Addressing Domestic Violence in Child Welfare Practice


Why should child welfare professionals address domestic violence in their practice?

Child maltreatment and woman battering often occur in the same families putting children at risk of both physical and psychological harm. Research has documented the overlap between child maltreatment and domestic violence, which is estimated to range from 30-60% (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2000). According to the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect (1995) “some experts argue that domestic violence is the single major precursor to child abuse and neglect fatalities in the United States” (p.124). Research suggests that when there are more severe levels of domestic violence, the child abuse is also more severe (Shepard & Raschick, 1999). Child welfare professionals must address domestic violence issues in their caseloads in order to protect children and provide effective services.

Cases in which children are exposed to domestic violence are particularly complex and challenging for child welfare professionals because the institutional practices developed within the child welfare system often do not take into account the dynamics of domestic violence. According to Spath (2003); "research suggests that training child protection professionals to detect domestic violence and providing child protection workers with appropriate domestic violence assessment tools has a positive effect on the detection, assessment, and response to the co-occurrence of child maltreatment and domestic violence" (p.498). Best practices suggest that child welfare professionals should routinely address domestic violence in their caseloads.

The Greenbook project, a major federal initiative, was undertaken to promote a collaborative approach to families experiencing child maltreatment and domestic violence. A 1999 report (referred to as the “Greenbook”) by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges identifies practice and policy guidelines for child welfare systems, dependency courts and domestic violence providers, which focus on promoting the safety and well-being of all victims of family violence, holding batters accountable and, structuring collaborative responses to families dealing with the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment. Child welfare professionals should familiarize themselves with these best practices so that they are prepared to provide effective services to families.