By Doreen Ludwig,
Author of "Motherless America: Confronting Welfare's Fatherhood Custody Program"
Domestic Violence Experts Do NOT Protect Parents From Legal Abuse – Is This Purposeful?
Researching the special interests and funding that built the current administrative structure of family court, I reviewed Dave Mandel’s “Safe Engagement of Fathers When Domestic Violence is Present: Building a model response to domestic violence within the Responsible Fatherhood Programming.”
CAUSAL - The Fatherhood Movement
This is a curious piece that begs for background. A booklet called “Making Father’s Count,” financed and published by the private endowment Annie E. Casey Foundation, chronicles the long history of propaganda building and financing. Perpetrated by the Christian right and other patriarchy ideologues, the fatherhood movement occurred as resistance to women’s increasing empowerment. These men did not want to lose control of the family. While required to concede to women’s personal right to live independent of the fathers of their children, these men furiously resented single motherhood – mothers who chose to raise kids without the constraints of controlling, misbehaving males. Billions of dollars have been spent building a system of male control within family court with first contact often occurring by way of the support office.
In addition to funding media campaigns, accumulating skewed research, and lobbying for government sponsorship, the fatherhood movement developed community and prison level programs. These programs are funded by private and public dollars. They offer males classes in fatherhood – men can be taught to be good dads. How to change a diaper. How to respond when a young child cries. How to read to the child. How to talk to the child. How to bend down or sit and “get on the child’s level.” Fatherhood.gov – the federally-funded website designed to hook-up dads with services - even funds an 800 number to help dads is distress.
Fatherhood programs have a difficult time getting dads to participate. Father’s don’t walk in off the street – they don’t want to be taught to be a good family man by these “grounded-in-religious-right-ideology” 12 and 16 week courses. Not to be deterred from their mission of putting males in charge of women and children, fatherhood programs operate in partnership with family court. Dads with restraining orders are ordered to participate. Males who owe support are referred to the program and assisted in filing custody motions. Lowering custody has the effect of lowering support obligation.
Fatherhood programs operate out of prisons. Taking dads charged with criminal acts like robbery, physical assaults, drug abuse, and other felonies and misdemeanors. Dads can highly reduce their sentence and while in prison receive preferential treatment for participating in a fatherhood training program. If they have a support obligation upon entering prison, dads are helped to file motions to reduce that support and to obtain custody orders, many put in effect even while dad resides within the penitentiary.
While fatherhood programs operate mostly for lower income males, they have been hugely successful at creating a family court culture that elevates father regardless of his behavior or lack of parenting ability. The fatherhood is used to prop-up a system of appointment that is commonly applied to higher income dads willing to litigate for custody and lower support obligation.
Over twenty years of funding a fatherhood custody mandate resulted in higher and higher amounts of highly harmful dads acquiring access to their victims. Along with the mandate, the fatherhood movement built a cache of affiliates trained in typical father’s rights ideology such as: co-parenting is the best option for children; violent men can be easily taught to refrain; sexual abuse of the child is a figment of mothers vindictive imagination; mothers who stand-up to mistreatment are “alienating” and “uncooperative”; and, problems can be solved with court appointee intervention. For poor families, child protective services facilitates father’s access by labeling mom unfit while families with financial assets are slowly bled.
Mothers are appalled! Physically, sexually and mentally abused mothers and their children enter family court only to find a system set-up to give custody to harmful men. Mothers run to the domestic violence organization where staff offer counseling that fathers need their children; they are told no lawyers exist or they are given a limited-time lawyer who eventually uses the case referral to extract more money from the damaged family all the while never resolving a custody case guaranteed to give the abuser full power.
In keeping with the for-profit scheme that runs family court, local domestic violence (DV) staff and national DV groups that claim to advocate for women, concurrently built their own network of family court specialists, never mentioning the fatherhood movement and the colossal amount of money being directed to make family court custody outcomes favorable to abusive males, all built on a premise of dispute resolution.
DVs Answer to Harm
Dave Mandel, the author of “Safe Engagement” is one such domestic violence expert who enjoys a top percentage income due to his authority on issues of treating violent and controlling dads. Mandel receives generous contracts to design protocols that work within family court and child protective services.
Following is the total Amount David Mandel Received from the CT Judicial Branch and the CT Department of Children and Families between 2010-2017 Earlier years are not available, but it is likely he received a considerable amount then as well:
2015,2016,2017 $20,000 per year
Mandel's protocol is what he calls the “sandwich.”
Safe Engagement is Mandel’s answer to treating dads in fatherhood programs. Fatherhood programs have a severe lack of attention to family-abuse concerns. While fatherhood programs zealously work to get dads custody, they ignore state statutes that protect mothers from custody awards to perpetrators of abuse.
In order to address the problem of automatic custody orders for dads, the domestic violence community has developed a lingo. They preach “safety.” Family court players are well aware of dads’ mistreatment. Rather than inform abused mothers and children that family court operates under the fatherhood mandate, DV affiliates expound “safety first”. Ten years ago, DV worked with NCJFCJ (a judicial ethics group) to write a legal benchbook advising that safety in custody determinations is an ethical must and a statutory obligation.
Over continuing decade, the fatherhood increased its government funding stream, having been very successful at drawing in President Obama. In 2013, Obama set aside $438 million for support offices to operate automatic custody orders for every support case. Permitting all support offices to include funding of court appointees and processes that operate the mediation/coparenting scheme in their 66% reimbursement. Domestic violence higher-ups have sat in rooms with federal OCSE staff and AFCC trade association President Peter Salem to flesh out how to address “safety” while still ordering dads custody.
This author, Doreen Ludwig wrote an entire book outlining the funding and mandate operating the fatherhood mandate. (“Motherless America: Confronting Welfare’s Fatherhood Custody Movement”). Yet, not a single domestic violence professional admits that money is driving scandalous custody outcomes. Meanwhile, these same professionals participate and accept fatherhood funding to design domestic violence protocols that will be applied to contested custody cases.
Mandel is another DV grant profiteer who fails abused mothers with his silence, all the while profiting from knowledge of systemic failure.
This author read Mandel’s 25-page protocol. Upon completion, I thought “how ludicrous.” Mandel spouts off that fatherhood programs MUST become aware of domestic violence, including coercive control. They should screen – asking men “did you ever yell, insult, threaten, your child’s mother? Even when there is a clear record of physical prosecution of harmful acts – physical and sexual assault – fatherhood programs are designed to connect fathers with their children and foster a coparenting situation. Mandel advises programs to tell men to create goals to become positive fathers and to respect the mothers of their children. Mandel believes maltreatment is a choice and therefore, dads can choose not to misbehave. He advises fatherhood staff to set goals for behavior change. Mandel clarifies: “Case Management
“Safe Engagement also means that a focus on the quality of a father’s relationship with his coparent will be an ongoing component of case management services. Too often, it is assumed that the goal of case management is to refer to programming [mediation, legal services, employment centers]. Case management however offers a significant opportunity to engage fathers in conversations that support accountability and motivate positive behavior change. As such, case management is central to the behavior change goals of responsible fatherhood. Case managers, particularly those who are male, can play be powerful [this report has numerous editorial errors] role models for respectful partnerships and coparenting.”
Due Process Override
Mandel never mentions due process requirements. Mandel never mentions mothers’ right to a custody determination based on fact and law as opposed to administrative policy. This author has read numerous protocols set-up under the fatherhood program - litigation and due process requirements are never raised. In over twenty-five documents I have only seen concern for violation of due process mentioned twice. Each time it has been papered over.
Instead administrative systems are laid out to get dad custody. Yet, family court is supposed to adhere to the rule of law and evidence. Fatherhood has been systematically used to undermine constitutional protections and to enact a for-profit network that operates for the benefit of high income lawyers and mental health practitioners. DV staff are intent on hacking out their share of the pie.