Introduction

This case study is based on the domestic violence of a young couple and the impact of their actions on their 2 year old child. Alice aged 22 claims that her partner Jason aged 24 is the perpetrator of the continued violence between them. According to McMaster and Wells (2003), most men find themselves in a fierce power struggle, they panic and use force if they think they lack the control they believe they should have over their families. Pathology looks at men being violent or aggressive due to their biology. There is some merit in this argument as some men are aggressive by nature. Social structure theory looks at the economics within the family; the poorer the family, the more likely there will be tension and violence caused by that financial stress.

In this case study the young couple’s violent behaviour appears to be triggered by financial constraints and other factors such as alcohol and drug abuse and power. New Zealand social policy deals with such matters and in this particular case, relevant Acts of Parliament are identified that may guide and promote harmony in the home environment. This case study will look at the process of resolution and its contribution to the empowerment of the clients involved in this discussion. This discussion will further critically reflect on whether justice and human rights were honoured in addressing the needs of individuals involved.

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The scenario

Alice and Jason is a young couple who live in Panmure area in Auckland. This young couple made a number of domestic violence callouts since Alice was pregnant with her first child, which resulted in Child Youth and Family Service (CYFS)’ involvement. A Family Group Conference (FGC) was arranged and a lawyer was appointed for their daughter named Emma at the age of 3 months. Emma was placed with the paternal grandparents after her lawyer made an application for her to be under the guardianship of the court. It was agreed in the FGC that the couple would have supervised access until such time the court sees fit for them to have unsupervised access. After three months of this arrangement the court allowed the couple to have unsupervised access on the condition that CYFS would monitor and be informed of any unfavourable actions to the child or any changes and if the arrangement was not working out.

However without either the court or CYFS’s knowledge the paternal grandparents decided to let Emma stay with her parents. After 9 months Alice got arrested for stabbing her partner with a knife. When interviewed Alice stated that she had been depressed since Emma came back to stay with them. Jason was always drunk, going home late, shouting abuse and hitting her over petty issues in the presence of her daughter. On the night she got arrested she said that, “When Jason came back from work he told me that he was moving out, this sparked an argument because the rentals were overdue and I got angry and stabbed him with a knife”. She was arrested when she called an ambulance to take Jason to the hospital. Emma was left with the neighbours and was picked up by CYFS after a week. When Alice came back from court the house was empty, Jason had moved out and she found out that she was pregnant again.

The position of the client.

Emma is a child who from a young age had witnessed violence and abuse between her parents. At three months she was placed with her paternal grandparents under the guardianship of the court, however due to the inconsistency of Alice and Jason’s unsupervised contact with Emma during the first placement with her paternal grandparents, it led to a breach of the agreed conditions, which were put in place to strengthen bonding and continuing attachment with Emma, whilst they worked on improving their lives.

According to New Zealand Police statistics 38,000 children were present during the 30,340 family violence incidents attended by the New Zealand police in 1997. Reports show that these children are severely affected emotionally by this, and more often present with instability, low morale, low self esteem or low confidence. Most of them generally become sullen, uncommunicative and lack motivation. There is therefore a huge impact on children who witness domestic violence.

The Psychologist’s report stated that Emma was traumatised and recommended that she should be involved in the healing process and begin regular sessions. Supervised access was arranged by CYFS to minimise any further psychological, mental, emotional abuse or trauma on Emma.

Relevance of the Acts

For the purposes of this case study, the following legislations have been used to protect, support or empower individuals in this scenario for a better change.

1. Emma’s lawyer made an application under section 2(g) of Section 31 of The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 for Emma to be under the guardianship of the court.

The intention of this legislation is to promote children’s welfare and facilitate their development, by helping to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place for their guardianship and care. In the given case Alice and Jason had failed to discharge their parental responsibilities and there was a great concern relating to care of our client Emma. However the legislation acknowledges that families and whanau have the primary responsibility for the care, upbringing and development of their children. From the facts of the case it is evident that Emma was in need of care and protection and was being harmed emotionally in view of the domestic violence in the family. It was also possible that her mental or emotional well-being was likely to be impaired or compromised because of the serious differences that existed between her parents.

2. She was initially placed with her paternal grandparents at an early age under Section 67 of The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 which states that the court may make a declaration that the child or young person is in need of care or protection specified in section 14(1).

3. This arrangement came about when CYFS as the Care and Protection Service convened a FGC in accordance with section 20 of this Act. The FGC brings together the family, including the extended family, and the professionals in a family-led decision-making forum. It aims to promote family autonomy in a solution-focused environment. This meeting facilitated full participation of all stakeholders to discuss the best interests of Emma.

4. On the second notification, the Care and Protection coordinator made an urgent application under Sec 19 of the same Act accompanied by a statement of the reasons for believing that Emma was in need of care or protection in view of the domestic violence prevalent in the family. The statement also stated that Emma was left with her parents’ neighbours who were not approved caregivers and these neighbours had a criminal history of using illegal substances and drugs.

5. Alice was incarcerated under Criminal Act 1961, part 8 section 188 with intent to cause grievous bodily harm to Jason her partner. However she was discharged without conviction because Jason didn’t want to press charges against her.

6. Alice was also facing eviction under Sec 86 (1) of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 which allows the landlord to apply for an eviction order if the tenant is in rental arrears.

Process of Resolution and Intervention

The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 is the primary legislation relating to the care and protection of our client Emma who has been a victim of family violence most of her childhood. The focus of this Act is in keeping all children safe, strengthening and supporting Families/Whanau, when care and protection issues arise, as well as providing alternative care when family/Whanau are unable to look after their children. According to the ANZASW Code of Ethics (1993), social workers have a legal responsibility to their clients’ interest and welfare and should have this as their first priority. The following resolution and intervention was followed to address the needs of Emma and her parents:

* After Alice became incarcerated, CYFS executed a Place of Safety Warrant to have Emma removed from her parents care through an Interim Custody order under section 78 granted by the court in favour of the Chief Executive of Child Youth and Families.

* Emma was placed in a foster home with her maternal grandparents after CYFS had carried out a caregivers’ assessment in accordance with the principles in sub section 5, 6 and 13 of the Act. The maternal grandparents were approved by CYFS as suitable caregivers because they didn’t have any criminal record and were meeting the legal requirements of caregivers.

* The FGC was held and the family members who attended were in agreement that it was in the best interests for Emma to be placed with her maternal grandparents. This arrangement was to be reviewed within 6 months of the date of Court review or when orders were made in favour of Alice under the Guardianship Act whichever was the sooner.

* The Social Workers believed that it was important for Emma to continue strengthening her attachment with her mother and whanau/family. Therefore her supervised contact with her mother, father and whanau/family was arranged to take place at the CYFS office because of her parents’ history of inconsistency from the first arrangement.

* A psychological assessment was done on Emma and the report stated that there were issues with her and recommended therapy because if the issues were not resolved she could be affected mentally, emotionally and socially later in life. According to McGee (2000) all forms of domestic violence affect children. Fear is a predominant factor even when the family has split and children who were affected by domestic violence can become depressed to the point of suicide. Any disturbance in the family situation affects the children as they grow, they will feel ashamed and stigmatised, affecting their self-esteem and identity.

Connolly (2001) advocates that social workers should develop greater knowledge of themselves in terms of their experience of family, culture, gender, values, education, relationships, class and any other experiences. A Task-Centred Model, Crisis intervention and Strength based plan was crafted for Emma. Alice and Jason were ordered by the Court under the Domestic Violence Act (1995) to attend an Anger management programme, parenting group, Financial Support ; Budgeting Service, Counselling sessions, and alcohol and drug abuse courses.

This comprehensive plan was used to intervene and work with Emma so as to help her parents to prioritise and address their issues, ensuring tasks identified are allocated, and actioned, while family strengths were identified and resolution difficulties acknowledged Nash (2001). The Whare Tapa Wha model was also used since Alice had presented as Maori while Jason was Samoan. According to Durie (1998) this model is important to Maori and Pacifica people as it focuses on the four aspects of an individual which are the spiritual, family, psychological and physical.

The intervention plan started with the Psychologist’s recommendations for Emma to be involved in psychotherapy sessions. The Psychologist had to apply Play Therapy because of her age, which is an extension of Psychotherapy adapted for young children. In play therapy, the therapist tries to help the child to understand and express his/her feelings about his/her parents and the other family members through play with various toys and they will often use puppets to act out the child’s problems. Gleitman, Fridlund ; Reisberg (1998).

Objectives and responsibilities agreed upon in the FGC

* Permanency with mother or father to be achieved by way of guardianship and custody orders being made through the Guardianship Act 1968 Sect 78 order in favour of the Chief Executive to be discharged when orders are made in favour of the parents.

* After successful completion of the proposed programs Alice or Jason would provide care for Emma taking into account her physical, psychological and emotional needs

* Alice would move out of her flat into a pregnancy crisis centre, and use the rental bond to pay her arrears. She would continue to stay at the pregnancy centre until the child was born, then move into a supported residential home.

* Contact between Alice and Jason was strictly forbidden during this time and both of them were to attend proposed programmes separately.

* CYFS would fund the residential programme and facilitate the attachment therapy for Emma and her parents.

Evaluation of the Client.

After three months Emma was interacting well with her peers at day-care and her maternal grandparents. The CYFS social worker would visit Emma regularly and acknowledged that her behaviour was changing. She would smiled more and was increasingly able to express her feelings when she was upset, worried or happy.

On completion of theses programmes a transitional plan was made for Emma, Alice and Jason to move back together since they had proposed reconciliation. The FGC was innovative on the legal process based upon traditional Maori decision-making, matters relating to child protection, giving an opportunity to immediate families, to seriously participate in the decision-making process The emphasis of the meeting was based on the stability of the family and welfare needs of the child. This principle applies for all children and their families involved and the young couple was supported through this principle.

Reflection on whether justice and human rights were honoured in this scenario.

The most prominent area of family life is childcare and protection, therefore legal processes and implementation of social policy cannot proceed without intervention by social workers. This family situation warranted CYFS to investigate and ensure the protection and safety of the child while supporting the young couple. The resolution shows that CYFS complied with Article 1.8 of the ANZASW Code of Ethics (1993) that proposes that where the client lacks capacity or inability to act with self determination the social worker has a duty to protect the client’s rights and welfare. The social worker has a mandate to work within the bounds of the organisational policies and within the guidelines of the code of ethics as stipulated in the ANZASW. The clients’ views and values were respected and the FGC meeting encouraged the young couple and their family to participate, giving them the right to be heard in the decision-making process. It is evident that the practitioners had a good understanding of the application of the law within the court and tribunal system.

The client and social worker relationship was within the reflexive-therapeutic view given the mutual influence. Payne (1997) urges that the client should bring their reality to the table and the social worker in a non directive and non judgemental way explores the client’s views and how they see their problems in an effort to help the client to gain insight into the root causes of their problems and ultimately help them to plan new ways of responding to their challenges. Reflexive-therapeutic views are strength based in perspective, empowering clients to gain power over their own feelings and way of life and enabling them to overcome or rise above their suffering and disadvantage. Adams et al (2002, p.129) see reflexive-therapeutic as being focussed on “helping individuals to achieve personal growth, self-actualisation and personal power over their environment, that is to identify and fulfil satisfactorily their human wishes and needs”.

However the first notification and placement with paternal grandparents was not handled properly and the young couple was not supported through their domestic problems. While section 4 Care of Children Act 2004 was implemented for the welfare and best interests of the child by the court, the young couple was not offered counselling services and sanctioned to attend programmes so as to address domestic violence. Further to this the department and the court allowed the couple to have unsupervised access to Emma after only 3 months of their Family Group Conference without assessing the couple’s ability or evidence of a violence free home environment. Although the court made this decision in good faith to promote child-parent relationship, it compromised Emma’s rights because children are affected by violence between adults if they witness or hear the violence and are present in the house, or see the results of violence.

Conclusion

According to Injury Prevention Research Centre (1999) on male partner violence against woman, men who are physically violent towards their partners are also likely to be sexually violent to their partners and are likely to use violence towards children. There were indications in this case study that showed that Emma was at high risk of continued abused, and the latest situation could have been avoided if this couple had access to appropriate intervention. It must be noted that children are affected by violence even if they are not physically hurt themselves. However it is reasonable to believe that CYFS learned from the first incident, hence they changed their approach on the second notification. This is in accordance with the legislation that advocates for the well-being of the child linked with the well-being of their family and the removal of Emma from her parents only happened as the very last resort because of continued exposure to domestic violence.

References

Books

Adams, R., Dominelli, L., Payne, M. (2nd Edition) (2002). Social Work: Themes, Issues and Critical Debates. UK. Palgrave

Connolly, M. (2001) New Zealand Social Work: Contexts and Practice. UK. Oxford University Press

Durie, M. (1998). Whaiora. Maori health development. 2nd edition. Melbourne. Oxford University press.

Gleitman, H., Fridlund, J., & Resiberg, D. (1998). Extensions of Psychotherapy: Psychology (5th ed.). New York:

McGee, C (2000) Childhood experience of domestic violence. London: Jessica Kingsley.

McMaster, K., & Wells, A (2003) Innovative approaches to stopping family violence, Welllington: Steele Roberts.

Nash, M., Munford, R., Hay, K., (2001) Social Work in context: Fields of practice in Aotearoa New Zealand, Massey university.

New Zealand Association of Social Workers (1993). Code of Ethics. Auckland: NZASW Inc.

Payne, M. (2nd Edition) (1997). Modern Social Work Theory. UK. Macmillan Publishers

http://www.dvc.org.nz/index.php?section=28

http://www.legislation.govt.nz

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