Child protection services have struggled with domestic and family violence (DV) and how to respond to it. Historically it has been slow to recognise the impact of domestic violence on children. Once identified, child protection services have been slow to recognise that affected children are usually best safeguarded by workers supporting the non-offending parent, typically, the child’s mother in situations of DFV. The focus on assessing mothers for their protection or failure to protect their children in the face of fathers who use violence has become characteristic of much child protection practice which has failed to engage constructively with the challenges of domestic violence.
Many issues have emerged as problematic, highlighting the poor ‘fit’ between the traditional child protection lens and the demands of an effective response to domestic violence. These include: an exclusive focus on the ‘best interests’ of the child without due regard for two victims of domestic violence (child and usually the child’s mother); the lack of engagement with fathers who use violence; the necessities of engaging with diverse communities; the problems with developing effective domestic violence interventions when separation has not occurred. These are not the problems of an individual practitioner, but rather point to the structural and cultural change required by organisations to support workers to shift their practice. This chapter will draw on recent research (a national case reading of child protection files in Australia) to highlight the gaps in understanding the impacts of DV on parenting skills, and the gaps in recognising and documenting mothers’ strengths and efforts to keep their children safe. Sometimes this has involved mothers being deemed as ‘non-compliant’ with child protection instructions. An intersectional lens will be taken to explore a feminist perspective on child protection practice. The framework developed by Safe & Together™ will be used to inform the chapter and bring a feminist lens which is inclusive of the needs of children for agency, safety and protection. There is evidence that supporting the mother–child relationship is the most effective way of keeping children safe where there is domestic violence. Strategies required at an organisational and a practitioner level will be explored, including the need for a differential response to children exposed to DFV. This response recognises that not all children are significantly affected by DFV and not all mothers find their parenting significantly compromised. While partnering with mothers, it should be recognised that children may have different perspectives on violence and have their own views about what keeps them safe.