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SWandClient700s_img_2013 Social Services Professionals

Social Services Professionals

Social services personnel can assume a significant percentage of their client population is or has been affected by current or past abuse.

PCADV and its member programs are here to help social services professionals assist victims of domestic violence and their families.

Call us at 800-932-4632.

Many abused women initially reach out to a variety of other social services providers as they take steps towards alternatives to the abuse, but often do not identify themselves as victims of domestic violence. Yet practitioners seldom screen for abuse or, more importantly, assess the safety needs of the people they see. A fuller understanding of domestic violence, its devastating effects and effective forms of intervention and assistance helps both social services personnel and their clients.

Request staff training on working with children exposed to domestic violence or working with domestic violence survivors.

Get assistance with developing protocols for inter-agency referrals or specific procedures for screening for domestic violence.

Contact our Legal Department at 888-235-3425 for information about family law and domestic violence law. (This is not a helpline for victims.)

Trauma and Mental Health

Lifetime experiences of abuse and violence are common among women seen in mental health settings. The National Association of Social Workers, in The Social Work Response to Domestic Violence suggests that:

"In mental health settings, including substance abuse services, universal domestic violence screening of women and girls should be routine. Abuse has significant, lasting mental health effects that, if left undetected, would hinder care. Domestic violence is a significant risk factor for depression, PTSD, anxiety and substance abuse in women."

Coordinating with Domestic Violence Services

Local domestic violence programs are equipped with an array of free and confidential services. These may include assisting victims in reviewing their options, providing access to legal alternatives for addressing abuse, short and long-term safety planning, providing emergency shelter, peer and/or facilitator-led support groups and/or one-to-one advocacy-focused counseling.

These programs can also be of assistance to social services personnel seeking to provide support to their clients who are victims of abuse.

  • Work with the local domestic violence programs to enhance services and safety for victims in your community:
    • discuss ways to work with a victim who may not be ready to reach out to domestic violence-specific services
    • request cross-training between the domestic violence program and the social services agency to clarify roles and provide opportunities for meaningful, long-term collaboration
    • develop protocols that address referrals and outline each agency's role

Universal Screening

In recent years, universal screening has been embraced by sectors of the medical and social work communities. The concept is simple - routinely ask questions of each of your clients about whether they feel safe at home/in their relationship or if anyone has threatened, abused or made them fearful in some way. PCADV has put together some has simple guidelines and sample questions. Integrating these questions into the conversation may take some practice but is highly effective in reducing the isolation many victims feel and provides the opening for referral to domestic violence services. If a client's response is affirmative, practitioners can engage in some basic safety planning and be prepared to offer referrals to local domestic violence services. The tool is also available in the Farsi language.

A Word About Couples Counseling

Couples counseling should never be offered if there is violence or the threat of violence present in a relationship. It has proven to be inappropriate, ineffective, and may even heighten the risk of further abuse in relationships where one partner is abusing the other.

For the same reasons, cases where there is domestic violence are NOT cases where Family Group Decision Making should be used. If a practitioner is providing couples counseling, even if both parties request it, best practice in assessing the relationship includes interviewing each party separately and screening for abuse. Contact PCADV at 800-545-6400 or your local domestic violence program for more information.

Couples counseling is beneficial to work on marital problems. Wife battering, however is a violent criminal act, not a marital problem. It is illegal. It is a behavior that is solely the responsibility of the violent person, is chosen by him, and he alone is capable of changing it. This is true regardless of the alleged provocation, since the behavior of one family member cannot compel another family member to be violent. Violent behavior must be addressed and stopped before couple counseling takes place. FaithTrust Institute, Excerpt from A Policy Statement on Domestic Violence Couples Counseling,


Domestic violence program advocates have an absolute privilege of confidentiality that is outlined in the Protection from Abuse Act. Understanding these constraints and their implications will assure confidential, safe coordination of services can be accomplished through the use of a Release of Information and with the explicit permission of the client.

Working with Batterers

Social services personnel are likely to encounter clients who are the perpetrators of abuse. Successful interventions with batterers will hold them accountable for their behavior and address the safety of the victim of the abuse. Anger and/or stress management do not address the power and control issues batterers often use to justify their abuse and their effectiveness is usually short-term. The abuser can be referred to another mental health professional equipped to work with batterers or to a specialized batterer's treatment program. The local domestic violence program can provide information about batterer intervention services in your area. Contact your local domestic violence program or PCADV at 800-545-6400 for technical assistance or more information about working with batterers.

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