At Rise, the vast majority of parents impacted by the family policing system are Black and brown women who are survivors of domestic violence (DV), intimate partner violence (IPV) and/or sexual violence. Every year, many—if not most—parents in our Rise & Shine Parent Leadership Program write about and/or discuss experiences of domestic violence, sexual abuse and/or intimate partner violence in connection to their experience with the family policing system, a more accurate term than “child welfare” system. Our intention in sharing stories in our programs and in this publication series is to hold space for each other and to honor each person’s story and what it means to them to share it. Often, parents choose to write or talk about these painful experiences and to build our advocacy skills out of a desire to support other people going through similar experiences—and to further our healing, reclaim our stories and push for meaningful societal and policy changes to prevent harm and support families.
Rise has been preparing for three years to launch this series on the intersection of family policing and domestic violence. As we publish it, we are continuing to explore strategies for preventing and addressing violence and harm. We are learning in community by sharing our experiences and listening to other parents, engaging in participatory action research and organizing, interviewing community groups, reading, writing, listening to podcasts and joining trainings and webinars. While we do not pretend to provide simple or quick solutions, we will share our experiences, what we are learning and who we are learning from, the restorative and transformative justice and survivor- and BIPOC community-led approaches we are discussing, and tools and resources we are finding helpful. We hope the series will deepen your understanding of DV/IPV and family policing and motivate you to take action and support community-based safety strategies.
We recognize that reading the stories may bring up difficult emotions—it may make you feel angry or overwhelmed—and may bring up your own experiences of being harmed and/or harming others. As you engage with the series, we want you to know that you are not alone. We encourage you to take breaks as you read, give yourself space and care in holding our stories and your feelings around them, and connect with support as needed.
>> Access a list of resources for learning, support and self- and community-care
>> See our Glossary of Terms for definitions of key words
What We Want You to Know
We had conversations about what is important for readers to understand as we begin this series. Here, we share a few points we feel are essential.
- People have different experiences of DV and IPV—and there are different kinds of abuse. Systems such as the police and even service providers ask survivors, “What was the threat? Did he hit you? Was there a weapon?” They are looking for something physical, but abuse doesn’t always take these forms. It can be financial; it can take the form of wielding weaponized violent systems (e.g. police, family police, immigration enforcement, courts); it can be emotional, psychological and spiritual; it can take place online and/or through harassment and stalking. It is about power and control.
- Leaving a relationship does not necessarily end the harm or dynamics of power and control. Sometimes people are afraid of being subjected to post-separation abuse if they leave—often violence happens when or after a person leaves a relationship. Additionally, if a parent shares custody of a child with their abuser, they may be required to continue to have that person in their life and their child’s life. Supporting survivors involves supporting our self-determination and decision making about our own lives.
- We love our children and advocate for ourselves and our families. There are different ways children may experience violence, trauma and harm—this may involve being abused themselves, seeing a parent harmed and/or being separated from their family. We know that the violence and harm children witness or experience, including through the family policing system, can affect their health, wellness and outlook on relationships, and that the violence and harm we have experienced in childhood and/or adulthood may affect us. We want to support and protect our children, end cycles of harm and help our families heal and thrive—and we know that healing takes time.
- It is important to recognize, uplift and center the intersections of our identities and experiences. Racism, sexism, classism, ableism and cultural judgment shape who is believed, deemed worthy of protection or criminalized by systems and professionals who interact with families (including in the family policing, health/mental health, education, prison/police and court systems). We must listen to the experiences of all survivors, especially those whose experiences are often most marginalized, devalued or disbelieved. This includes, but is not limited to, people with disabilities and/or parents of children with disabilities and survivors who are immigrants without documentation, face language barriers and/or who are incarcerated.
- While Rise seeks to create safe spaces, many parents are currently and continuously navigating dynamics of harm and safety, whether or not systems are involved. At Rise, sometimes parents who want to write and speak about their experiences don’t feel safe telling their story or using their name if they do, because people are actively targeting them, they are afraid that they may be retaliated against or they are concerned about the impact it could have on their children. To protect themselves and their children, some parents publish their stories and work in this series anonymously.
Sharing Our Stories
Sometimes when people speak up about experiences of violence or harm, we are shamed, blamed or silenced, even by our family members or within movements. Too often, we are not believed, not listened to or are gaslit by systems and service providers when we need support. We are judged, criticized, belittled and labeled—and often, the violence we experience is normalized.
Our stories collectively reflect how white supremacist systems such as police and ACS do not recognize the experiences of Black people, for example by minimizing the experiences of Black women or not believing that a Black man can be the victim of abuse. Sometimes, as parents who have been harmed, we have been told to get a confession from the person who abused us as evidence or we have found it necessary to turn to a “more credible” person, such as a therapist, to validate our stories to systems such as ACS when we are not believed.
Rise Writing and Public Speaking Coordinator, Keyna Franklin, says regularly in our writing workshops, “Your story is your story.” It is important that we honor and center the stories and experiences shared by survivors as we speak truth to power and create support networks for ourselves and our children. We also want to be recognized as whole people—we are more than the violence and harm we have experienced. As Rise Parent Organizer and survivor Shamara Kelly stated, “My story didn’t end when I escaped—there is so much more.”
The Harm of Policing System Responses
Violence within families is real—and so is the violence and trauma inflicted by systems. Punitive systems that are tools of white supremacy—such as family police, police and prisons—do not listen to or center the needs of survivors, effectively prevent or address harm, or promote healing. Instead, they perpetuate harm through family separation, are used as weapons of abuse and harassment through false and malicious reports and often engage with survivors in ways that mirror the dynamics of interpersonal abuse. Particularly for people who are Black, Native, Latinx, poor, transgender, vulnerable to ICE, unhoused, sex workers and/or disabled, contact with police can be traumatic, physically and/or sexually violent and even fatal. Many parents at Rise hold multiple of these identities and are especially targeted by punitive systems as a result. In fact, in NYC, Black and Latinx children are over twice as likely to experience an ACS investigation compared to white children.
Often, when a parent experiencing DV tries to change their situation, including by seeking support from service providers or hospitals, a report is made to the family policing system. ACS becomes an additional problem for parents experiencing DV who then also face an intrusive ACS investigation—and the threat of losing their children. Families also identify DV as a major immediate cause of homelessness—and unhoused parents are often subjected to family policing system involvement and/or experience family separation. Although by law, ACS can’t remove a child from a parent solely because that parent has been victimized by another adult, the investigations that follow a report are broad—not limited to the issue reported—and parents are not told their rights. When ACS enters the home, over 99% of the time, they do not have an entry order (equivalent to a warrant) and ACS has the power to remove children immediately without obtaining a court order first.
Police, family police and the courts typically focus on the abuser and not what survivors want— even in terms of our basic needs or care around trauma. While ACS, NYPD and the courts work together, they don’t communicate in ways that center survivors (e.g., failing to document ongoing false reports made by an abusive ex-partner). We are spun in circles, bounced between “providers” and triggered and retraumatized by the questions we are asked and not asked or by facing the person who has harmed us in court. While we may experience instances of someone caring and helpful working within these systems, an individual’s ability to support is ultimately limited by the structure of the system that pays them. The approaches by the family policing system parallel harm and coercion that occurs within relationships and families, inflict lasting and layered trauma, actively harm families and deepen isolation. It is stressful to abide by the system’s rules and be under their control, forced into services under the threat of your children being taken away.
Police are not effective in preventing violence or supporting safety, are often slow to respond and sometimes won’t take a simple step to help a survivor feel safe. One Rise survivor was at the precinct and asked for an officer to walk with her to the train station as the person who had been harassing her was outside—and they refused! Another Rise survivor described “orders of protection” through the policing system as “fake safety.” It took the police over a year to find the person who had abused her and serve him with the order of protection.
Interrupting Criminalization reports: “According to official statistics, less than half of domestic violence survivors ever call or report to the police.” Similarly, only about 30% of sexual assaults are reported. When we interviewed Rana Abdelhamid, Founder of Malikah, she stated that going to the police is often not an option in the communities they work with, which are largely communities of immigrants of color. Many survivors of color do not feel safe or comfortable with police because of deep fear that the police will harm them or the person they are seeking safety from. One Rise survivor spoke about being afraid that the police might harm or even kill her partner, a Black man who was experiencing mental health challenges. When police did show up, they laughed about the situation and told him to [abuse her] more quietly next time.
When police are involved, they may not treat DV as a serious concern. Officers at a precinct may tell a survivor that their story does not meet the criteria to speak to the DV officer or survivors may be told that their complaint will not go anywhere. Police may reflect misogynistic and patriarchal views—and commit domestic violence themselves at much higher rates than the general population. Additionally, there have been allegations of police responding to domestic-violence emergency calls and raping victims. Sometimes, the person being harmed will be arrested by the police and/or placed on the State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment by the family policing system. Contact with the police often leads to family policing system involvement and/or loss of housing, benefits and/or employment for the survivor or person committing harm.
Similarly, prisons do not prevent or address violence. Incarceration is typically the only form of “justice” offered by systems—and it is a form of state violence that disproportionately targets Black and brown people and does not center survivors, address their needs or consider their vision for accountability. Ultimately, prisons separate families, harm children and disrupt communities, leaving them to grapple with trauma. As Mariame Kaba pointed out in upEND Movement’s 2022 How We endUP Convening, prisons normalize and reproduce violence. Furthermore, systems of punishment create disincentives for people to acknowledge and take responsibility for harm they have caused—they do not support people in confronting the impact of their actions, stopping harmful behaviors and seeking meaningful ways to repair harm. Additionally, many people in prisons have experienced violence themselves and sometimes people are incarcerated for survival actions, including defending or protecting themselves from abuse. Survived & Punished reports that up to 94% of the population of some women’s prisons has a history of physical or sexual abuse before incarceration. The majority of people in women’s prisons and jails are mothers—and their children are often funneled into the foster system.
The tools and resources available to those experiencing DV and IPV are limited, and the dynamics of DV often isolate survivors from our friends, families and communities, shrinking our support networks. People impacted by violence make extremely difficult choices in the context of limited options as we seek to survive and protect ourselves and our children. We will not shame or blame survivors for seeking to use whatever our society makes available. Rise will advocate for creating more options for people experiencing violence, centered around care, connection and people’s wants and needs, and recognizing that parents and children need to be supported together.
As survivors, we want more ways to get help for ourselves and our children that are trauma informed, survivor centered and available through community, not through ACS. Too often, you have to be involved with the family policing system to access resources—a system parents distrust and which many experienced as children ourselves. Survivors of DV, IPV and systems of oppression are already leading our own community-based organizations and should be in the room creating trainings, implementing services and designing policies—because survivors know what works and doesn’t. As we focus on survivor-led solutions, we must consider dynamics of race and class and center and invest in the leadership of BIPOC impacted women and gender-expansive people, recognizing that white women (particularly those with higher incomes) have very different experiences of and paths through violence and carceral systems.
Survivors want and are creating safe spaces to process and listen, offering each other space and grace. People who have been harmed may need opportunities to regain their power and address feelings of shame, which the family policing system does not help parents to do. It is also important that organizations be mindful of not tokenizing or retraumatizing survivors, but rather support survivor empowerment and leadership development.
We need to invest in community-based options to assist families impacted by domestic violence in healing our relationships and building our support and care networks. Reunification after separation by the system is challenging for any family, and families impacted by domestic violence experience unique dynamics and parenting challenges. Often, children have questions that are challenging for parents to answer. Families need resources and opportunities to heal from trauma, grief and loss, and support with caring for children who have been impacted.
You’ll read more of our ideas throughout the series. Here, we offer a few overarching recommendations.* These supports must not be funded or implemented by family policing systems. Instead, we should expand community-led efforts and build on community strengths to address DV and transform oppressive societal conditions that foster and perpetuate violence.
Invest in flexible, low-barrier economic assistance and parent-centered systems of care and support to address the harms and trauma caused by domestic and gender-based violence.
- Fund community groups that focus on restorative and transformative justice, family care and holistic and ancestral approaches to healing and wellness.
- Invest in peer support and peer-run services. Survivors of DV and gender-based violence can be retraumatized by the current mental health system. Peer-run programs can increase trust, leadership skills and mental health.
- Fund progressive forms of public assistance for survivors such as no-strings-attached cash; accessible and quality food; affordable, quality housing; and free child care. Studies show that families who receive these types of benefits experience significant reductions in DV and increases in safety compared to families who receive traditional benefits. Increasing families’ access to these resources would also prevent family policing system involvement.
- Support community groups to meet the direct, immediate need of survivors, as identified by survivors, such as cash, food, clothing, toiletries, safe child care, support with paying medical bills and also collective needs like self-defense classes. These supports should be available to all who self-identify as needing them—and must be available immediately and without qualifications that will exclude people, in the way that many mutual aid groups provide support. Community members can donate to mutual aid groups or get involved. Philanthropic, private and public funding streams should be made accessible to small grassroots organizations and provide unrestricted funding that will not compromise groups’ ability to provide immediate direct support to survivors in flexible ways that uphold their values.
- Disconnect access to child care from ACS administration so that parents do not need to interact with ACS for child care vouchers or information.
- Provide safe accessible temporary respite care without family policing oversight or involvement, in ways that allow parents to maintain decision-making power.
Resource community-based supports for trauma recovery, especially healing from sexual and intimate partner violence, that recognize the historical and current vulnerability of Black and brown women and gender-expansive people.
Supports should operate from community and liberatory frameworks, and be led by Black and brown women and gender-expansive people as both practitioners and peer supporters, to address trauma on both interpersonal and systemic global levels. Support should be available to everyone who wants it—programs should not require that parents be in crisis or system involved to be eligible to access resources and care.
Make options for trauma-informed services much more widely available—including age-appropriate services for children.
Services must be non-coercive, culturally appropriate and without waiting lists. Trauma-informed services for fathers who have been accused of an IPV incident are currently used as diversion programs following an arrest and plea deal—these services should be available without system involvement. Likewise, many trauma-focused therapeutic parenting supports are only available through ACS. Programs that focus on parents understanding their own trauma history and the impact of their actions on their children should be freely accessible in non-stigmatizing, non-coercive settings that invite families in to explore how to resolve conflicts within their family and community.
Replace mandated reporting with support and access to community resources.
Rise is advocating to end mandated reporting, which is increasingly being called for by parents, advocates and social workers. Mandated reporting laws, policies and practices create fear and make it harder or harmful to families to seek help. Survivors often have to share information with mandated reporters about the danger they are in or violence they have experienced in order to have priority access to housing/shelters and resources, yet disclosures put them at risk of a report and family separation. In many states, family policing systems remove children from the parent who is being abused for ‘failure to protect’ their child.
NY State should end anonymous reporting to the child abuse and neglect hotline.
Replace anonymous reporting with confidential reporting, requiring callers to provide identifying information when making a report. Presently, those committing DV can anonymously make false and malicious reports, furthering dynamics of power, control and abuse.
Provide safe housing quickly—because access to safe housing is essential and a day can make a difference for someone trying to survive.
- Adopt a Housing First approach for parents and families to eliminate barriers to housing stability. A Housing First approach prioritizes providing permanent housing, “guided by the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a stable place to live before attending to anything less critical” such as employment or substance use issues. It also recognizes the importance of people having choices in their housing selection and about service participation.
- Enable families in crisis to access priority housing vouchers without ACS involvement and end discrimination against people with housing vouchers. NYC landlords often say that they don’t take vouchers—this is illegal.
- Access to shelters is often slow, and DV-specific shelters are especially isolating because you can’t tell people where you are—we need opportunities for respite and connection, as well as classes and activities for families. Assess shelter rules and practices to minimize the likelihood of family policing system involvement and decrease family stress and isolation while maintaining survivor safety.
Create and share safe spaces, tools and resources that support children, youth and adults in engaging in healthy relationships and sharing about their experiences.
This may include learning in developmentally appropriate and culturally and linguistically relevant ways about topics such as consent, self- and community care, safety planning, podmapping, nonviolent communication, de-escalation (including self de-escalation), boundaries and healthy relationships. It is important for all of us to be able to recognize and respond to unhealthy and/or abusive dynamics (for ourselves and/or to support people we care about). As we dismantle oppressive systems and build anti-carceral approaches to respond to DV, it is essential to strengthen our capacity, skills and community networks so that people are less likely to resort to violence.
Rise anticipates that this series on the intersection of family policing and domestic violence will run throughout 2023 and potentially beyond—and we will continue to share resources, lessons learned and takeaways. We hope that you will engage and reimagine with Rise, break down stigma, share resources and your experiences and stand with survivors.
*Several of these recommendations are drawn directly or adapted from Rise’s parent-led participatory action research report, An Unavoidable System: The Harms of Family Policing and Parents’ Vision for Investing in Community Care.
>> See our source list for citations for this introduction.
>> See our list of resources for support, healing and learning.
Acknowledgements and Gratitude
This introduction was developed primarily based on parents’ experiences through a collective process that centered a series of small group conversations. BIPOC parents at Rise directly impacted by domestic violence, IPV and/or sexual violence and family policing discussed their experiences, analyses of family policing and policing systems and ideas about what could best support families experiencing violence. This collaborative process was led/supported by NB, Danisha Darby, Keyna Franklin, Shamara Kelly, Tracy Serdjenian and Bianca Shaw. It was also informed by conversations with and feedback from the Rise staff, which additionally includes Teresa Bachiller, Jeanette Vega Brown, Ashanti Bryant, Teresa Marrero, Shakira Paige, Genevieve Saavedra Dalton Parker, Zoraida Ramirez, Halimah Washington and Robbyne Wiley. This introduction also draws on and seeks to honor and amplify the experiences and ideas of impacted Rise & Shine graduates and Rise contributors—including many who wrote stories that will be published as part of this series. Many of the recommendations came directly or were adapted from the parent-led participatory action research report, An Unavoidable System.
The introduction to our series reflects engagement with and learning from our community more broadly, including through interviews with groups working to address and prevent DV (and other forms of violence) and support survivors, families and communities. Community input and guidance played a crucial role in our process. We thank Raquel Singh of VOW for your time and guidance through a conversation in our early stages of this process. We are grateful for the valuable input on the draft introduction provided by Jennifer Feinberg, Center for Family Representation; Kelley Fong, University of California, Irvine; Maura Keating, Center for Family Representation; Emma Ketteringham, The Bronx Defenders; Theodora Ranelli, Project Hajra; Laura Reyes, Exodus Transitional Community’s Center for Trauma Innovation, Lisa Sangoi, Movement for Family Power; Shellie Taggart, Futures Without Violence and Richard Wexler, NCCPR.
This series introduction reflects Rise’s ongoing process of engaging and grappling with and learning about abolition and healing, restorative and transformative justice practices. One of the ways we have been learning and engaging in challenging conversations about these topics as they relate to DV and IPV is through our book club, which most recently read Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement, edited by Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.
We recognize that the issues we identify and recommendations we share in this introduction are not new. We appreciate, honor and strive to uplift those who have been doing the work over time, those who have dedicated their time, energy, brilliance and skills to the BIPOC- and survivor-led anti-carceral movement for safety outside the system. We are grateful to those who created a foundation for our continued collective learning and using (and beginning to try out) strategies, practices and ways of thinking that align with our values. The work of many of these people and groups is credited in our sources and/or highlighted in our resource list.
This series introduction was authored/edited by Tracy Serdjenian.