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Child Protection in Families Experiencing Domestic Violence
Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children's Bureau., Caliber Associates. Bragg, H. Lien.|
|Year Published: 2003|
Child Protection Practices with Families Experiencing Domestic Violence
The primary mission of child protective services (CPS) is to preserve the safety, permanency, and well-being of abused and neglected children. In CPS cases involving domestic violence, there is an increased concern that abuse suffered by victims can seriously compromise the safety of their children. Families who are affected by both child maltreatment and domestic abuse have multiple needs that compel child protection and domestic violence programs to examine and refine their policies and practices. CPS efforts with families experiencing both forms of violence face added challenges because there are child and adult victims in the same family. Adult victims confront the challenge of ensuring their children's safety when they are often struggling to ensure their own protection from the abuser. Many CPS caseworkers feel frustrated or overwhelmed by the chronic nature of domestic violence, which may be further intensified by co-occurring issues such as substance abuse or mental illness. A solid philosophical framework that guides child protection practice can help caseworkers focus their assessment and intervention practices with families in which domestic violence occurs.
This chapter begins with broad-based guiding principles and desired outcomes for CPS cases that involve domestic violence. It continues with more specific guidelines and considerations for CPS practices—from the initial screening and family assessment through safety planning, case planning, and, finally, case closure.
Guiding Principles and Desired Outcomes
The following guiding principles can serve as a foundation for child protection practice with families when domestic violence has been confirmed.
- The safety of abused children often is linked to the safety of the adult victims. By helping victims of domestic violence secure protection, the well-being of the children also is enhanced.
- Perpetrators of domestic violence who abuse their partner also emotionally or psychologically harm their children, even if the children are not physically or sexually harmed. Identifying and assessing domestic violence at all stages of the child protection process is critical in reducing risks to children. It is important to understand potential effects of domestic violence to children beyond those that are physical in nature.
- If the family's circumstances are clear and it is appropriate, every effort should be made to keep the children in the care of the nonoffending parent. Supportive, noncoercive, and empowering interventions that promote the safety of victims and their children should be incorporated in child protection efforts.
- Once domestic violence has been substantiated, the perpetrators must be held solely responsible for the violence while receiving interventions that address their abusive behaviors. CPS must collaborate with domestic violence programs and other community service providers to establish a system that holds abusers accountable for their actions.92
Practice Guidelines for Initial Screening
Early identification of domestic violence is the first step in achieving positive and safe outcomes for adult and child victims.93 Identifying it at the initial screening can help CPS caseworkers conduct thorough assessments and create effective case plans. In cases where domestic violence exists but has not been identified, CPS caseworkers may find they are focusing their efforts on other presenting issues, such as substance abuse, that are often exacerbated by undisclosed domestic violence. Failure to address domestic violence in child protection cases can compromise the safety of victims and children. Additionally, caseworkers should keep in mind the "stages of change" to better assess the readiness for change in both the victim and perpetrator. (See Appendix D to further examine the stages of change.) The generally chronic nature of domestic violence can lead to lengthy agency involvement, foster care placements, and termination of parental rights.
Assessment for domestic violence should occur on every child abuse and neglect report received by the agency. Initial screening questions typically include:
- Is any adult in the home being assaulted or hurt by his or her partner?
- Have the police ever been to the home to respond to assaults against adults or children?
- Have the children said that one of their caretakers is a victim of violence or is acting violently in the home?
- Have weapons been used to threaten or harm a family member? If so, what kind of weapon and is it still in the home?94
If the reporter confirms the presence of domestic violence, the initial screener should continue with additional questions to determine the nature and severity of the abuse and the risks posed to the children. Examples of supplementary questions include:
- Have the children intervened or been physically harmed during a violent assault?
- Is the perpetrator physically or sexually abusing the children?
- How is the violence affecting the children?
- Has the abuser made threats of homicide or suicide?
- Does the abuser have access to dangerous weapons or firearms?
- Is the nonoffending parent able to protect the child? If so, how?95
Initial screeners also should ask if the reporter is aware of efforts by the alleged victim to protect the children. Systematically collecting initial information regarding domestic violence will allow the screener to make a competent and informed decision as to whether the report should proceed for further assessment.
Accepting a Report for Ongoing Assessment
Not every child maltreatment report involving domestic violence needs to be accepted for formal investigation. Child abuse or neglect allegations that do not indicate a threat of harm or serious risk to the children or victim should be referred to external community agencies for specialized domestic violence services. Child maltreatment reports that reveal safety threats to victims and children will require further investigation.
CPS agencies should develop policies that specify the criteria for when a report involving domestic violence is accepted for ongoing assessment. The variations in State and local child welfare statutes, policies, and practices will result in different standards for when child exposure to domestic violence warrants CPS involvement.96 In general, the following criteria can be used when considering accepting a report for investigation:
- A caretaker is physically or sexually abusing the child.
- The child has physically intervened in an incident of domestic violence.
- The child has been physically injured because of intervening in or being present during a violent incident.
- The child exhibits emotional, psychological, or physical effects due to the domestic violence.
- The abuser has made threats of homicide or suicide and has access to weapons or firearms.
- There exists serious, recurring domestic violence or domestic violence in combination with other significant risk factors (e.g., substance abuse).
|The Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team of Colorado|
|CPS frequently works with local law enforcement in dealing with severe cases of child maltreatment or where there may be instances of domestic violence. In some States, those reporting child abuse and neglect are directed to call the police hotline for the initial report. As law enforcement becomes more involved with these cases, many of the same issues regarding the safety of the children and victims apply. The Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team (DVERT) of Colorado Springs, Colorado, demonstrates how one community is approaching these issues. Established in 1996, DVERT is a multidisciplinary program that addresses serious domestic violence cases. Its mission is to ensure appropriate containment of high-risk, violent offenders and facilitate local community policing efforts. DVERT partners with approximately 36 agencies, which include law enforcement, prosecutors' offices, social service agencies, and animal abuse programs. The program emerged from the Minneapolis project, a National Institute of Justice (NIJ)-funded study researching the impact of law enforcement arrests in domestic violence cases. Serious or high-risk domestic violence cases are referred to DVERT, and the DVERT team meets to determine whether a case warrants the full use of the team's resources. If so, DVERT directs every aspects of the case, including investigation, intervention, and advocacy services, by collaborating with partnering agencies. For more information, visit http://www.dvert.org.|
Practice Guidelines for Family Assessment
Routine screening for domestic violence should occur at every phase of the child protection process. If a child abuse report is accepted for investigation but does not contain allegations of domestic violence, CPS caseworkers should continue to screen for its presence throughout the life of the case.
Preparing for Family Assessment
If the agency accepts a report containing domestic violence allegations, several steps (outlined below) should be completed before interviewing the family.97 Issues of confidentiality pertaining to the gathering and sharing of this information are addressed in the section "Documenting Domestic Violence in Child Protection Case Records" later in this chapter.
Step One: Information Collection
- Conduct a criminal records check for domestic violence-related charges or convictions, civil protection or restraining orders, or probation violations.
- Review the agency's case file for prior allegations or a history of domestic violence.
- Contact the local police department to inquire about domestic violence-related service calls (911) made from the home.
Collecting this information can inform CPS caseworkers about the alleged perpetrator's level of dangerousness and the precautions to consider in preparation for their interviews with individual family members. For example, a caseworker might complete a criminal records check and discover that the alleged perpetrator has three prior convictions of domestic assault, one of which involved a gun. An individual with a history of previous assaults and use of weapons should be considered a high risk for committing further violence. Thus, the CPS caseworker should choose a safe location with security nearby for interviewing the alleged perpetrator. In addition, supplemental information that supports allegations of domestic violence will help CPS caseworkers facilitate a discussion with the parties involved, some or all of whom may be afraid to disclose the abuse.
Step Two: Initial Contact with the Family
Inquiry into private family matters often is viewed by the abuser as a threat to his or her control over the family. It should be noted, however, that many nonabusive families will respond negatively to such inquiries as well. Promoting safety for all parties is the primary goal when intervening in cases where there are allegations of domestic violence. Thus, it is critical that CPS caseworkers ensure that their involvement does not compromise their own safety or the safety of anyone in the family.
To safeguard domestic violence information from the alleged abuser, CPS caseworkers should not leave domestic violence resource information, letters, or voicEmail messages asking to speak with the alleged victim about the abuse. Such information can jeopardize not only the alleged victim's safety, but also the nature of the caseworker's interview with family members who may be threatened or forced to deny the allegations. Caseworkers need to make direct contact with the alleged victim to avoid any attempts by the alleged abuser to sabotage their efforts. If caseworkers are not able to make initial contact with the alleged victim, they should find alternative, creative means of contact (e.g., at the alleged victim's place of work or through the children's school).
Ideally, separate interviews should be conducted with the children, alleged victim, and alleged perpetrator of domestic violence. Because these cases involve child maltreatment, CPS caseworkers should follow agency protocol and interview the individuals in that order unless it compromises someone's safety. Separate interviews allow adults and children to talk safely about the violence. There will be times when caseworkers arrive at the home and find both partners present. In these instances, caseworkers should collect general family information and refrain from direct inquiry about the domestic violence. CPS caseworkers can use their authority to request separate, follow-up interviews and inform family members that it is a routine agency procedure.
Step Three: Collaborate with Service Providers
CPS caseworkers are expected to assess a number of risk factors in addition to domestic violence. Families involved with the CPS system often have multiple needs requiring complex interventions. Caseworkers are not expected to have specialized knowledge on every social problem affecting their clients. Therefore, in cases involving domestic violence, caseworkers are strongly encouraged to seek the expertise of service providers who can provide consultation regarding assessment and intervention techniques and assistance with accessing relevant services. At times, CPS caseworkers simply need support when they are working with the multiple needs of alleged perpetrators, victims, and children. Enlisting the help of service providers (as well as other substance abuse and mental health service providers, when appropriate) can make these challenging cases more manageable. (See the section "Partnering with Service Providers" in Chapter 6 for more information on this topic.)
Domestic Violence Risk Assessment
The purpose of performing a risk assessment for domestic violence with a family entering the CPS system is to gather critical information regarding:
- The nature and extent of the domestic violence;
- The impact of the domestic violence on adult and child victims;
- The risk to and protective factors of the alleged victim and children;
- The help-seeking and survival strategies of the alleged victim;
- The alleged perpetrator's level of dangerousness;
- The safety and service needs of the family members;
- The availability of practical community resources and services.98
A thorough assessment of the above factors will help CPS caseworkers develop a comprehensive understanding of the domestic violence and the level of harm it poses. Most importantly, it will help caseworkers build case plan recommendations that reflect the safety and service needs of the family. Since competent CPS practice involves ongoing assessment of individual family members, risk assessments should be included during every phase of the child protection process.
The safety of adult and child victims can vary depending on the shifting dynamics of abuse. Thus, CPS caseworkers may need to revise service recommendations as the safety levels and needs of the victim and children change. For example, if a victim's case plan includes a recommendation for a protective order, but this strategy actually escalates the abusive behaviors, the caseworker will need to modify the case plan and recommend a safer alternative. It is critical that ongoing risk assessment occur in cooperation with the abused partner, victim advocates, and other community service providers.
Practice Recommendations for Assessing the Alleged Victim
Victims of domestic violence are not always compliant clients. CPS caseworkers may be surprised or confused to meet an angry, uncooperative victim when they were expecting a scared, passive individual desperate for help. Often, there are legitimate explanations for an alleged victim's reluctance to work with CPS. Fear of losing their children or of further violence are significant factors explaining why victims can become defensive, protective, or difficult to engage. Some victims have additional problems such as substance abuse or mental illness, which can contribute to their unwillingness or inability to accept help. CPS caseworkers should not assume that resistant or uncooperative alleged victims want or choose to be in violent relationships. CPS caseworkers who recognize and attend to these issues, as well as to any identified fears, will increase their ability to engage the alleged victim's participation in pursuing safety. Regardless of a victim's behavior, he or she and the children deserve to be safe and have access to services that will address the violence in their lives. Caseworkers also should remember that the greatest risk to the victim's safety is usually at the time of intervention or separation from the abuser.99 The following practice recommendations will assist CPS caseworkers during assessment with the alleged victim.
Interview the alleged victim alone. Many victims will not disclose information about their partner's violent behavior because they fear retaliation. Interviewing the alleged victim alone allows caseworkers to communicate that they are acutely aware of the safety needs. By doing so, caseworkers can build trust and rapport, which typically allows someone who has been victimized to feel more comfortable with disclosing the abuse. This can be especially important with victims who are afraid of any type of intervention from a responding agency or organization. Difficulty in arranging a meeting with the victim may be an indicator of the abuser's level of control or of the victim's level of fear. CPS caseworkers must be creative and flexible when scheduling the interview and not just assume that the alleged victim is being resistant. The assessment can be held at a public place that is less likely to raise the alleged abuser's suspicion, at unusual hours when the alleged abuser is working, or away from the home. The alleged victim may be able to provide other suggestions of how and where to meet.
Develop trust by creating a climate of safety. Victimization often, understandably, leads to feelings of mistrust, anger, and anxiousness. CPS caseworkers can create a climate of trust by acknowledging the alleged victim's feelings, explaining that the abuse is not the victim's fault, and expressing concern for the alleged victim and children's well-being. Caseworkers can demonstrate their willingness to safeguard the abused partner's safety by not disclosing the accounts of the abuse to the alleged perpetrator. It is imperative, however, that CPS caseworkers explain the limits of their confidentiality. Victims need to understand that if the family is involved in juvenile court proceedings, case file information can be obtained by the perpetrator's attorney, and information shared in court becomes part of the public record.
Provide safe alternatives and access to domestic violence resources. CPS caseworkers should not demand that the victim leave the abusive relationship. Leaving can increase the risk to victims and their children as perpetrators can become increasingly violent during times of separation. Leaving also can create additional problems, such as homelessness or loss of income. Economic circumstances such as these often affect the decision to leave. Instead, CPS caseworkers should look at several viable options aimed at promoting the family's safety and include the victim in developing safe alternatives. Safety options can include obtaining a protective order; seeking domestic violence shelter; staying with a relative or friend; sending the children to a safe, temporary living arrangement; or developing a safety plan that details the steps to take if the abuser becomes threatening or violent. Services for victims of domestic violence and how they can be accessed always should be provided.
Avoid "victim-blaming" questions or statements. CPS caseworkers should refrain from "victim blaming" questions that deepen an alleged victim's feelings of shame, guilt, or responsibility for the alleged abuser's violent behaviors. Inappropriate comments that suggest the alleged victim provoked or deserved the violence will likely discourage thorough disclosure of the abuse or negatively impact cooperation in the CPS process. Examples of victim-blaming questions include the following:
- What did you do to make your partner so mad?
- What could you have done to stop him or her from hitting you?
- Why don't you just leave?
- Why do you put up with the violence?
- Why do you hit each other?
- What do you get out of the violent situation?
- If you care about your children, why would you stay?
Conduct the assessment with sensitivity and in a nonthreatening manner. The CPS caseworker may be the first person to ask the victim about domestic violence. Questions about the nature of one's intimate relationships are private and not shared by most people, particularly with strangers. Asking for information about a partner's coercive or degrading treatment can make victims feel ashamed. Thus, CPS caseworkers should begin their assessment by acknowledging the sensitive matter of abuse. Caseworkers can initiate the interview with a nonthreatening inquiry regarding the alleged victim's relationship with his or her partner. While it is important to obtain relevant information, caseworkers typically do not need to elicit small or salacious details regarding the abuse, which may trigger a reliving of the experience. The following questions are helpful if domestic violence was not identified in the initial report and can be used to screen for domestic violence at the assessment phase. Suggested questions to begin the assessment include the following:
- Could you tell me about your relationship with your partner?
- All couples argue. How do you and your partner argue?
- Has there been a time when you felt afraid of your partner? If so, can you tell me what happened?
- Do you feel free to think, speak, and act independently around your partner?
- How does your family make important decisions?
- Does your partner ever act jealous or possessive of you? Can you tell me more about that?
Appendix E provides a sample assessment for domestic violence victims.
Practice Recommendations for Assessing the Children
CPS's core mission is to protect the safety of the child and assess risks. This includes evaluating the potential harm to children who witness domestic violence. Unfortunately, caretakers often underestimate the effect that domestic violence has on their children. Approximately 90 percent of children who live with domestic violence can provide detailed descriptions of the incidents in their homes.100 Although children frequently provide the most accurate accounts of the violence, CPS caseworkers must proceed cautiously during their interviews with children.101 Children receive messages, either directly or indirectly, that domestic violence is a "family secret." It is usually uncomfortable and frightening for children to talk about the abuse. Some children may be afraid that discussing the violence will create problems at home, such as further violence or the separation of their parents. Other children may align with the abuser and attempt to provide protection by not discussing the violence or even blaming the victim. CPS caseworkers may want to consider asking the alleged victim about how they might interview the children about domestic violence in order to have an initial understanding of the children's likely attitude or behavior. The following are practice recommendations for CPS caseworkers when performing assessments with children.
Provide an atmosphere that supports children's comfort in discussing sensitive issues. CPS caseworkers should create a safe, supportive, and age-appropriate environment that helps children feel comfortable talking about a difficult topic. It is essential that the caseworker establish trust and rapport before asking children direct questions about domestic violence. It also is important to use developmentally appropriate language and techniques, such as having the children draw what they saw or to demonstrate with figurines.
Validate the children's feelings during the assessment interview. Caseworkers should encourage children to discuss their feelings about any violence in the home and the alleged perpetrator and victim. It also is critical to tell children that the violence is not their fault and that their feelings are normal.
Promote safe and healthy coping skills and responses to domestic violence. CPS caseworkers should assist children in developing positive and effective methods to protect themselves. Where appropriate, safety plans need to include tips for children such as what to do and whom to contact for help in domestic violence situations. Whenever possible, the nonoffending parent should be included in the process of developing safety skills and plans.
Begin direct inquiry regarding domestic violence with a general statement. Caseworkers can help make the child feel more at ease by starting with broad-based statements before asking specific questions about the child's family.102 For example:
"Sometimes when moms and dads (or boyfriends) fight, they get angry. Sometimes even too angry, and they may start to yell at each other or even hit each other. I know fights can be scary. I want to ask you a few questions about whether your parents fight and what you think about it. Would that be ok?"103
If the child is not willing to discuss the situation, assure him or her it is understandable to feel reluctant talking about such matters. It is never appropriate to attempt to instill any type of guilt or fear in the child in an effort to gain compliance or obtain information.
Appendix F provides a sample domestic violence assessment appropriate for children.
Practice Recommendations for Assessing the Alleged Domestic Violence Perpetrator
It is not easy to talk with anyone about abusive behaviors. Thus, interviewing alleged offenders can make some CPS caseworkers feel uneasy and nervous, which may make it more difficult to remain open-minded. As discussed earlier, perpetrators vary in their patterns and levels of violent behavior. Collecting information before the interview can inform CPS caseworkers about safety precautions they may want to consider. Some abusers will be solicitous and cooperative or even charming in an effort to avoid exposure and to decrease the caseworker's involvement with the family. Nevertheless, in order to assess harm to children and alleged victims of domestic violence accurately, it is critical that an assessment occur regarding the alleged abuser's level of dangerousness and the risks his or her behavior presents to family members. The following are practice recommendations for CPS caseworkers when performing an assessment with alleged perpetrators.
Plan for caseworker safety. Ideally, CPS caseworkers should conduct the assessment in a public place, such as the agency office or at the alleged perpetrator's place of employment. Interviewing the alleged abuser outside the home decreases their comfort level and the likelihood that he or she will engage in posturing, manipulating, or threatening behaviors. As always, caseworkers should notify a coworker or a supervisor about their whereabouts and expected time of return. If preliminary information suggests that an alleged perpetrator is extremely dangerous, CPS caseworkers should request the accompaniment of another caseworker or police. It also may be helpful to ask the partner the best approach for interviewing the alleged abuser.
Use third party reports when interviewing the alleged abuser. Perpetrators routinely deny, minimize, or blame the victim for their violent behaviors. Therefore, the use of third party reports, such as police and criminal records, civil protection orders, hospital records, or prior CPS information, may assist CPS caseworkers with discussing domestic violence allegations and counteracting the alleged perpetrator's attempts to avoid accountability for prior abusive behavior. CPS caseworkers should never confront the alleged abuser with information provided by the alleged victim. This can compromise the alleged victim's safety if the alleged perpetrator retaliates for the disclosure. It is important to remember that prior domestic violence does not prove that abuse occurred in the situation being assessed. Conversely, the absence of a criminal history does not prove that an individual is not abusive as there are perpetrators who have never been arrested, charged, or convicted of domestic violence or any other crime. If supplemental information is not available, caseworkers should inform the alleged perpetrator that it is routine procedure for child protection to inquire about domestic violence.
Focus on obtaining information about the alleged abuser's behaviors and the degree to which he or she accepts responsibility. CPS caseworkers should not try to obtain a "confession" or hold a "debate" regarding domestic violence allegations. This can result in the interview ending abruptly, and the caseworker will not be able to gather critical information regarding the alleged abusive behavior. Caseworkers can be more effective by presenting information, inquiring about patterns and tactics of abuse, and listening to the alleged perpetrator's responses. Gaining the alleged perpetrator's perspective, in addition to information contained in the child abuse referral, third party reports, and interviews with the alleged victim and children, will inform the CPS caseworkers' assessment. Some perpetrators will admit to being abusive, which usually increases the likelihood that he or she will cooperate with case planning efforts.
Engage the alleged abuser in an assessment that is respectful and structured. The interview should begin in a nonthreatening, nonconfrontational manner by asking the alleged perpetrator general questions regarding his or her intimate relationship. It is essential to communicate respect during the assessment and avoid treating the alleged perpetrator as a "bad person" or a liar. Showing respect can lower the alleged abuser's defensiveness and encourage him or her to provide needed information. It may be useful to say something in a low-key way, such as "I need to speak with you about your family; everybody gets a chance to talk about what's going on." In addition, CPS caseworkers should clearly communicate the goals and format of the assessment. This will help caseworkers focus the interview, as well as convey that they are in charge of the process and are not intimidated. If the child abuse report contains allegations of domestic violence or if caseworkers have third party information, they should begin the interview by presenting the information and asking for the alleged perpetrator's perspective of the events. Appendix G provides a sample domestic violence assessment for alleged perpetrators.
|For more information on working with perpetrators, visit the Family Violence Prevention Fund's Web site at http://endabuse.org. Read about their programs designed to reach fathers and enhance parenting after abuse at http://endabuse.org/programs/display.php3?DocID=149 and http://endabuse.org/programs/display.php3?DocID=197. The Violence Against Women Online Resources Web site also has information on perpetrator intervention programs at http://www.vaw.umn.edu/library/dv.|
Additional Factors to Consider During Assessment
Other factors can influence the nature and severity of presenting domestic violence issues. The diversity and multiple needs of families affected by domestic violence require thoughtful consideration of additional variables that can augment the complexity of these cases. The following are important issues for CPS caseworkers to be aware of and address during assessment and case planning efforts.
The values, beliefs, and customs of some cultures can create additional barriers for victims of domestic violence and dictate certain interactions between CPS caseworkers and the family. Caseworkers will need to account for cultural factors that can influence the victim's resistance to help and the unique obstacles facing victims who are of minority, ethnic, or racial status, including:
- Some ethnic cultures where a strong emphasis on preserving family unity is more pronounced than in Anglo cultures.104 For example, if a Hispanic or Asian victim of domestic violence refuses help, it may be because the ethnic community would shame and isolate the victim for disclosing the abuse. There might be added pressure from immediate and extended family members who are vested in maintaining the family equilibrium and, as such, refuse to believe the victim or to hold the perpetrator accountable for the abusive behavior.
- Immigrant victims who are not legal U.S. residents and who face enormous challenges in freeing themselves from violence.105 Undocumented immigrants who are abused typically will not disclose it because they fear deportation. Victims who are not legal citizens may rely on their partner's status as a U.S. resident to secure their and their children's citizenship. Thus, victims are subject to being threatened with deportation and loss of their children as a coercive tactic by the abuser. Additionally, the illegal status of these victims prevents them from seeking and obtaining a variety of legal and social services intended to assist victims. Many communities continue to develop and provide services specifically designed for undocumented immigrants.
- Language barriers that present obstacles for CPS caseworkers who are trying to communicate with non-English speaking victims or family members. A victim of domestic violence may appear uncooperative, when in reality he or she does not understand what is being asked. Additionally, victims who cannot communicate with caseworkers in their primary language may not be able to convey their needs accurately and may confront additional challenges when communities do not have culturally sensitive services or resources. Identifying translators, hiring bilingual staff, and translating resource materials can help address this issue. CPS caseworkers, however, should refrain from using children as translators because the information collected may be distressing for them. Some adult family members or friends may break confidentiality or pose other risks for the victim if used as translators.
"Mutual" Domestic Violence
Perpetrators of domestic violence routinely accuse their partner of being equally abusive and claim to be the "real" victim. There are women who are perpetrators and there are victims who use physical force against their partners in self-defense.106 Women, however, represent only a small minority of perpetrators of serious violence against intimates.107 Even in cases where both partners perpetrate abusive action, there is little doubt that women get hurt more often than men.108 Caseworkers who are uncertain about mutual domestic violence dynamics will want to take prudent steps to identify the primary aggressor in the relationship. Caseworkers can consider:
- Who is afraid of whom?
- Who controls or makes the decisions in the relationship?
- Who has more access to financial and economic resources?
Documentation such as police reports or court records can help in this determination. It may be helpful to get help from both service providers and the caseworker's supervisor in these particularly complex situations.
Alcohol and illicit drugs commonly are cited as a factor in and precursor to domestic violence. Research studies indicate that approximately 25 to 50 percent of domestic violence incidents involve alcohol and that nearly one-half of all abusers entering perpetrator intervention programs abuse alcohol. Yet, despite evidence that many perpetrators abuse alcohol, there is no empirical evidence that substance abuse directly causes domestic violence. Nevertheless, substance abuse is a significant variable that increases the severity and frequency of the perpetrator's violence and interferes with domestic violence interventions. In fact, the presence of substance abuse increases the likelihood of severe injury and death in domestic violence incidents. Furthermore, women who abuse alcohol and other drugs are more likely to be victims of domestic violence.109 Substance abuse by victims compounds their problems as addiction or substance use can affect their ability to protect themselves and their children. CPS caseworkers need to determine if the victim's substance abuse is a coping mechanism or a barrier to safety by affecting judgment and parenting. The risk of co-occurring substance abuse and domestic violence requires that assessments include screening and referral for substance abuse issues. Caseworkers should be prepared to assess for the presence of both issues and to make referrals for both.
Underserved Populations Affected by Domestic Violence
The diversity of victims of domestic violence includes such special populations as gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals as well as persons with physical, developmental, and sensory disabilities.110 Their minority status or special needs, in addition to their victimization, have left these groups largely unattended in community responses to domestic violence.
While historically domestic violence has not been perceived as a significant problem in some underserved populations, research indicates this may not be the case. For instance, a recent study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health indicates that the rates of domestic violence experienced by urban gay and bisexual men may be comparable to that of heterosexual women. This study found that 34 percent of these gay men were psychologically abused by a partner, 22 percent were physically abused, and 5 percent were sexually abused.111 Other studies also estimate that 20 to 35 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons experience intimate partner violence.112 Unfortunately, there are usually little or no available resources or services for these populations. Domestic violence shelters do not house abused men (although there may be safe houses or arrangements with particular hotels), service providers rarely have specialized knowledge regarding gay and lesbian issues in abusive relationships, and physically disabled women who need assistance with daily activities or medications cannot be adequately cared for in most shelter settings. Shelters are not the only existing form of domestic violence intervention. Caseworkers also should be aware of other services such as advocacy, support groups, or counseling that are available.
Disabilities can include mobility, sensory, and cognitive impairments, as well as mental illness. They cover a broad range of severity and visibility to others. Individuals with disabilities are vulnerable to different abusive actions and often are more easily isolated from potential sources of help. In addition to abusive acts anyone might suffer, people with disabilities may be subjected to:
- Having medical treatment or medications withheld;
- Being prevented from using assistive devices;
- Receiving inadequate or no care for personal hygiene;
- Rough handling when care is provided;
- Not being provided access to information that may increase their independence or autonomy.
The disability often affects an individual's capacity to protect him- or herself or to escape a situation of imminent danger. For instance, studies have reported a history of sexual abuse experienced by 25 percent of adolescent girls with mental retardation, 31 percent of individuals having congenital physical disabilities, and 36 percent of multi-handicapped children admitted to psychiatric hospitals.113 Unfortunately, many people with disabilities are conditioned to believe that enduring certain abuses is an inevitable part of having a disability. Too often, they are afraid to discuss or report abuse because the perpetrator is also their primary caretaker. Some additional barriers for individuals with disabilities in reporting abuse include:
- An increased risk of being institutionalized. If the perpetrator is the primary caregiver and no other viable caregivers are available, being admitted into an institution may be the victim's only option.
- An increased risk of losing custody of his or her children, particularly if the perpetrator is no longer in the home or if the disability is perceived to impact the victim's level of parenting skills.
- A fear of being perceived as less credible than the perpetrator because of the disability, particularly when the disability impacts the individual's speech.
- The misconception that abuse against people with disabilities is expected or justified. Some view people with disabilities as difficult to care for and believe that harsh, abusive treatment is appropriate or necessary to manage them.
CPS caseworkers should pay special attention to the risks and obstacles faced by these unique groups and ensure that their assessments and case plan recommendations address these issues. For instance, referrals to gay and lesbian services may be an option as opposed to traditional domestic violence service programs. A victim in a wheelchair will need accommodation at a service program or shelter, such as doorways that are wide enough for the chair and a ramp to gain access to and from the building.
Domestic violence can affect a victim's ability to be financially self-sufficient. Domestic violence and poverty are connected and statistics show that victims of domestic violence are over represented in the welfare system.114 Unquestionably, a lack of viable job skills, education, and income presents huge challenges for victims. Low-income victims who want to leave their violent relationship are left with few and, often, less desirable choices. Homelessness and unsafe housing are common realities for low-income victims and their children who escape domestic violence. Thus, it is critical that CPS caseworkers address financial barriers faced by victims and link them to economic services such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, vocational skills training, job retention, and educational support.
Safety Planning with Adult and Child Victims
Safety planning is an individualized plan developed to reduce the immediate and long-term risks faced by the victim and their children.115 Ideally, safety planning should begin at assessment and continue through case closure. The plan includes strategies that reduce the risk of physical violence and harm by the perpetrator and enhance the protection of the victim and the children. It also contains strategies that address other barriers to safety such as income, housing, health care, child care, and education.116 Risk assessment and safety planning for domestic violence should be ongoing and should occur concurrently with risk assessment and safety planning for child maltreatment. The safety plans of victims of domestic violence will vary depending on whether they are separated from the abuser, thinking about leaving, or returning to or remaining in the relationship.
CPS caseworkers should involve the victim in developing safety plans. Otherwise, it is merely one more thing being done "to" the victim and is not really a service plan. Specific safety planning activities can include:
- Engaging the victim in a discussion about the options available to keep him or her and the children safe, including what has been tried before.
- Exploring the benefits and disadvantages of specific options, and creating individualized solutions for each family.
- Collecting and gathering important documents and various personal items that will be necessary for relocation of the victim and the children.
- Determining who to call, where to go, and what to do when a violent situation begins or is occurring.
- Developing a security plan that might involve changing or adding door and window locks, installing a security system, or having additional outside lighting.
- Informing friends, coworkers, school personnel, and neighbors of the situation and restraining orders that are in effect.
- Writing down a list of phone numbers of neighbors, friends, family, and community service providers that the victim can contact for safety, resources, and services. This requires CPS caseworkers to stay current about resources, contacts, and legal options.
Additionally, CPS caseworkers can help victims develop a safety plan with their children. This often depends on the child's age and circumstances—some children feel that developing a safety plan helps them feel safer and can provide life-saving strategies, while others need to know that their parents can protect them. CPS caseworkers also should review and practice the safety plan steps with the children. Children's safety plans can include how to:
- Find a safe adult and ask for help whenever they experience violence. This may involve calling supportive family members, friends, or community agencies for help.
- Escape from the house if an assault is imminent or in progress. If they cannot escape, discuss where they can go to be safe in the house.
- Avoid being in the middle of the domestic violence.
- Find a place to go in an emergency and the steps to take to find safety.
- Call the police.117
Safety plans are not intended to hold victims responsible for possible future abuse. Instead, these plans can help victims feel empowered and provide concrete steps to help avoid or positively respond to abusive actions. Incorporating domestic violence safety plans into service plans provides realistic and relevant actions for family members living with abuse. The safety plans of victims and children should not be shared with the perpetrator. This is especially true if the plan involves the victim leaving the abusive relationship. In fact, some victims will need to hide their safety plans to avoid potential harm by the abuser. In some cases, safety planning can be conducted with the abuser as a way to hold him or her responsible and should include steps to take to stop the violence (e.g., honoring protection orders, leaving the house, time-outs, going to abuser intervention groups). Appendix H provides sample domestic violence safety plans for a victim and a child.
After completing the domestic violence assessment and safety planning with family members, CPS caseworkers are confronted with one of the most critical steps in the child protection process—the case decision. For domestic violence cases, unless the child has an actual injury or there is a specific allegation that meets the definition of abuse or neglect in that jurisdiction, CPS caseworkers are left with making subjective interpretations as to whether a child is at risk for imminent danger or harm.118 Unfortunately, this leads to inconsistent decision-making among CPS caseworkers or among jurisdictions.
Not all families experiencing domestic violence require child protective services, and some are best served through community-based services. Child exposure to domestic violence does not necessarily constitute child maltreatment, but it often can be a significant risk factor in determining child safety.119 Other elements such as the nature of the domestic violence, the impact on victims and children, their protective and risk factors, and the presence of other issues, such as substance abuse or mental illness, need to be considered in the final determination for ongoing child protective services. In situations where the abuser's violence poses a significant safety threat to children, difficult decisions regarding substantiation and whether children can remain safely in the home also require thoughtful deliberation. CPS intervention may be required in the following domestic violence situations:
- The batterer or adult victim is physically or sexually abusing the child;
- The child is physically harmed as a result of intervening in a violent incident;
- The batterer's abusive behavior includes frequent use of weapons or threats of homicide/suicide towards the adult victim or children.
Substantiation and "Failure to Protect"
Whether to substantiate child maltreatment in cases involving exposure to domestic violence varies from State to State and across jurisdictions, according to established statutes. In some jurisdictions, a common child protection practice is to substantiate "neglect" against victims of domestic violence for "failure to protect" even when they have not maltreated their children.120 "Failure to protect" is a widely used phrase in legal and child welfare literature but is not found in all child maltreatment statutes. "Failure to protect" allegations imply that victims are neglectful because their actions or inactions in response to the domestic violence place their children at risk for harm. This has raised concerns among domestic violence service advocates who view this procedure as punitive, inaccurate, and harmful to victims and their children. Service providers have accused CPS of "revictimizing" victims of domestic violence by punishing them for the abuser's violent behavior.121 "Failure to protect" allegations focus on the victim and not on the actual perpetrator who is jeopardizing the children's safety. It also discounts the victim's protective strategies and efforts to secure protection for their children. Unfortunately, this practice prevents many victims of domestic violence from seeking help because they are terrified of losing their children and being labeled a "neglectful" parent.
Some victims of domestic violence do neglect or physically abuse their children, place their children in dangerous situations, or are so affected by their abuse that they are unable to adequately protect or care for their children. In these situations, victims should be substantiated for maltreatment. CPS caseworkers should make diligent efforts to help victims protect their children before coercive measures, such as substantiation or protective custody, are considered. Caseworkers need to consult with their supervisors and service providers before making a final decision. In circumstances where CPS does not have legal jurisdiction over the abuser, caseworkers should make every effort to hold the perpetrator accountable by working with other court and service systems that can impose sanctions and consequences for the behavior. "Failure to protect" is a complex issue that varies from case to case. Not all of the outcomes are negative—there are instances where a "failure to protect" finding can help the victim obtain assistance from the courts. Court-ordered case plans can include provisions that require victims to obtain domestic violence services. In some cases, adult victims may not seek domestic violence services without a court-ordered mandate or the threat of losing custody of their children if they are noncompliant.
Removal of Children
In cases involving domestic violence, the removal of the child from the home is usually unnecessary. While children's safety is the primary and mandated responsibility of CPS caseworkers, removal of children should only be contemplated when all other means of safety have been considered and offered; when the children are at imminent risk; or the victim is unable to protect the children or accept services. Unfortunately, obstacles in deterring the abuser's violent behavior have led some CPS agencies to believe that protective custody is the only viable method to ensure children's safety. As a result, children are removed from victims who, in addition to their abuse, suffer the agonizing loss of their children. If removing the children from the home is considered a possibility and the victim is not willing or able to leave the abusive relationship, CPS caseworkers should discuss their concerns and ask the victim to provide options for the children's safety.122 CPS caseworkers also should seek the guidance of their supervisor and service providers to ensure that they have explored every possible opportunity to keep children safely with the nonoffending parent. Additionally, caseworkers should consult with the offender's intervention services provider as well as his or her probation or parole officer, where applicable, in order to hold the offender responsible and maintain some legal leverage. As in every CPS case, out-of-home placement should be the last option and CPS caseworkers should work with the adult victim to develop safe alternatives.
Courts are beginning to address this issue. In a 2001 Federal lawsuit, Nicholson v. Scoppetta, a judge issued an injunction ruling that New York City's Administration for Children's Services (ACS) was violating the constitutional rights of mothers and their children by removing children from their homes simply because their parents are victims of domestic violence. It ordered ACS to stop its policy of separating adult victims from their children and to adopt new policies and practices to improve the agency's response to families experiencing domestic violence. Although the ruling was being appealed at the time of publication, it will have tremendous implications for practice in the future.123 (At the time of publication, the case remains in the appeals process.)
Case Planning for Cases Involving Domestic Violence
The primary goal of case planning with victims and their children is to promote enhanced protection and safety and to hold perpetrators accountable for their abusive behaviors. CPS intervention with families experiencing domestic violence requires ongoing risk assessment and safety planning to ensure that service recommendations are practical, viable, and achievable. CPS caseworkers can help accomplish this by consulting service providers and incorporating their expertise in case plan recommendations.
Additionally, caseworkers can involve an adult victim in case planning efforts by validating experiences, identifying strengths, and building on those strengths to help him or her regain control over his or her life and achieve safety.124 In doing so, CPS caseworkers avoid victim's perceptions that they are forced into receiving services. Often, when caseworkers prescribe a set of case plan activities without the victim's input, this may mirror the abuser's behavior in that it dictates control over choices. Further, case planning efforts with victims of domestic violence need to be culturally sensitive, supportive, and creative. CPS caseworkers can empower victims by allowing them to make informed decisions regarding safe alternatives and services that will enhance their children's safety.
This section presents case planning activities in cases involving domestic violence, discusses specialized issues related to family team conferencing and assessing community resources and cultural factors, and underscores the importance of careful documentation of domestic violence in CPS case records.
Case Planning for Victims, Children, and Perpetrators of Domestic Violence
Two separate case plans are recommended in CPS cases involving domestic violence. Writing separate case plans for the victim and the perpetrator achieves two goals: (1) they enhance the victim's and children's safety, and (2) they hold abusers accountable for their abusive behaviors. A separate case plan for abusers enhances CPS efforts by focusing on the perpetrator's abusive behaviors and the interventions required to address them.
Certain recommendations may be threatening to perpetrators and can create additional risk to adult and child victims. For safety measures, individual case plans should be developed when service recommendations are as follows:
- The victim plans to leave the home and is coordinating with service providers or other support systems (e.g., church, family members, and friends).
- The victim plans to obtain a restraining order against the abuser.
- The victim plans to call the police as a safety option.
- The victim plans to contact the probation or parole officer regarding violations of the abuser's probation or parole terms.
The victim and children's service plans do not need to be shared with the abuser. CPS caseworkers can seek the victim's guidance on service recommendations to include in the perpetrator's case plan.
Case planning activities are strengthened through collaboration with domestic violence advocacy programs. Service providers can provide consultation on the feasibility of recommended services, educate victims on available or appropriate services, and assist caseworkers with creative ways to engage and help victims and their children. Collaborating with other community service providers (e.g., substance abuse, mental health, economic, and housing services), law enforcement, and the courts also can enhance CPS efforts. These multiple issues, in addition to domestic abuse, will necessitate working with other service providers to help alleviate family conditions that affect children's safety. Caseworkers should assist victims, either directly or by collaborating with others, in the court proceedings processes. Additional information on working with the courts is available in other User Manual Series publications at http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanual.cfm.
For families experiencing domestic violence, case planning services should include:
- Safety planning with child protection and service providers;
- Individual or group counseling with a domestic violence program;
- Specialized assessment services or crisis counseling with a victim's advocate;
- Legal advocacy, housing, medical, economic and daycare services;
- Shelter or transitional living services;
- Visitation or supervised exchange services;
- A review of domestic violence information regarding the dynamics of domestic violence, victim resources, and its effects on the children;
- Mental health or substance abuse referrals, if applicable.
- Safety planning with the CPS caseworker, battered parent, or domestic violence service provider;
- Safety skills development;
- Specialized individual or group counseling for children exposed to domestic violence;
- Mentoring and after-school program referrals;
- Daycare or Head Start referrals;
- Safe visitation and exchange services;
- Community-based enrichment programs.
- Safety planning with the CPS caseworker or victims of domestic violence advocate;
- Abuser intervention program referrals;
- Safe visitation and supervised exchange services;
- Compliance with probation or parole, restraining orders, and custody orders;
- Parenting programs that include a focus on domestic violence issues;
- Substance abuse and mental health referrals, if applicable;
- Fatherhood programs when appropriate.
In the initial stages of case planning, activities that are not recommended until further risk assessment include:
- Couples or family counseling;
- Court or divorce mediation;
- Visitation arrangements that endanger the victim and children or are in conflict with a restraining or custody order;
- Anger management classes.125
Participation in these types of services can increase risks to victims and their children. Couples counseling and divorce mediation is predicated on the assumption that partners who possess equal amounts of power can negotiate a resolution. In abusive relationships, however, there is an unequal balance of power between victims and perpetrators as well as a fear of physical violence or coercive attacks when the abuser feels challenged. Couples counseling or divorce mediation is acceptable only when the victim feels equally empowered and is not afraid that his or her participation will result in retaliation by the abuser. Anger management classes often are not appropriate because they do not focus on the overarching patterns of behavior common in abusive relationships. In addition, anger management classes are not effective in holding perpetrators accountable because it implies that they only have a problem with "managing" their anger.
|The Parenting Component in Intervention Programs|
Most intervention programs for perpetrators of domestic violence do not include significant content on appropriate parenting, but there are several examples of emerging programs that incorporate training on how to parent without violence. These include information and activities that focus on:
Finally, perpetrators are known to escalate their coercive and violent behaviors during times of separation and divorce. Visitations with the children provide perpetrators with access to their partners where they frequently try to intimidate and threaten them. Thus, CPS caseworkers need to be especially cautious when scheduling agency visits with the abuser and the children. Caseworkers also should be certain that visitation schedules do not violate any existing restraining or child custody orders; it may be useful for the caseworkers to obtain a copy of the court orders to prevent conflicts. CPS caseworkers should adapt the case plan to include these services only when the victim and service providers believe they are reasonably safe options.
Family Team Conferencing in Domestic Violence Cases
Family team conferencing is a strength-based, family-centered approach that involves engaging family members, friends, community service providers, and other interested parties in a joint effort to help families protect their children and rebuild their lives.127 This model can be used in CPS cases involving domestic violence. In these cases, its goal includes supporting efforts to enhance the protection and safety of victims and children through a network of systems that provide services and abuser accountability.128 Family team conferencing in domestic violence cases incorporates the safety needs identified by victims and builds on their strengths. It helps victims expand on their existing protective strategies and resources by linking them with informal and formal resources that they have not accessed. Focusing on a family's strengths does not imply that problems, such as the perpetrator's abusive and controlling behavior, are to be ignored or minimized. Rather, strength-based practice promotes use of a family's coping and adaptive patterns, their natural support networks, and other available resources.129
Initially, perpetrators are not usually involved in family case conferencing until safety mechanisms are secured for adult and child victims. Over time, family case conferencing with domestic abusers can include system accountability and support services that help them with ending their violent behaviors.
|For more information regarding family team meeting guidelines in cases involving domestic violence, see the Family Violence Prevention Fund's Guidelines for Conducting Family Team Conferences When There Is a History Of Domestic Violence at http://endabuse.org/programs/display.php3?DocID=159.|
Assessing Community Resources and Cultural Factors in Case Plans
In addition to individual barriers, victims encounter community barriers to protecting themselves and their children. This is especially challenging for victims of domestic violence within ethnic, racial, disabled, gay and lesbian, and other marginalized groups. Successful case planning efforts include an assessment of available community resources and their effectiveness so that service recommendations are realistic for and accessible to family members. CPS caseworkers who do not take into consideration a community's inability to provide for or respond to the needs of victims of domestic violence will prepare ineffective case plans.
Assessment questions that CPS caseworkers may want to consider include:
- Are there culturally sensitive resources, materials, and services available for non-English speaking victims?
- Are there specialized services for gays, lesbians, and heterosexual men who are victimized by their partners?
- How will a victim's immigration status affect her ability to obtain services recommended in the case plan?
- How does the family view American culture? How will this impact the family's ability to seek help?
- Are daycare and transportation services available so that the victim can attend domestic violence counseling or meet other service plan requirements?
- Does the local domestic violence shelter have food and living accommodations appropriate for ethnic families, disabled victims, or victims of domestic violence with older male children?
- Is the response by local police and the courts nonjudgmental, nonpunitive, and responsive to victims? Do they hold abusers accountable in their systems?
- Do substance abuse programs address domestic violence and provide temporary living facilities for the children of victims of domestic violence ordered into inpatient treatment?
- Is there transitional or affordable housing or economic support for victims once they leave the domestic violence shelter?
- Do victims who live in rural communities have accessible transportation to domestic violence advocacy programs and other supportive services?
Documenting Domestic Violence in Child Protection Case Records
Documenting domestic violence in CPS cases can be helpful or harmful to victims and their children. Disclosing domestic violence can be a difficult process for victims and their children. Feelings of shame, guilt, and fear are connected with their reluctance to reveal the violence in their lives. CPS caseworkers can demonstrate their sensitivity to domestic violence issues by safeguarding information that can compromise victims' and their children's safety and by engaging in documentation practices that reflect competent case practice with families affected by domestic violence.
The goals of documenting domestic violence in cases are to minimize abuser-generated risks to victims and their children, avoid language that blames victims for the violence, and hold perpetrators accountable for their abusive behavior. More specifically, case records and forms should accurately identify the victim and perpetrator of domestic violence, document the effects of domestic violence on the abused partner and children, and delineate the specific domestic violence tactics that are posing a safety threat to family members. Skillful documentation of domestic abuse issues also can be a learning tool for those who have access to the case record. For example, case notes and court reports can educate family court judges and parent attorneys about the complexities of domestic violence dynamics, the challenges faced by victims of domestic violence, and the reasons victims of domestic violence may struggle with meeting certain conditions of a case plan.
Since documentation and disclosure can increase the threat of harm to victims and children, the following guidelines and examples can help CPS caseworkers reduce these risks when information must be shared:
- Any information in the case record or public documents (e.g., court records) pertaining to a confidential address of the victims (e.g., shelter location or relocation to new housing) should be flagged and never shared with the abuser.
- Disclosures made by the victim and children regarding their safety plan or their accounts of the violence should not be shared with the abuser.
- When information must be shared in court proceedings, victims should be notified in advance of the court date so they may plan for their safety. In some States, the caseworker can ask for the information to be kept sealed or the victim can appoint an agent on his or her behalf.
- In cases where disclosure of the domestic violence is made during court proceedings, the parents' attorneys may want to share privately with the judge the possible consequences of such disclosure and ask that it be kept sealed.
- The safety of the victim and the children must be considered in the planning of case transfer. To protect the mother and children's confidentiality (e.g., new address), the case record should be flagged so that the transferring CPS caseworker will receive this information.
- All documentation of domestic violence (case dictation, affidavits, court petitions, court reports) should be written in a manner that holds the abuser responsible and avoids blaming the victim.130
Examples of inappropriate case documentation practices:
- "There is domestic violence between the parents."
This implies that domestic violence is "mutual" and consenting behavior and does not hold the abuser accountable for the violence.
- "The victim will notify the abuser's probation officer or police when she is assaulted."
This forces the victim to provide sanctions for the perpetrator's behavior and places the victim at risk for harm by the abuser.
- "The victim will prevent the children from witnessing domestic violence."
The victim cannot stop the violence. It is the perpetrator's responsibility to end the abusive behavior.
Examples of appropriate case documentation:
- "The perpetrator will not verbally, emotionally, psychologically, or physically abuse the victim or children."
- "The abuser will not use threatening or coercive tactics against the victim that compromise his or hers or the children's safety."
- "The offender will take responsibility for his or her coercive, threatening, and abusive behavior by participating in a perpetrator's intervention program and complying with all civil, criminal, and probation orders."
Case closure is a critical decision that involves a final and careful analysis of the harm posed by domestic violence. Some CPS caseworkers assume that if a victim leaves an abusive relationship or if the perpetrator is removed from the home, completes a perpetrator's intervention program, or stops physically assaultive behaviors, it is sufficient evidence to terminate a case. Since some perpetrators are very skilled at manipulative behavior to avoid detection and accountability, CPS caseworkers should be judicious in believing that victims and children are at lower risk for harm when perpetrators express remorse for their violent behaviors, are vehement in their claims that they will not engage in violent behavior, or have completed a perpetrator intervention program. The threat of harm may still be present for victims and children as some perpetrators are likely to revictimize them despite completion of a perpetrator intervention program.131
In addition to conducting the final risk assessment for case closure, other criteria that CPS caseworkers should consider in determining whether the victim's and children's safety has been reasonably, if not absolutely, assured include the following:
- The victim and children, when interviewed separately, report feeling safer.
- The victim has knowledge of and access to relevant support services, information, and safety options.
- The victim and the abuser understand the effects of domestic violence on their children.
- The victim of domestic violence has a primary connection to a community service provider who will have ongoing contact with him or her and the children.
- The children and victim have safety plans. The protective parent also can demonstrate what they will do should domestic violence resume. Role playing exercises may be helpful in familiarizing the victims with this process.
- Service providers are in agreement with CPS assessments that the threat of harm has been lowered for the victim and children.
- Domestic violence intervention programs, criminal and civil courts, probation and parole, and other community service providers will continue to monitor and respond with immediate sanctions to any new violent behavior by the abuser.
- New child maltreatment reports have not been filed.
- The perpetrator has access to intervention programs and support services.
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