Who is responsible? Mothering and protecting children in service provider responses to intimate partner violence

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Bresch, Lauren
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Over the last few decades, there has been a significant shift in how the Canadian state has constructed and responded to the issue of intimate partner violence in legislation and policy discourse. Although initial changes arose out of Violence Against Women Movement’s critique of the state’s inadequate response to men’s violence against women, recent reforms in family violence and child protection legislation have involved framing intimate partner violence and subsequent child exposure as a gender-neutral problem. Feminist scholars argue that this de-gendering of domestic abuse in family violence and child protection legislation and policies has shifted the focus away from men’s violence and onto women’s failures as mothers. Embedded within dominant discourses surrounding mothering (“good mothers” versus “bad mothers”) and notions of managing risks, feminists assert that these policies hold mothers responsible for maintaining a safe home environment for children through controlling, managing, and fleeing men’s violence. While these policies aim to protect children from harm, existing research finds that, in practice, these policies responsibilize mothers who are victims of intimate partner violence. Building on the feminist literature, this thesis examines how mothers and children are constructed by service providers in their responses to intimate partner violence in Manitoba. A sample of 19 interviews with service providers collected as part of the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative with Vulnerable Populations was analyzed. The sectors represented include: social services workers, Crown Attorneys, police, probation workers, shelter staff, and victim services workers. Carol Bacchi’s “What is the Problem Represented to Be?” framework and Critical Discourse Analysis were the two main methodological approaches employed to investigate how dominant understandings of intimate partner violence, managing risks discourse, and constructions of mothering in the context of abuse factor into service providers’ responses towards women and children who experience violence. The findings of this study suggest that despite gender-neutral legislation and policies, service providers tended to construct the matter in gendered terms: as abused mothers failing to protect their children in cases of intimate partner violence. Rather than intervening with violent fathers and challenging their abusive behaviours, service providers placed the responsibility on mothers to protect their children from harm.
Mothering, Intimate Partner Violence, Child Protection, Violence Against Women and Mothers