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November 24, 2010

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It's very easy for those dealing with domestic violence clients to lapse into "caretaking" mode which flies in the face of what real social work is supposed to be. Aside from the fact that this type of work enables clients, we also see them making decisions that the clients need to make or at the very least, need to learn to make. As you said, the batterer has physically and mentally beat independence out of their victim as it is.

As a professional social worker, I am always embarrassed when others of our profession treat their adult clients like children. If the client is this example is having things forced on him/her by the case worker, how different is that from what the batterer is doing, good intentions or not?

When I started out in the social work field almost fifteen years ago, I had to really fight the urge to be a rescuer and make everything "all right." Then during one of my internships, an instructor gave me the mose valuable piece of advice I could have received: "Never," he told me, "work harder than your client does to achieve a certain outcome."

The other valuable piece of advice I learned during these years was, "People have the right to make bad decisions."

It's hard to watch a client making what I believe to be huge mistakes, but I've learned that our clients do the best they can. It is our job to educate, support, and open the door to new possibilities...but not to push them through that door. That's a step they must take themselves.

Debra Stang
Alliant Professional Networking Specialist

Dave,

I love what you say about the batterer physically and mentally beating independence out of the victim. Exactly.

By the way readers, Dave has a great blog of his own which you can visit by clicking on his name above.

Enjoy!

Debra,

Your instructor and my first supervisor must have gone to the same school. I don't know where the ideas originated, but "don't work harder than the client" and "clients have the right to make mistakes" were two very valuable pieces of advice in my career.

Thank you for the reminder.

Having been a domestic violence hotline counselor for several years I do understand the difficulty in walking away from a client who chooses to stay and I suspect those social workers who infantilize their clients do it out of honest and good intentions. However it is one thing to let a grown women make her own decisions about when she'll leave - assuming she does, and where she'll live or go back to her abuser. It is entirely another to let children go back to an abusive environment and there is a point where the woman who chooses to go back and get her teeth knocked out yet again does not get to make the decisions for those children, even if it's under the guise of "he doesn't hit the kids, just me". As some of us know witnessing the violence can be every bit as destructive as being the punching bag itself.

I am confused why it might be disturbing that the social worker would take control of this situation as s/he did. Obviously somebody needed to speak to her but I fail to see how attempting to get another person out of an abusive and dangerous situation should be disturbing. What's disturbing is that we have to stand there and watch while another person that is supposed to love them instead uses them as a punching bag. THAT'S disturbing.

Jss,

I couldn't agree more that allowing the children to even witness the abuse, much less experience it, is simply wrong. I was quite relieved to see the implementation of "failure to protect" laws which hold the non-abusing parent responsible for failing to remove children from the abusive situation.

What disturbed me about the social worker taking control of the situation is that she did just that - took control of it. Domestic violence is about controlling another person. Violence and intimidation are simply the tools to gain control; control of where they go, what they wear, who they see, what they do. When the social worker took control of the situation, she was really taking control of the woman. This just transferred control over the woman from the abusive husband to the social worker. Instead of the abusive husband making decisions for the woman (as if she were a child to be decided for) the social worker is now deciding for her. Taking control of the abused woman reinforces in the woman's mind that she is indeed incapable of deciding or acting for herself - she needs someone else to do it for her. It reinforces her powerlessness. It reinforces her role as victim. The abuser treats her like a victim when he abuses her. The social worker treated her like a victim when she "saved" her. We save children. We save animals. But grown adults don't typically need saving. They may need support, assistance, guidance or a helping hand. But they don't need saving. Grown adults save themselves. If it's hard to see, imagine if the situation were reversed and a man was being abused by a woman. Would he be a "victim"? Would he need "saving"? He might need a referral to a domestic violence shelter to pick up the kids and flee to. He might need referrals for social services. He might need a ride. He might need counseling to reverse the brainwashing that usually occurs in these situations. But we would not be as likely to feel "sorry" for him or rush in to "save" him. People stuck in domestic violence situations don't need pity or to be treated like helpless children. They may need encouragement, mental health treatment for the brainwashing and mental abuse, a refuge to flee to and other assistance. But they don't need other people to step in and make decisions for them. They need to be empowered to take back the reins of their own lives.


I dont think youve really answered jss point about the children, and Im woried that previous comments didnt pick up on this either.

The social worker may be open to criticism for 'rescuing' but leaving children to the ongoing trauma of domestic violence until you have empowered their mum is not defencible.

Maybe it would be more useful to explore the professional dillemmas of people in this situation

I was "shunted into" the DV system about 14 years ago when my husband picked me up and tried to physically throw me out of the house. I happened to have phone in hand and dialed 911, but didn't say anything until he had given up and gone back to the bedroom. Although I told the dispatcher that I was okay and didn't need to "go anywhere", I know his yelling had to be heard. My husband disconnected the phone and when they called back, told them I was "psycho". 14 years later, I am on the 3rd divorce action (he instigated) and this will end up being the 2nd completed divorce. Truly, though, I have come to the conclusion through this last round, that the DV system is NOT empowering to "victims" and often contributes to more problems. I "came back" because the REALITY was that I had no other (legal) options to regaining custody of my children ... during the 1st divorce, he was awarded full custody although uncontested request for joint was entered. The judge's "discretion" was then used as a weapon against me and obviously, against our children as he sought to cut me out of their life completely. When I fought to get a protective order in 2003, a DV agency referred me to an "attorney" who took $160 from me for "consultation" and then told me she could do "nothing". I went to jail rather than return our children to a man who terrorized and threatened me and in front of them every time I attempted to exercise visitation.

This time round, I knew more of my legal rights and when he tried to throw me out of the house with nothing but debt, I filed pro se for a provisional hearing, asking that I be allowed to stay in the house as I had nowhere to go and I might lose my employment if I was forced to go back to a shelter. Lately, I lost one job due to the emotional stress of not enough money ... my car has been breaking down repeatedly and he has ignored a year old + judgment awarded to me ... my car is broken down right now and I spent 4 hours yesterday in a salvage yard trying to get the part I need ... when I wrote a letter and application for assistance to the state DV agency, they (after weeks and after telling me straight out they couldn't tell me if the program was funded or not) came back to me with a turn down and NO alternatives. Two recent communications to them (for finding legal information) have gone unanswered. Apparently, if you REALLY are somewhat empowered and trying to keep from losing your gains, you are "out of luck". I find it APPALLING that after approximately 50 years of existence, the only "help" available is to run away, lose everything you have worked for and also, your children, as living in a shelter is NOT a stable environment (and it is a well researched FACT that when DV enters the Court, the victims often or usually lose custody). There are some "support groups" and other than the DV agency linking you with programs that any other citizen of your state is eligible for, there is NOTHING. My thinking is that you don't RUN from bullies, but after hearing an attorney (who had started a shelter) discussing how women actually profit from giving it all up, I realized it is about FUNDING ... the agencies receive operating funds via "victims served" - whether the service is helpful or pertinent. Often times, beds were "filled" by women released from jail .... and that became a source of added additional stress to someone like me who, at that time, was suffering from undiagnosed panic attacks. When I received a call to come to Court for an emergency custody hearing (and after being kept up most of the night providing "intake" information), I was on my own ... no advocate came with me or gave me any helpful advice or suggestions.

So I have a very jaundiced view of the DV system. It seems they spend all of the funds they get on the same old same old and raising "awareness" but there is NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING to help someone keep from losing the gains they have made and that they would have no problems keeping, were it not for the active and malicious behavior of a bullying abuser ...

You've seen this "a lot" in social work? If you're seen this a lot in social work I'm going to expect that you've seen a lot in social work. otherwise the point isn't valid. For one consider whether or not you are looking at a hero or a chief enabler. The thing is sometimes there are cases where people are not willing to leave a dysfunctional situation. They also strive to preserve it! This leads to stories about "terrible injustice" when really, its a story to justify the dysfunction. Ironically a frequent theme is (as as a scapegoat would work in a dysfunctional family) that social workers get scapegoated. But!... I also agree with you. I don't doubt that there are times when situations like this are misjudged and wrongful actions take place. The sad truth is that in some situations social services is the only real defense there is to break up these scenarios. The first goal of social services isn't to break up a family- its to keep it together. Unfortunately sometimes that's not achievable. But it is often necessary that a family be apart so that they can be helped and put back together. For example in a situation where a codependent alcoholic gets help but is still with his family usually the family sabotages their efforts. The only way this really works is if they are away from the situation entirely. Then they are helped. The family needs help to prevent the dysfunctional dynamics from reoccurring. After this the family is later reunited. Its a struggle, a hard time and a sad reality- as opposed to a longer much more drawn out scenario. There is always more than one side to a story. We can't just jump on someones band wagon and assume every word of what they say is pure and true. To do that is to contribute to injustice.

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