A research paper by Ravi Thiara, Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick and Cathy Humphreys Professor of Social Work at University of Melbourne published in 𝐶ℎ𝑖𝑙𝑑 & 𝐹𝑎𝑚𝑖𝑙𝑦 𝑆𝑜𝑐𝑖𝑎𝑙 𝑊𝑜𝑟𝑘 calls on social workers to have a better understanding of mothers who are victims of domestic violence.
Drawing on interviews with 45 mothers and 52 children, their research shows the continued presence of the perpetrator of abuse post separation through child contact arrangements and ongoing harassment is also highlighted.
“Although the impact of domestic violence on women, children and their relationships has been increasingly identified, effective intervention responses are less developed,” the research paper says.
The researchers point out that the fear that women hold that their children will be taken into care remain barriers to them seeking supportive interventions from social workers.
“Although statutory child protection responses have continued to pressure or support women to leave violent relationships for the sake of the children, in the area of private or family law, the requirement for chil- dren to have ongoing contact with their fathers remains a source of concern,” they say.
The study found that years of living with the perpetrators of domestic violence and coercive control causes mothers to lose confidence in their ability to parent.
“He basically destroyed all my confidence in me and my confidence in being a mum too. I just thought I’m just a shit mum. (Fam 37)”
The manipulative games and the psychological impact this had on women were regularly mentioned:
“… it wasn’t so much the physical, it was the mental abuse that was the worse. He manipulated my mind all the time and he’d twist everything and he did things that made me feel like I was going mad . . . I’d think well I’m sure I did that, no you haven’t. But I had done it. But he’d . . . make me think that way . . . so he could control me. (Fam 37)”
The research found: “The erosion of women’s sense of self, their confidence in their mothering and the undermining of the mother–child relationship are all closely linked and form part of a continuum for women in the pre- and post-separation periods.
Women in the study talked about a range of overt and covert ways in which their relationship with their children was undermined both in the past and stretching into the present.”
The researchers see a need for social workers engaging with victims of domestic violence to have a better understanding of these mothers.
“Re-establishing the mother as parent away from fear and the controlling behaviours of the domestic violence perpetrator is new territory for both women and children. Most importantly, while women and children may be separated from the perpetrator, the abuse may be ongoing through child contact arrangements, stalking, harassment and financial abuse,” they say.
The research paper concludes by saying: “Social work practitioners and particularly statutory workers hold significant power to interpret the behaviour and the meaning of the relationships with which they are confronted.
We have argued in this paper that the shadow that the perpetrator of abuse continues to cast across the relationship between women and their children may not be fully understood and interrogated in practice.
Instead women, who themselves may be struggling, may be held responsible for both the problems and the solutions to those problems in the relationship with their children following separation from an abusive partner.
Strengthening the mother–child relationship through joint work, debriefing the violence and abuse they have both experienced and building on the strengths and protective actions that were needed to survive the experience of domestic violence are not common practitioner models.
Without proactive strength-based work with mothers and their children in the aftermath of violence, it is all too easy for women to be left struggling with the absent presence of the perpetrator that can continue to undermine rather than rebuild the relationship between women and their children.”