene or the lens from which you see parents which you see children, and it will help you understand and assess risk, and so this issue is highly dangerous, so you must have understand the risk of this kind of believing. So when I say specialist then, I'm thinking all generic services have to have this understanding, but I call this specialist understanding, because it comes from the sector and it's built in evidence. So I think all agencies should have this platform to respond well, but it doesn't mean that you have to do that work all on your own, as a generic practitioner.

We have access now to the specialist services who can advise, collaborate, they're willing to partner with you around understanding the needs of both mums and children, but also how to engage fathers, and I see that as highly specialised work, but we should be not scared to collaborate with.


Thank you so much, Sarah. And I think that really – yes, excellent answer to that question. So, David, we've had quite a few questions around this idea of how do generalist or generic practitioners respond to parents in their particular role, and in particular there's some questions around, some great questions I have to say, about how do you start this discussion? How do you bring this to light with a man who's in your room maybe about communication or relationship issues, and as you rightfully pointed out, might want to talk about the deficits in his children or his partner? How do you start a conversation with him which allows him to start to look at some of his own behaviour, but at the same time keeps him engaged, doesn't actually shame him, as you were talking about?


Thank you. So for me, it's importantly that we, ourselves, are really clear of our own position about working with men around the use of violence and to, I think, echo some of the things that Sarah's importing, that you know, that – the knowledge that helps us see and conceptualise and the research that backs up has been, you know, what I call hard-won knowledge, and it's still contested and there still are battles and controversies and things that go on, but I think it's very importantly that we have a framework we can actually see the behaviour and are able to name it for ourselves, because it's going to be a process to work the man to help him start to name that sort of behaviour as being violence and not just losing it or snapping it or, you know, I just get a bit cranky or whatever other language, because that language itself is often not just something that the man himself has invented, but it's a very common aspect of – worst aspect of men's culture, that violence gets talked about in those sort of ways.

So it's very important as practitioners, that we have own feet on the ground, to have conceptual understanding about behaviour of children. If their partners are feeling afraid of that behaviour, that is what we call family and domestic violence, and it's a very powerful moment when we use that definition in groups of men, where we don't spend, initially lots of time around all the aspects of violence, we just with a very simple definition, that domestic violence is any behaviour that creates fear and intimation in your partner, in your children, in your boys and girls in your life, that limits and creates fear in their lives; and that's a really – you can see the penny drop sort of moment within that as well. But I think in terms of getting into that conversation, we first need to be very clear for ourselves.

The second part then is understanding what might be both the external and the internal restraints operating for that man, in terms of his ability to name it, because there's a fear if you start to name violence, that you know, consequences, because you've been controlling the situation for years and years, and even the language about it not being called domestic violence. So that's external stuff that it's really important we're aware of. But I think the entry point though, for me, is more understanding what might be the internal factors. What might his worries or fears or concerns be about having it named and working that way. So it's really important in our group work with men, and I know we don't always get a chance to do group work with men; we have a really quite interesting sort of exercise around helping them position around the experience of shame.

We just really simply put on a whiteboard this idea of what we call running away shame. What happens when you have an experience of a sense of shame about your behaviour and then you – what actions do you take? And the guys name things like denial, blame, minimisation, you know, all the important chestnuts we're aware of this, but they – these men start to name these themselves. They often then talk about using drugs and alcohol to make the bad feelings go away.

We then contrast that with another concept, we call facing up shame. And what's that? When you can sit with the shame, own the behaviour; actually, you know, this is what I've caused, and long enough to then to start to do some learning and some thinking about your behaviour and the emotional impacts of that behaviour to think about other options. And guys say things like, well that's the reason why I came to your – you know, I rang the service, or why I'm at the group, but also has the actual ability to sit and think about the behaviour long enough to reflect to do the change, because we're interested in actually trying to increase their capacity to self-reflect about this behaviour, and to do it in real time in their real lives, because they're still going to be struggling with certain practices and ideas.

You know, in the group, we call these things dangerous ideas, that influence their map of the way they, not just use violence, but the whole map of the way they do relationships with others. So I think it's really important that we can find ways that actually, has the behaviour, looks at, names it, but also can see a feeling of sense of shame is not just a destructive capacity, can be actually – if they can learn to ride that shame, start to reflect on that behaviour, develop their own sense of self-awareness and start to maybe have a different relationship with their partner.

And even, quite importantly, in terms of the theme of today's talk, also to be a father that they more want to be, you know, because often these men do speak about the experience of their own parenting as not being adequate. A lot of the men speak about experience of their experience of violence or abuse as a child, and these again are the threads that we can pull together to try solidify a sense of identity that actually has capacity to accept the ownership for the behaviour, to move towards the changing behaviour.


Thank you, David. So this idea of having specialist knowledges about the effects of violence on children and women in generalist services, is a really interesting one, because we know that, Sarah, that for social work students or for people working specifically with children or families, or even with parents, this can sometimes cause a, you know, some – a sense of stress, a sense that if you say the wrong thing, you might make the violence worse, or you might make outcomes worse for children. What do you think we need to do, both as educators and also in organisations, to be able to help support practitioners and students to overcome these fears?


Yes, what a good question, Dan. You know, so maybe I can kind of start off by answering that question in terms of my own experience as a social work educator. So people will know that in Australia here, social work is what we call a generalist qualification, and so you know, as a tertiary institution, this means that social work graduates are expected to be educationally equipped to move out into the practice world and work in a range of practice settings. So we are getting them kind of work ready, to go out into a generalist sector.

And so this question of, you know, how much does a social work student have to know, has often been debated across time, where we go from one side of trying to teach all the fields of practice and then we can go to the other side and try and teach those big generic skills like, you know, your interpersonal skills, your use of theory, your understanding of policy and politics; your skills for example, so that's always going to be a tension in the generic kind of professions. But having said that, I've also engaged more recently in some research, and I want to thank Dan for this, particularly with Emerging Minds.

We're a bit interested this concept of, you know, what – what do social work graduates know or people know when they go out, in terms of domestic and family violence, and it's kind of becoming clear through the preliminary findings that often where social work students or graduates or other professionals are getting their knowledge, is really in the field. So it's when you're there, on the ground, actually practising, so that always trumps often your text books or your academic journals. It seems to be when you're in the field actually practising, where people get their most learning; and secondly, it's the formal workplace training that people also find particularly valuable.

And so going to this kind of question about what can agencies do or education institutes? I think we – I'm going to go back to labouring this point a bit, Dan, is that we have to go back to the foundation of the knowledge of what we're talking about, and I will always argue coercive control, gender, trauma informed and having a cultural safety lens, particularly for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. And so for me, that's good practice; that's good generalist understanding of domestic violence; that's what we actually need. And you will see that the Australian Association of Social Workers has released their family violence curriculum best practice guide, and so again, they have elevated that knowledge because it is based in evidence.

And in my time of kind of working with agencies around trying to understand – so firstly to recognise, and then how you respond to domestic and family violence, I think good practice is having a whole of agency practice framework, or that shared understanding of domestic and family violence. That's where you have to start, because that's the lens that your practitioners can then look through. An agency will need policy and practices approaches to be gender sensitive, trauma informed and culturally safe, so you can start to speak the same language.

Once you start speaking the same language, you can collaborate inside your agency as a team, during your supervision, during your recruitment and throughout your training at organisational levels. And so training and then professional development starts to becoming ongoing, and domestic and family violence becomes considered core business, not something that's added on the end.


Thanks so much, Sarah. And, David, I know from the Relationships Australia, South Australia example, that in considering what an organisation can do to further the needs of children, and in fact children's safety where violence might be an issue, that you've introduced a screening tool, which has guided much of your practices throughout all of your services for the last few years. I'm wondering whether we could just get you to comment a little bit on the effects of that.


Yes. Thank you. So again, Relationships Australia, South Australia had obviously a huge process and a journey around thinking about the way we really represent, you know, knowledge that's been developed within the organisation, hard-fought knowledge as well about the levels of family and domestic violence and other safety concerns that were coming across our doors on a regular basis as well. And funny enough, I use the doors, so working with Jen Mcintosh from Deakin University, and Claire Ralphs, who is currently our CEO and Jamie Lee, who is one of our managers in the research sort of area, developed a tools called DOORS, which is Detection Of Overall Risk Screen service.

So the thinking behind this tool was to actually something that can actually screen around safety in family domestic violence particularly, but do it in a way where it's considered holistic, but also seen in the context of other stressors, mental health, poverty, a range of other concerns that may come up for people as well, and also to do this in the context of understanding the experience of being a parent, stressors for children, the experience around separation. So I think one of the successful things of this tool is, every client who comes to the service – it's a universal tool; it's not just a tool we go, we've identified family domestic violence, here's your family domestic violence screen.

It's a screen rather than an assessment. It's something we use for everybody, and to my mind it then represents, you know, organisational values; it's important to actually understand the complexities of what's going on in people life, and particularly around the areas of being safe, as we call it, and acting safely, is – we will ask you those sort of questions, even before you necessarily get to talk to your practitioner. So the research is – we've researched people's experience of using this tool as well, and the vast majority find it useful, and actually find it even respectful that we've bothered to ask them those questions, and that's quite central to their experience of coming to Relationships Australia.

As I said, and I mentioned earlier, that you know, what that data will show that there's a whole range of different risk indicators, but what we call those hard risk indicators, which might be one of the questions about, in the context of your family, in the last year have police ever been called? Has there been an intervention order issued? But we know that from families, about 30 per cent tick yes to that sort of question. And as I said before, of mothers, just looking at that as a sub-set, which is about 90 per cent of women who use our service, 32 per cent of them fear for the family's safety in the last 12 months alone, and they also scored about 32 per cent higher in parenting stress, which is quite understandable within this.

So I'll come back to this idea then, for us as an agency, by getting this information, be able to look much harder at ourselves through some clear observable data, that's it's really – it's difficult to say, well we can just have just one or two specialist programs around family violence, because the interesting thing is, often in programs where you'd expect it not to be as high, we're coming up with really some high numbers there. So what that has led to, actually then driving practice around how do we make sure that all workers are skilled in doing what we call elaboration around family and domestic violence, which might be linking to a whole package of services that that family might need, but are able to do that elaboration around that.

And the other thing which I spoke to you earlier in the presentation, my also experience of using this sort of tool, particularly around using men, it often became a very important platform to slow a conversation down, because hey, look you've ticked this question, so the police were called. You've ticked this question that your partner's afraid of you. You've ticked these questions that your children are struggling or you're concerned about harsher than usual treatment towards your children. So the fact is they've ticked those boxes. They've, you know, I was going to say put their pen over the paper, but we now, most of the time, do these electronically.

They've put their finger on that button and hovered over that and said yes, this is a concern for me, and that allows us to take that conversation with real seriousness, that you've ticked that question that your partner's afraid of you, and your goals are to have your relationship improved or had some contact with your kid. So it's really going to be hard for us to work with that goal, which we know is really important to you, until people are feeling safer. And we respect you enough that we're actually going to hold you in that conversation around people need to feel safer, before we can work on those other goals of improving that relationship. So to me it's really quite sold in terms of what it allows an organisation line of sight around these issues, but also as a practice tool to actually hold conversations around safety because they've already said yes, this is an issue, even before they get into the room.


Thank you, David. Yes, that's really interesting, the research you quote there about the family DOORS model and RASA experience. And one of the real leading lessons from us in that, is that as you've said before, that if we're asking parents about the safety of their children in an explicit and specific way, then they will give us the answers to those questions, and I think that's really important kind of understandings for us to hold onto. So we've heard a little bit about the RASA experience in building organisational capacity to help their practitioners to be able to have the skills and confidence to identify and address child-focused approaches to family and domestic violence.

Sarah, I want to talk to you a little bit about the Flinders University example, where you've actually taken a lead role in implementing the social work, innovation and research lab. And a large reason for that, I understand, is to actually upskill and support practitioners to be able to work in this field much more confidently.


Excellent. Thank you, Dan, for that opportunity. Yes, so I do want to encourage if people are interested, to have a look at some of the work that we're trying to do in SWIRLS. You're right, Dan, I've wanted to deal SWIRLS because I'm actually driven by valuing the practice of social work on the ground, and I think that a lot of practice is happening and a lot of good practice is happening, and it's often invisible. And so as a researcher, I'm' asking SWIRLS, how can we capture that knowledge to grow the evidence base around particular issues, because as a researcher, I often get asked or enter conversations with people saying, yes, yes, we know; we know the problem.

I think we know it well, and in terms of domestic and family violence, I think we do know it well. I think we understand the problem and how it impacts on women and children, and we also know the drivers of perpetration. So the question that I get often asked is, it's the how. So how do we practice? What do we do and what actually works to address these big social issues like domestic and family violence? And so at SWIRLS we're driven by engaging with practitioners on the ground, but also those with lived experience, to capture the voices and experiences to grow our evidence of practice.

And so we're committed with working with agencies to either co-publish or produce that evidence of practice on the ground, and we're doing that often in co-design ways. And so we're committed to doing that because we also see SWIRLS as an important part of social work education. So when you can engage with practitioners on the ground, and those with lived experiences, we can take that knowledge safely and start to inject that into our curriculum, and so at SWIRLS we're really committed to this research, practice, teaching nexus, and we're going to give it a shot to research in different ways so that we can value and elevate the evidence of practice, as well as honour the lived experiences of families, and also influence our future workforce, I have to say.


And just a really quick one, Sarah. In terms of child-focused practice I know that the work of SWIRLS has certainly had a big focus on that. Are you seeing any kind of developments in that kind of area?


So that's a good, question, Dan. We are going to be using our knowledge of issues, and domestic and family violence is one of them, to try and centralise children. And so we're doing that through our teaching; we're doing that through our research. I have to say, I've been privileged with working across agencies, at the moment, looking at how to respond to children's needs in the context of domestic violence. I think that's a really important conversation to have, and so we are committed to centralising children throughout our degrees, but also centralising children throughout all these issues that we actually face.

And I think that in terms of domestic and family violence, we can do that without losing the lens of gender. I still think that we can do that in sophisticated ways, because gender will always be a factor in how children experience parenting, how women experience being mums, how men experience being fathers. And so I think it's still important, you can be child-centred, but you can also have a gender lens run alongside that, as well as a trauma lens.


Thank you so much, Sarah. And I'd just like to once again thank Sarah and David for their excellent presentations today. I feel like I could sit here and ask some questions for the next hour, but alas, we are running out of time, so we'll move on. We really want to continue the conversation with you today, so if you do have any further questions, please submit questions or comments on the online forum, following the webinar today, and the address is down there for you. So, really like to hear from you.

So that ends our webinar discussion today, but of course, the conversation continues. As mentioned, the work that Sarah and David does relies a lot on co-design and collaboration with other practitioners, not only in South Australia, but around Australia, and of course the work of Emerging Minds, we're still really interested in engaging with practitioners. As I said, we have an E‑Learning course on child-focused approaches where there is domestic and family violence, coming out in late June, and have really appreciated the practice wisdom and the lived experience wisdom from our child and family partners and our practice partners, that we've received so far, and I'm always interested in hearing from you.

So that concludes today's webinar. I'd just like to thank you call, to the many hundreds of you that participated today, and we look forward to joining you for next webinar between CFCA and Emerging Minds, which will be looking the social and emotional well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Thank you.



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The Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), is not responsible for, and makes no representations in relation to, the accuracy of this transcript. AIFS does not accept any liability to any person for the content (or the use of such content) included in the transcript. The transcript may include or summarise views, standards or recommendations of third parties. The inclusion of such material is not an endorsement by AIFS of that material; nor does it indicate a commitment by AIFS to any particular course of action.

Slide outline

1. Child-focused approaches when working with parents affected by family and domestic violence
Daniel Moss, Sarah Wendt and David Tully 
CFCA / Emerging Minds Webinar 29 May 2019

2. Asking questions

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3. Webinar resources

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  • The audio and transcript will be posted on our website and YouTube channel in the coming week.

4. Child-focused approaches when working with parents affected by domestic & family violence cont..
Professor Sarah Wendt (2019)

5. What are we talking about?

Alt text: Four female icons three coloured dark purple one coloured pink. The image is a visual representation of the proportion of women (1/4) who experience domestic violence.

Intimate partner violence is experienced by a quarter of women in Australia (Personal Safety Survey, ANROWS – Cox 2015)

Ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling a partner through fear…the violent behaviour is part of a range of tactics to exercise power and control over women and their children.

6. Knowledge guides practice…

  • Payne (2014) states because social work is practical action in a complex world, a theory must offer explicit guidance.

Alt text: Diagram to explain how social work approaches family violence. The main image has a circle with the word child in the center (representing child centredness) surrounded by a ring with 3 smaller circles (parents, trauma and development) which represent the risks children who live with DVF face. On the outside of this main image is a large bidirectional arrow. One end of the arrow has a text box containing the words ‘knowledge about DFV (fear control, violence abuse)’ with a small arrow pointing from this text box to parents circle located on the ring of the main image. The other end of the large bidirectional arrow contains the words ‘skills to engage, identify and manage risk, respond’. This text box includes a small arrow to the development circle located on the ring of the main image.

7. Practice Principles

Alt text: The diagram of six circles representing practice principles. The middle circle contains the word skills, surrounding the middle circle, are 5 overlapping circles containing the words child-centred; partnership; culture and strength; reflection and collaboration.

  • Victim Safety (e.g Mother and Children).
  • Partnering with the non-offending parent (e.g mother).
  • Minimisation of secondary victimisation through collaborative service delivery (e.g specialist services, Aboriginal consultants, CALD consultants).
  • Perpetrator visibility and accountability.

Being child centred means workers know vulnerability of children to harm from domestic and family violence.

8. References

Cox, P. (2015). Violence against women in Australia: Additional analysis of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey, 2012. Sydney: ANROWS. Retrieved from

Healy, K. (2005), Social Work Theories in Context: Creating Frameworks for Practice, Palgrave Macmillan, Houndsmill.

Hester, M. (2011). The three-planet model: Towards an understanding of contradictions in approaches to women and children’s safety in the context of domestic violence. British Journal of Social Work, 41, 837–853.

Humphreys, C., & Healey, L. (2017). PAThways and Research into Collaborative Inter-Agency practice: Collaborative work across the child protection and specialist domestic and family violence interface: Final report (ANROWS Horizons 03/2017). Sydney: ANROWS.

Mandel, D. (2014). Beyond domestic violence: Perpetrator accountability in child welfare systems. Ending Men’s Violence Against Women and Children, Spring, 50–85.

Payne, M (2002), Social Work Theories and Reflective Practice, in Adams, R. Dominelli. L. & Payne, M. Social Work: themes, issues and critical debates, 2nd ed, Palgrave, Houndsmill. UK

Payne, M. (2014), Modern Social Work Theory, 4th ed, Macmillan Press, Houndsmil UK.

Stark, E. (2007). Coercive control: How men entrap women in personal life. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wendt, S., Buchanan, F., & Moulding, N. (2015). Mothering and domestic violence: Understanding maternal protectiveness within gender power relations. AFFILIA: Journal of Women and Social Work, 30(4), 533–545.

Wendt, S (2016) Domestic Violence and Feminism, in Wendt, S & Moulding, N. (eds) Contemporary Feminisms in Social Work Practice, Routledge, London.´

9. Child-focused approaches when working with parents affected by family and domestic violence

David Tully 
Practice Manger Family Violence 
Relationship Australia South Australia 
[email protected]

10. Positioning practice

  • Exposing and exploring violence - “Getting it on the table.”
  • Clarifying responsibility - “Which way is the mirror facing?”
  • Honouring resistance and response - “Honour and ethics in face of adversity”
  • Contesting victim blaming - “Shame on Who”

11. Positioning practice cont..

  • Expecting high parenting standards and engagement of men in questions around parenting
  • Focus needs to be redirected to the issue of ‘invisible men/ fathers in our service responses

12. Response to violence

  • To understand response we need to understand the patterns of violence/ control and their unilateral nature
  • Mapping Survivors’ Protective Capacities
  • Honouring capacity to hold onto children’s well being in the context of violence/control

13. Practice Leads - Holistic Screening Illuminates Patterns

Safety question with men often creates a break in the well rehearsed and patterned response to what is going on in the family

Well being of children question also helps slow the process down to establish parenting intentions to which to compare actual behaviours

14. ‘I Miss My Little One A Lot’: How Father Love Motivates Change in Men Who Have Used Violence

When considering the attitudes that the men in this study held towards their children, there is a clear potential for fatherhood relationships to be used as powerful leverage points through which the impact of their violent behaviour can be realised and confronted. The frustrations reported at not having contact with their children emerged as a particularly powerful experience that could be harnessed to encourage men to acknowledge the severity of their behaviour and to find alternative ways of relating to family members

Broady, T.R., Gray, R., Gaffney, R., Lewis, P. (2015). I Miss My Little One A Lot: How Father Love Motivates Change in Men Who Have Used Violence. Child Abuse Review

15. References

  • Jenkins A, Becoming Ethical, 2009
  • Mandel, D. (2014). Beyond domestic violence: Perpetrator accountability in child welfare systems. Ending Men’s Violence Against Women and Children, Spring, 50–85
  • Richardson, C. (2009, July). Islands of Safety and the Social Geography of Human Dignity. Produced for the Federation of Community Social Services of B.C
  • Wade, A. (1997). Small Acts of Living: Everyday Resistance to Violence and Other Forms of Oppression. Contemporary Family Therapy, 19(1), 23-39.
  • Wade, A. (2007b). Despair, Resistance, Hope: Response-Based Therapy with Victims of Violence.
  • Wells, Y., Lee, J., Li, X., Tan, E. S., & McIntosh, J. E. (2018). Re-examination of the Family Law Detection of Overall Risk Screen (FL-DOORS): Establishing fitness for purpose. Psychological Assessment, 30(8), 1121-1126.
  • McIntosh, J. E., & Ralfs, C. (2012). The DOORS Detection of Overall Risk Screen Framework . Canberra, Australia: Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department
  • Davies L & J Crane Collaborate with caution: protecting children, helping mothers , Critical Social Policy , Volume: 26 issue: 2, page(s): 412-425 May 1, 2006
  • Broady, T.R., Gray, R., Gaffney, R., Lewis, P. (2015). I Miss My Little One A Lot: How Father Love Motivates Change in Men Who Have Used Violence. Child Abuse Review

16. Continue the conversation

  • Do you have any further questions?
  • Please submit questions or comments on the online forum following today’s webinar.
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Sarah is Professor of Social Work at Flinders University. She has a PhD from the University of South Australia and has taught in social work for over a decade. Prior to academia Sarah practiced in the field of domestic violence. She has published on violence against women and social work practice. Her current research projects explore the impact of domestic violence on women's citizenship, service provision for Aboriginal communities experiencing family violence, and engaging men to address domestic violence. In particular, Sarah has been researching rural women's experiences of domestic violence for over a decade in Australia and, more recently, how domestic violence work shapes practitioners living and working in rural communities.

David is the Practice Manager for Specialised Family Violence Services at Relationships Australia SA. His role looks at organisational approaches to working with perpetrators of domestic and family violence, and is focused on the Northern region of Adelaide. David has worked in the area of domestic violence and childhood sexual assault for over 20 years as a practitioner and service manager. He has also worked as a service manager for torture and trauma counselling for people with refugee experiences and has developed trauma counselling models for young people experiencing homelessness. David has been on the research advisory panel for the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault and is a peer assessor for Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety on perpetrator research.