Children Exposed to Violence: A Blueprint for Action
Healthy families and healthy communities go together. Violence prevention for children is not just an issue of law enforcementit’s much more. It’s about creating safe places and learning opportunities, ensuring relationships with caring adults in the family and community, and providing a network of supports and services.
Each profession has held a different piece of the puzzle making up a child’s life, but no discipline could see the complete picture. As a result, children have fallen through the cracks.
In some respects, the notion of “collaboration among diverse professionals” has come to feel like a flavor of the month. It sounds good and it makes sense, but too often what results is collaboration for its own sake. Yet when it comes to responding to the tragedy of violence, coordination among professionals is absolutely crucial. Children exposed to violence encounter a dizzying array of professionals (e.g., police, child protection workers, school counselors, domestic violence advocates, physicians, lawyers, therapists, judges), and whereas families must coordinate their interactions with these multiple practitioners, the agencies themselves are not required to coordinate their activities. Without coordination among this virtual crowd of helpers, children and their family members can be seriously retraumatized and may remain unprotected while perpetrators of violence go unpunished. Coordination is also critical to prevention. It creates a web of supports and protections that can provide a buffer against risks and can even eliminate (or at least postpone) the need for intervention.
In the final analysis, no one program has the resources or the expertise to develop a truly comprehensive response to children and families experiencing violence. Programs must work together. In fact, experience shows that coordinated responses to children exposed to violence can accomplish the following:
the abuser (thereby increasing the danger to mothers and children).
with different philosophies and mandates.
Collaboration is not having a meetingthe initial part is confrontation. You have to work out your differences before you can get to a common goal.In addition to collaborative practice, there is an equally pressing need for collaborative leadership. Interdisciplinary leadership bodiessuch as a State or community board, coordinating council, or task forcecan monitor program availability, effectiveness, and inclusiveness; publicly articulate needs; and help secure resources for joint use. At the agency and intergovernmental level, collaborative leadership stimulates the development of supportive systems, offers frontline staff a vehicle for solving problems that may arise from collaboration, and raises the level of accountability for collective effectiveness.
Collaboration can range from taking steps to coordinate the activities of various disciplines to constructing a new and mutual helping system. It can mean joint training, consultation, or actual joint practice. Many States have laws requiring joint investigations and cooperation between law enforcement and child protection agencies in child abuse cases. Other States have laws authorizing creation of multidisciplinary teams that bring together law enforcement professionals, child protective services professionals, domestic violence advocates and service providers, healthcare professionals, and other practitioners.
The following are examples of specific collaboration action steps that can be taken:
Child protective services professionals. Professionals providing child protective services can work with law enforcement professionals on integrated approaches to prosecution. For example, by seeking guidance from law enforcement about investigation and evidentiary issues, child protective services workers can enhance their contribution to prosecuting alleged perpetrators and keeping families and children safe.
Child protective services professionals also can work with domestic violence organizations to ensure that assessment and monitoring procedures will identify domestic violence, promote family safety, and support the child’s relationship with the nonabusive parent. When domestic violence is an issue, they can work with staff from community-based organizations, battered women and other family members, and others who know the family to assess the child’s immediate safety and determine what concrete steps can be taken to make the child safe.
Domestic violence advocates. Those who work as advocates in the area of domestic violence can support and organize regular cross-training activities with agencies and groups that work with families and children. Advocates can teach others why it is important to focus on the safety of mothers to ensure the safety of children. They can suggest strategies to build on the strengths of battered women and reinforce their safety. They also can work with child protective services and the courts to ensure that assessment procedures and advocacy efforts will identify child maltreatment and promote children’s safety.
Healthcare professionals. In the healthcare field, professionals can use a team approach to intervening with child victims, taking advantage of the different skills of doctors, nurses (including school nurses), social workers, and other types of practitioners. Because of their leadership role in the healthcare field, doctors have a critical role to play in modeling how to work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals. Cooperation between healthcare professionals and child protection workers and domestic violence advocates should be proactive; i.e., it should take place before a joint intervention is necessary.
Judges. Judges can take a leadership role in knocking down the barriers between different courts (such as delinquency and dependency courts) and restructuring the system to facilitate sharing of information about families. For example, a judge should be aware that a 17-year-old perpetrator standing before him or her is also appearing in another court as a victim of abuse, that the youth’s mother has been a victim of domestic violence and has a protection order on file, and that the youth’s younger sibling has been picked up for truancy. At a minimum, judges need to collaboratively develop protocols for sharing information and issue orders that foster appropriate communication across agencies where possible.28
Law enforcement professionals. Law enforcement professionals can begin by acknowledging that because most officers are not child development specialists or mental health clinicians, it is critical to involve those who can provide expertise in these areas. Law enforcement professionals should have ready access to victim assistance professionals, advocates, and clinicians; involve them in the early stages to help manage cases; and ensure that support and services are provided to child victims and battered women on a continuing basis. In addition, training on child developmentand on collaboration itselfcan be incorporated into police academy training, ongoing officer training, and rollcall and can be arranged in conjunction with social workers or other professionals.
Attorneys. Attorneys can work through State and local bar associations to identify needed improvements in legislation, financing, and court operations. Some bar associations have created interdisciplinary task forces or commissions through which attorneys can work with a range of other professionals on this issue.
Legislators and policymakers. Elected officials can reassess confidentiality laws and practices that inhibit the sharing of information. In so doing, they need to remain sensitive to and protect the safety concerns of family members.29
Researchers. Evaluation is necessary at every step in the processfrom the initial stages of planning collaborative efforts through joint data collection and the dissemination of findings. Researchers must be consistently and actively involved in collaborative efforts. (For more on the issue of research, see Principle 7.)
School personnel. All school personnelteachers, counselors, administrators, school nurses, secretariesshould know their local child protective services workers so that when issues arise, they have ready access and established working relationships.
Who’s doing it?
For more information, write Nancy Chandler, Executive Director, National Children’s Alliance, 1319 F Street NW., Suite 1001, Washington, DC 200041106; call 2026390597 (extension 101); e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.nca-online.org.
Community Based Family Resource and Support Program (CBFRSP). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Child Abuse and Neglect administers CBFRSP, which is designed to fund collaborative, statewide child abuse prevention networks in each State. Within each State, the lead agency funds the direct provision of prevention services at the local level. One unique feature of this program is that it encourages States to use collaborative efforts to leverage additional funds that can then be matched by additional Federal dollars. Funds have typically been used to start up, maintain, and expand public information activities and provide parent information programs that focus on healthy and positive parenting skills and foster an understanding of child development and behavior.
For more information, write Ellie Wagoner, Federal Project Officer for Title II of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, CBFRSP, Office on Child Abuse and Neglect Children’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 330 C Street SW., Switzer Building, Room 2421, Washington, DC 22447; or call 2022050749. Local organizations may contact their State CBFRSP lead agency for information on funding and may also contact the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information (8003943366) or Ellie Wagoner for information about how to reach their State CBFRSP contact.
For more information, write Colleen Vadala, Administrative Assistant, CDCP Program, 47 College Street, Suite 212, New Haven, CT 06510; or call 2039322939.
Palm Beach County’s Community Partnership. The Children’s Mental Health Alliance and the Palm Beach County (Florida) Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative are working together to place a behavioral health professional in each of the County’s public schools. Beginning in elementary schools (with a focus on children in kindergarten through third grade), the project seeks to replace a system of fragmented and isolated programs with one that is coordinated and based on best practices for the delivery of children’s mental health services. Behavioral health professionals work in the schools, collaborating with teachers to identify at-risk children. Once a child has been recognized, the behavioral health professional connects the family to available resources in the school and community. In addition to providing day-to-day support for the project in Palm Beach, the Children’s Mental Health Alliance has a faculty of national and international experts to consult on best practices in behavioral health, model community partnerships, parent education models, and school-based antiviolence programs.
For more information, write Pamela Sicher Cantor, M.D., The Children’s Mental Health Alliance, 52 East 72nd Street, New York, NY 10021; call 800790CMHA (2642) or 2128795244; or e-mail CMHAS@aol.com.
Safe Kids/Safe Streets. In this demonstration program supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Executive Office for Weed and Seed, and Violence Against Women Office, five communities are working to break the link between child and adolescent victimization and later juvenile or adult criminality. The initiative seeks to reduce child and adolescent maltreatment and resulting child fatalities. Each Safe Kids/Safe Streets community is engaged in a full range of cross-agency strategies that are based on data and designed to improve the way the community responds to child abuse and neglect. Approaches include multidisciplinary investigation teams, case management and home visitation services, coordination between domestic violence and child abuse interventions, neighborhood-based family resource centers, community policing, dependency court reform, and prevention education.
For more information, including contact information for each of the Safe Kids sites, write Robin Delany-Shabazz, Coordinator of Child Abuse and Neglect Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 800 K Street NW., Suite 300, Washington, DC 20531; or call 2023079963.
For more information, write Kristen Kracke, Initiative Coordinator, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 800 K Street NW., Suite 300, Washington, DC 20531; or call 2026163649.
The Violence Intervention Program (VIP) for Children and Families. Based in New Orleans, LA, VIP is a partnership between the Department of Psychiatry at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and the New Orleans Police Department. The program helps to identify and assist young children and families exposed to violence by providing education for police officers about the impact of violence on children, operating a 24-hour hotline, and developing a community resource directory to help police officers when they need to refer a child or family.
For more information, write Joy Osofsky, Founder and Director, Violence Intervention Program (VIP) for Children and Families, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, Department of Psychiatry, 1542 Tulane Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70112; call 5045683997; or e-mail email@example.com.
One of the greatest developmental challenges for toddlers is moving out and exploring the world. This beginning exploration requires courage and a certain degree of trust that caretakers are there to protect and encourage them, and that the world they’re moving into is basically safe. What happens when children get very early messages that this is not the case? Does it thwart their curiosity, their desire to learn, their ability to establish social relationships?
This information clearly indicates that efforts to date have not focused adequately on very young children and have been founded on the incorrect assumption that their exposure to violence does not matter because they do not know what is going on and will not remember it. In fact, feelings of terror, hopelessness, rage, and anxiety and a failure to make positive and meaningful social connections (responses commonly identified in older children exposed to violence) are very real for even the youngest child. For many children exposed to violence, the fear response is “turned on” all the time. Even in the presence of no external threat, these children experience the same feelings that other children who are not exposed to violence might experience in a state of high alarm. Children exposed to violence must accomplish crucial developmental tasks in this persistent state of fear.
Experience early in life may be especially crucial in organizing the way the basic structures of the brain develop. For example, traumatic experiences at the beginning of life may have more profound effects on the “deeper” structures of the brain, which are responsible for basic regulatory capacities and enable the mind to respond later to stress.
Beginning earlier means:
before a child is born. All medical providers, including public health departments
and home visitation programs, should routinely assess for violence against women
during pregnancyit is perpetrated against up to 16 percent of pregnant women
and may be a predictor of future child abuse.34
nurturing caretakers. The importance of bonding, attachment, and connectedness
cannot be overstated.35 Home visiting by trained professionalsespecially
nurses36is a strategy that is demonstrating increasingly positive results.
Expanding the availability of parenting education based outside the home also
are at greater risk for violence. It is critical to figure out who these families are
and connect them to the community. It is also necessary to develop specific
strategies to counter batterers’ deliberate isolation of their partners and families.
Comprehensive support services and programs, including childcare, Head
Start/Early Head Start, and recreational activities, are essential.
nurseries and other respite programs witness violence every day. Respite and
crisis care services can play a significant role in preventing violence by providing
parents or caretakers temporary relief or assistance in times of stress or crisis.
In addition, domestic violence advocates are also key players in providing
assistance, support, and shelter for women and their children in times of crisis.
themselves parents who may become perpetrators of violence against their own
young children. Teen parents need developmentally based support.
information about the effects of violence on very young children, ways to work
with these children and their families, and the dynamics of domestic violence.
Who’s doing it?
For more information, write Sue Gamm, Chicago Board of Education, Specialized Services, 125 South Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60603; or call 7735532005.
Crisis/respite care nurseries. Respiteidentified as one of the most important components of comprehensive family supportis a continuum of services ranging from planned, temporary childcare for children with disabilities or chronic illness to emergency care for children living in families facing a crisis such as job loss, serious illness, homelessness, or other serious stresses that can lead to child abuse. Crisis nurseries that provide this service have been demonstrated to protect against abuse and other negative consequences resulting from violence in the home. A survey of extremely high-risk families participating in the Lane County Relief Nursery Program in Eugene, OR, during the 1994–95 program year found that 95 percent of the several hundred enrolled children had no reports of abuse or neglect during their participation in the program, and 90 percent were living safely with their families at the end of the period covered by the survey. A 1992 study of Iowa crisis care programs indicated a 13-percent decrease in the reported incidence of child abuse in the initial four pilot counties after crisis care programs were implemented. Of the more than 25,000 children whose families used the services of the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery (a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week shelter program for at-risk children in Spokane, WA), not one has sustained a life-threatening injury since the nursery opened its doors in 1987.
For more information, write ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center for Respite and Crisis Care, 800 Eastowne Drive, Suite 105, Chapel Hill, NC 27514; call 8004731727; or visit www.chtop.com.
For more information, write Barbara Rawn, Director of Programs/HFA, Prevent Child Abuse America, 200 South Michigan Avenue, 17th Floor, Chicago, IL 60604; or call 3126633520.
The Prenatal and Early Childhood Nurse Home Visitation Program. Located in Denver, CO, the Nurse Home Visitation Program has been operating for more than 20 years. Nurses begin visiting low-income, first-time mothers during pregnancy and continue visits until a child is 2 years old. The program relies on trained, experienced, mature nurses with strong interpersonal skills. Nurses make home visits every 1–2 weeks and involve family members and friends. Each nurse carries a maximum caseload of 25 families. The program costs between $2,800 and $3,200 per family per year, and rigorous studies show that it reduces the risk of early antisocial behavior in children and reduces the incidence of maternal child abuse, substance abuse, and arrests. It also has recently been shown to reduce juvenile offending.37
For more information, write Peggy Hill, Associate Director, Kempe Prevention Research Center for Family and Child Health, 1825 Marion Street, Denver, CO 80218; or call 3038645207.
Prevention is better than treatment, earlier is better than later, but it’s never too late to make a difference.
This is not an effective strategy. Instead, expectations for children’s ability to understand, communicate, and participate must change as children grow and develop. The capacity to engage with them at each stage of development requires specific skills and training. Outreach to children should shift from home to school and then to clubs and community programs. As children grow, the people likely to be most effective with them may shift from their parents or other family members to teachers, coaches, or other adult mentors and eventually to peers.
The bottom line is that whenever intervention is necessary, it must be developmentally appropriate for the child. Each formative stage presents unique opportunities and requires a different perspective and a different set of tools. A coordinated community response to children exposed to violence needs to identify known points of riskwhen regular development can be derailed and when prevention and assistance are most neededand respond with the best and most age-appropriate interventions.
We ask a great deal of children who have been victims or witnesses to crime when we ask them to participate in the criminal justice system. It is a system designed for adults, not for children . . . and if children cannot participate effectively in the criminal justice system, it may be impossible to protect them from future victimization and to hold the offenders accountable for their actions.
Bringing prevention, intervention, and accountability systems in line with the developmental needs of children can be accomplished through four principal strategies:
(with particular attention to the early years) and ensuring access to child
development experts when necessary.
This recommendation should be applied to professionals of all disciplines who come into contact with children exposed to violence. For example, domestic violence organizations should train staff regularly to understand, recognize, and respond to maltreatment in children of varying ages.
Creating child-friendly environments. Police stations and courthouses should have victim-witness advocates available at all times to provide skilled support and assessment for children as they go through the justice system. Judges can arrange the courtroom so that safe and separate waiting areas are available to prevent the child from encountering the defendant or the defendant’s family. At a minimum, social services, medical facilities, and domestic violence agencies should have child-sized furniture, toys and drawing material, and light-filled and cheerfully decorated interview rooms.
Creating developmentally sensitive procedures. Judges can prevent trauma to children in the court by, for example, making sure that all objections are argued outside the hearing or presence of the child, requiring that all attorneys use developmentally appropriate language when questioning child witnesses, and limiting continuances. In addition to modifying court procedures, courts should enforce rules of evidence to ensure that juries hear credible out-of-court statements that children make about abuse. Courts also should provide privacy protections for children and minimize the number of times a child is interviewed. Closed-circuit television or similar accommodations should be used as needed.
Systems should be put in place to coordinate social services interviews with mental and physical health examinations and with law enforcement investigations. The goal should be to minimize the number of interviews to which children are subjected.
Partnering with schools. Schoolsincluding Early Head Start, Head Start, and other preschool programsare natural partners for implementing strategies to meet the developmental needs of children exposed to violence. Schools have extensive, age-specific experience and expertise with children. Schools also have mechanisms in place for providing preventive information to youth and families, flagging problems early, and intervening and working with families. For example, families are likely to find schools more familiar (and therefore less threatening) than social service or law enforcement agencies. Child protective services professionals, domestic violence advocates, healthcare professionals, law enforcement professionals, and other practitioners should take advantage of the resources provided by schools, actively engaging school personnel as consultants and partners.
Who’s doing it?
Age-specific programs. In a few places around the country, new violence and delinquency prevention and intervention programs for children are using age as the basis for defining participants.
counseling, advocacy, and outreach for children age 8 or younger who witness
violence. The project has a multilingual, multicultural staff of social
workers, early childhood specialists, and mental health professionals and is
run under the auspices of the Department of Developmental and Behavioral
Pediatrics at Boston Medical Center.
For more information, write Betsy McAlister Groves, Project Director,
intensive, long-term intervention for children whose delinquent behavior is first
identified when they are younger than 10.
For more information, write Kristi Lahti-Johnson, Hennepin County Attorney’s
the In Touch With Teens program to expose teenagers to the myths and realities
of teen relationship violence and inform them about alternatives and resources
For more information, write Leah Aldridge, LA Commission on Assaults
of Greater Pittsburgh has created Violence Free:
Healthy Choices for Kids, an elementary school
prevention program that teaches fourth- and
fifth-grade children alternative choices for
handling interpersonal conflict, helps school
personnel identify students living with domestic violence, and shows parents
where and how to get help for partner abuse. The shelter provides the Healthy
Choices program to 11 elementary schools in the Pittsburgh area.
For more information, write Janet Scott, Women’s Center and Shelter of
children ages 9 to 12 who are arrested or cited by law enforcement and whose
families have been investigated at least once for child abuse and/or neglect.
For more information, write Diane Telling-Rodriguez, Chief Deputy
intervention for boys between the ages of 6 and 11 who commit minor to serious
For more information, write Leena K. Augimeri, Outreach Project, 46 St.
Child Victims Model Courts Project. Since 1995, 18 courts around the country have used the support of this project to adopt model practices, including alternative dispute resolution; community-based services; multidisciplinary, court-led meetings and training; court calendar improvements; assignment of a single magistrate and prosecutor for the life of each case; more substantive preliminary hearings; and increased representation for children and families. The project is a joint effort of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
For more information, write the Permanency Planning for Children Department, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, P.O. Box 8970, Reno, NV 89507; call 8005273223; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, write Donna Bowman, Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, 805 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219; call 804371 6506; or e-mail email@example.com.
King County Kids Court. In this 5-hour, Saturday court school in Seattle, WA, child victims of crime meet with a judge and a prosecutor and participate in activities that help them understand the roles of court personnel, discuss their concerns about testifying in court, ask questions, and feel comfortable in the courtroom. Children and their parents also learn stress reduction techniques to help them through the trial. Kids Court has developed a comprehensive curriculum that is being replicated in several cities across the country.
For more information, write Donna Belin, Executive Director, King County Kids Court, Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, 704 228th Avenue NE., PMB 323, Sammanish, WA 98053; or call 206386KIDS(5437).
I’m here because I think that if someone would have listened to what my mom was saying, she still could have been alive today. It’s like nobody cared. Police were called to my house constantly and nothing was done. I just want you to listen to what I have to say because, I may only be 15, but I’m here because my mom couldn’t be. And I’ll do what I can for domestic violence no matter what it takes.
As efforts to address the problem of children exposed to violence move into the next century, so too must some basic operating assumptions change with the times. While this broad dictum certainly could apply to many issues, discussions among participants in the National Summit on Children Exposed to Violence repeatedly returned to three related assumptions that still serve as the basis for much policy and practice. These assumptions must be challenged so that the groundwork can be laid for solutions that will be more successful than past efforts.
Family violence is rarely just a one-time event. When children witness abuse between their parents, there are no safe spaces. Violence committed by a loved one kills trustand can have an enduring effect on how children learn to form relationships. . . . If we are to achieve our goals we must enable a child to heal and be safe, and to enable that child’s mothertoo often a victim of abuse herselfto achieve safety and stability. And we must seriously hold perpetrators accountable without further jeopardizing children and women’s safety and the stability of that family.
Child maltreatment and violence against women often happen under the same roof. Although it would be difficult to discern from current policy and practice, two decades of research have confirmed that adults and children often are victimized in the same family. Data show that police encounter at least half a million children during domestic violence arrests each year;40 there is an overlap of 30 to 60 percent between violence against children and violence against women in the same families; battered women are more likely to abuse their children than women who have not been battered;41 and children who are exposed to domestic violence are at increased risk of being murdered or physically injured.42
Once the significant co-occurrence of child maltreatment and domestic violence is acknowledged, it will be possible to begin sensitive and successful interventions and improve the capacity to hold perpetrators accountable. The overlap of child maltreatment and domestic violence is one reason why collaboration between law enforcement, child protective services, and domestic violence programs is so critical.
A wide range of studies has shown that some children who witness adult domestic violence suffer considerably. These studies indicate that, on average, children who experience domestic violence exhibit higher levels of childhood behavior, social, and emotional problems than children who have not witnessed such violence. These documented harmful effects to child development have led many to conclude that if a child resides in a home where domestic violence is occurring, the child is in immediate danger and requires child protection services.
Battered (nonoffending) mothers are allies for those who are trying to protect the children. Historically, women who are victims of domestic violence often have been held responsible for batterers’ violence against them and their children. They have been blamed for being abused, for exposing their children to abuse, for not leaving the perpetrator, or for not stopping his violence. This blame belies the fact that most battered women care deeply about their children’s safety and work hard to protect them both from physical assaults by a batterer and from the harm of poverty and of isolation that may result from leaving or reporting a batterer. They know that creating safety for children requires eliminating both of these sets of risks.44
We must listen to these mothers and recognize their heroism. The more we know about them and their lives, the better we are at communicating their strengths, which has resulted in needed policy changes.
A battered woman cannot change or stop a perpetrator’s violence by herself; if she does not have adequate support, resources, and protection, leaving him may simply make it worse for her children. In many cases, making mothers safe by trying to remove or change the source of the domestic violence risk (i.e., the batterer)does make children safer and offers them their best hope for stability. Therefore, child welfare administrators and juvenile court personnel should seek to keep children affected by maltreatment and domestic violence in the care of their nonoffending parent whenever possible.45 Women’s efforts to protect their children should be recognized and supported.
I never considered talking to the mother about what she wanted. I ‘slayed the dragon,’ but the dragon paid the rent and took care of the kids while mom was at work . . . . It’s unfair to ask women and children to stick their necks out and risk their lives to help us prosecute cases when we are unwilling to look at what they really need.
The following are examples of specific action steps that can begin to resolve some of these dilemmas:
Child protective services professionals. Professionals in child protective services should take seriously the impact that witnessing violence has on children but should not automatically assume that allowing a child to witness violence constitutes maltreatment and requires removing the child from the home. Agency policy should clearly state the criteria under which children can remain safely with a nonabusing parent, the assessment required to determine safety, and the safety planning, services, support, and monitoring that will be required in these cases. Because of the variation in children’s responses to exposure to domestic violence, decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.
Domestic violence advocates. Advocates should keep the situation of children and families in mind as they work with victims. They should understand, recognize, and respond to child maltreatment and work collaboratively with child protection, law enforcement, and the judiciary to create safety and stability for families. Advocates should also develop greater capacity for serving mothers from diverse backgrounds and those with multiple problems (e.g., mental health or substance abuse issues). They also should be aware of State laws requiring them to report suspected child abuse to the appropriate authorities.
Healthcare professionals. Staff in hospital emergency rooms, rape crisis centers, and outpatient pediatric and mental health clinics, for example, should know how to safely and accurately assess for the presence of domestic violence when they see victims of child abuse and for the presence of child abuse when they see victims of domestic violence.
Law enforcement professionals. Law enforcement agencies should work for the safety of battered mothers and their children by holding the batterernot the adult victimaccountable for domestic abuse. Law enforcement agencies should make arrests, enforce protection orders removing the batterer from the home, and monitor batterer compliance with required services and counseling plans. In addition, every time police are called to a domestic violence incident, they should be aware that if children are present, it is important to assess whether they, too, have been abused. Policies and protocols should be in place for responding to such situations. Agencies should develop these policies and protocols in collaboration with domestic violence programs, child welfare agencies, mental health agencies, juvenile courts, the criminal justice system, and the community. Police on the scene also need to be aware of State law requirements for reporting child abuse and neglect. Agencies should consider creating a special unit with expertise in this area.
School personnel. In addition to watching for signs of exposure to violence among students, school personnel should be aware of the signs of domestic violenceand the probability of co-occurrence with child maltreatmentand be trained in how to respond effectively.
Who’s doing it?
For more information, write Casa Myrna Vazquez, Inc., P.O. Box 180019, Boston, MA 02118; or call 8009922600 or 6175210100.
Dade County Dependency Court Intervention Program (DCIP) for Family Violence. To date, the Dade County (Florida) DCIP may be the Nation’s only court program designed to address the co-occurrence of child maltreatment and other forms of family violence, to deal with domestic violence in the context of the child protection system, and to bring battered women’s advocacy to child dependency proceedings. DCIP seeks to raise awareness in the child welfare system that children are at increased risk for additional harm when domestic violence and child maltreatment co-occur. It also seeks to provide outreach-based advocacy for battered mothers, learn more about the impact of domestic violence, provide advocacy and service for battered mothers, and lead the development of a coordinated community response. DCIP operates on the assumption that the most effective way to make a child safe is to enhance the safety of the mother.
For more information, write The Honorable Cindy Lederman, Dependency Court Intervention Program, 3300 NW. 27th Avenue, Room 201, Miami, FL 33142; or call 3056386087.
DOJ/HHS demonstration project. In the fall of 2000, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services will begin implementing a demonstration initiative in selected communities that are interested in better addressing the intersection of domestic violence and child maltreatment. Five communities will conduct demonstration projects based on the guidelines established by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges in Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice. The initiative will seek to facilitate more effective interventions for battered women and their children involved with three systems: child welfare agencies, domestic violence service providers, and dependency courts. Strategies may include increasing collaboration between systems, developing and implementing cross-system policy and staff development, improving procedures within each system, holding batterers accountable, and seeking greater community resources for serving affected families. A national evaluator will assess whether the initiative promotes more effective collaboration between local partners than previously and whether the initiative helps women and children achieve greater safety.
For more information, write Jerry Silverman, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, 200 Independence Avenue SW., Room 450G, Washington, DC 20201; call 2026905654; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, write Pam Whitney, Director, Massachusetts Department of Social Services Domestic Violence Unit, 24 Farnsworth, Boston, MA 02210; or call 6177482338.
Oregon’s State Office for Services to Children and Families (SCF). Oregon’s State child protection services and welfare agency, SCF, is working in collaboration with the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic Violence to develop and evaluate specialized services for victims of domestic violence who are referred to child protective services. The project’s goals are to increase the safety of battered women and their children referred to child protective services and to decrease the practice of blaming victims. Its strategies are to enhance collaboration between local SCF branches and domestic violence programs and to develop and evaluate specialized, effective services for battered women served by SCF. The agency is contracting with three local domestic violence programs to place advocates in rural jurisdictions. Housed at the local SCF offices, advocates provide consultation to SCF workers and direct services to clients. Services include assessment of domestic violence, creation of safety plans, advocacy, and peer support.
For more information, write Bonnie Braeutigam, Domestic Violence Program Coordinator, State Office for Services to Children and Families, Child Protection Unit, 500 Summer Street NE., E68, Salem, OR, 973101067; or call 5039456686.
It is a sad reality that the criminal justice system often does not deal adequately, and in my mind justly, with crimes against children . . . . It is time, way past time, for us to look at children’s exposure to violence as a law enforcement issue as well as a social services issue.
We judges don’t follow up on our orders. We have to bring batterers in, and create a legal and judicial culture of safety that prevents future harm.
Why are the laws not fully upheld? Probable reasons include cultural prohibitions against intervening in “family matters,” this Nation’s early history of treating women and children as property and not according them basic rights, and continued bias and discrimination against women. Regardless of the origins of the problem, the criminal justice system has a responsibility to make changes that will hold perpetrators of violence against women and children accountable for their actions through vigorous enforcement of the law.
The court and law enforcement improvement strategies detailed under Principle 3 of the Action Plan are designed to protect children from retraumatization by the criminal justice system (and other systems). As noted, an important byproduct of these changes is a greater likelihood of successful prosecution. Yet ensuring accountability goes beyond helping children be more effective witnesses in court. Holding perpetrators accountable will also require changes to statutes, rules, policies, and procedures.
You should never be in a position where you can’t hold a defendant accountable because you don’t want to put a 5- year-old through the trauma. We have to change the rules.
Enact State legislation to:
“felony murder” provisions and to create special provisions addressing
murders of children as part of a pattern or practice of child abuse.
hear evidence that the defendant has committed similar crimes.
statements that children make about abuse.
a child cannot testify in the usual manner.
some of the more progressive States. Although the Federal rules do not
technically affect local rules, legal arguments always refer to Federal
rules as the basis for decisionmaking.
For more detailed information and sample legislative language on each of these and other recommendations, see Children Exposed to Violence: Recommendations for State Justice Systems, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Deputy Attorney General, 1999, NCJ 180494 (for availability information, click here).
Change policies and procedures to:
prosecutors’ offices to handle child victims and witnesses (and/or make use
of child interview specialists from another discipline).
of all cases, child abuse and adult sexual assault require the most time and
interviewing, child development, identification of abuse-related injuries,
the emotional and psychological impact of abuse, and legal issues related to
child victims and witnesses.
and frequent judicial monitoring and the use of graduated sanctions
(such as re-education programs for men who batter, community service,
intense supervision, incarceration, and, when appropriate, testing and
treatment for alcohol or substance abuse). In addition, judges should be
open to input from diverse community-based organizations to jointly craft
community-sensitive (and thus more effective) sanctions for domestic
violence offenders. Probation and parole agencies, in collaboration with
law enforcement, should develop strategies for monitoring offenders and
strictly ensuring that they meet the terms and conditions of probation
this strategy, see Principle 1.)
standardize training for volunteer advocates. These programs have
traditionally been found in family or juvenile courts, but there has been an
increase in the use of independent legal advocacy for child victims in criminal
for the life of a case) in cases involving children exposed to violence.
A number of dependency court improvement initiatives are under way around the country. The following are two examples:
Arizona Court Improvement Project. Adopting the Model Dependency Court (referenced above, in Principle 3), Arizona has enacted legislation requiring juvenile courts to take a more active role in child welfare case oversight and decisionmaking. The legislation seeks to ensure safe and permanent homes for Arizona’s children through comprehensive and timely judicial intervention.
For more information, write The Honorable Nanette M. Warner, Presiding Judge, Pima County Juvenile Court Center, Division 20, 2225 East Ajo Way, Tucson, AZ 85713; or call 5207402054.
For more information, write The Honorable Joseph M. Lauria, Administrative Judge, New York City Family Court, 60 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10013; or call 2123743711.
We need to do this by dreaming big.
The need for adequate resources is a constant refrain in human services, the criminal justice and healthcare systems, communities, and families. The story is the same when it comes to preventing and reducing the impact of children’s exposure to violence: needs seem to exceed resources. Tragically, the systems that support children and families are too often the first to be cut when budgets are tight.
Resources are desperately needed for both prevention and intervention. Public expenditures on child welfare services far exceed expenditures on support and prevention programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start; childcare; the Women, Infants and Children’s Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC); and school lunch and breakfast programs.48 In addition to prevention, there are other areas of particularly critical need, including funding to:
in ways that enhance their community’s response to children’s exposure to
domestic and other violence.
services and other direct service providers.
that are part of a graduated range of sanctions that uses the coercive power
of the criminal justice system to hold offenders accountable for their
criminal acts of violence and for changing their behavior.
their children (e.g., by meeting their need for housing, transportation,
childcare, job training, etc.).
violence and training in practices that are sensitive to the developmental
needs of children.
Legislation is passed all the time telling courts what they’re supposed to do, but there is never any help to go along with itno money for support staff, or to build a child-friendly courtroom. Without resources we are not enabling the judiciary to deal with this issue.
Some prevention programs that have studied expenditures versus outcomes are confirming the cost effectiveness of early, high-quality efforts. For example, the Tender Loving Care Home Visitation program in Oakland, CA, documents that the cost of the program in governmental and societal services ($6,000 per family per year) is recovered by the newborn child’s fourth birthday and the projected cost savings over a child’s lifetime are four times the cost of the program.
Making sure adequate resources are available to address children’s exposure to violence means making better use of what is currently available (by improving coordination and encouraging volunteerism) and securing substantial and sustained financial investmentsboth public and privatein families, communities, and the systems that support and protect them.
The following are ways to make creative use of what is already available:
checks from sex offenders or batterers. (Although individual amounts are
small, they can add up.)
of funding streams available for children exposed to violence and, where
possible, identify opportunities to improve the coordination of funding.
Legislatures can create new funding mechanisms (see examples below,
under “Who’s doing it?”). Resources can be structured to be consistent
with the principles in this Action Plan.
services via telecommunication) to assist children who have been the victims of
violence. This technique helps resolve access issues and allows a team approach
to be implemented at lower cost and without retraumatizing the child.
Action Plan by incorporating training into existing curriculums and opening
classes to professionals from the community.
Who’s doing it?
The following are examples of how to secure additional resources:
For more information on Proposition 10, write California Children and Families Commission, 501 J Street, Suite 530, Sacramento, CA 95814; call 9163230056; e-mail email@example.com; or visit www.ccfc.ca.gov.
The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County (Florida). The Children’s Board is a special taxing district for children’s services. Legislation passed in Florida in the 1980’s authorizes counties to take to public referendum the opportunity to assess property worth up to $5 million and use the funds for prevention and early intervention programs for children at the county level. In addition to standard child abuse prevention activities, services include childcare, media advocacy, comprehensive health care, research, and parent education.
For more information, write the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, 1205 East Eighth Avenue, Tampa, FL 33605–3503; call 8132292884; or visit www.childrensboard.org.
Smart Start for Alaska’s Children. Smart Start is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary plan to protect children, invest in proven prevention programs to break the cycle of family violence, and save money by reducing the costs associated with crime, health care, and welfare. Smart Start costs $32 million ($7 million for health care for 11,600 children and 800 pregnant women, $11 million for prevention programs, and $14 million for child protection programs) but does not require an increase in the State budget. Federal Medicaid payments to the State provide $31 million, and the remaining $1 million comes from higher taxes on snuff and chewing tobacco.
For more information, write Shari Paul, Office of the Governor, State of Alaska, P.O. Box 110001, Juneau, AK 99811; call 9074654870.
For more information, write Joe Yomtov, Director, Victim Witness Program, 777 North First Street, Suite 220, San Jose, CA 95112; call 4082952656; or visit www.victim.org.
We are talking about a lot of children. 8,000 in Miami, 31,500 in Chicago, 2,300 in Salt Lake City. Almost 500,000 children nationwide—1 to 2 percent of the children in every community. And we know so little about them . . . .
There are significant differences in philosophy, strategy, and focus among the diverse professionals working with children exposed to violence. Yet there is consensus that despite a strong foundation, much more solid research and data are needed. There is also consensus that this lack of information makes it difficult to select the most effective interventions and get them funded.
A number of areas of research and evaluation need particular attention, including:
abuse and neglect interventions, efforts to rehabilitate offenders, school-based
interventions, domestic violence advocacy, and others.
and that assesses the impact of cultural competence in working with families.
More information is also needed about systemic issues related to the
overrepresentation of particular minority groups among victims and offenders,
including patterns in case identification and selection.
victims and, where possible, should be conducted in active collaboration
best and promising practices, and community directories of resources
and practices. Consideration should be given to establishing a national
In 1994, recognizing the need for a greater synthesis of existing research in the area of violence prevention and intervention, the Institute of Medicine and the Board on Children, Youth and Families of the Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education of the National Research Council established a Committee on the Assessment of Family Violence Interventions. The Committee has recently issued a series of reports examining the emerging social science research base on violence and families. (For copies of reports, call the National Academy Press at 8006246242 or visit www.nap.edu.)
We have to pull the fabric of community back around the children who have suffered so much.
Each of the steps identified in this Action Plan has value for preventing and reducing the impact of children’s exposure to violence. Taken together, these action steps will have even greater force. The greatest success, however, will be achieved when these actions are taken within a larger social environment that can help sustain them. A culture of nonviolence that supports children, women, and families is the vital context to ensure success.
Protective factors, collective efficacy, and children exposed to violence
This kind of culture would, of course, be desirable under any circumstances. But it would have particular significance for preventing and reducing the impact of children’s exposure to violence. New studies are revealing two important facts. First, it has been demonstrated that the presence of “protective factors” (e.g., strong family relationships, alternative supports, dedicated daily time for children with a single caregiver, high expectations and a sense of purpose for children, and meaningful involvement in duties and community service, among others) can, in effect, guard children against the negative effects of exposure to violence.50 Second, it has been demonstrated that when all other variables are eliminated, the one characteristic that accounts for less violence in a community is the willingness of neighbors to intervene on behalf of others. This “collective efficacy” is the neighborhoodwide determination of residents to stop violence or flag its possible precursors.51
There is no doubt that cultural change is a tall order. But there are a number of critical steps that agencies, communities, and individuals can take to achieve this goal.
Agencies can take the following steps:
leadership and capacity by involving parents and youth as real partners,
especially in formulating policies and procedures. Agencies can also work
with families to establish informal prevention and support networks in the
community (e.g., kinship networks, mentoring programs, and self-help groups).
These networks will extend the reach and effectiveness of the agency.
communities of color, immigrant and migrant communities, youth, and others
are largely ignored as agencies and others make decisions about their goals
and operating strategies. Without representation of diverse voices, the
Nation will never overcome racism, sexism, and other roots of violence in
society, specifically against children. Local and Federal agencies should
mandate that decisionmaking bodies include voices that are often unheard.
(prosecutors, county commissioners, city council members, and legislators),
faith leaders, and others can be leaders in building community coalitions to
take on the issues outlined below.
Communities and individuals can take the following steps:
of communitiesthe natural environment, play areas, transportation,
facilities for community meetings and entertainment, schools, and shelters
is an important part of creating a culture of nonviolence that supports
children, women, and families.
in this Action Plan, the public’s understanding of the issue of children’s
exposure to violence is limited. Because it has been variouslyand
unsuccessfullyregarded as a health, education, welfare, or justice problem,
it lacks a unified voice. As a result, there is a great need to have something to
organize around and something toward which greater resources can be directed.
Communities can take a number of steps to increase local awareness or to
support broader national efforts, including developing public information
violence to which children, women, and families are exposed. Taking whatever
steps are appropriate in a given community to stop gun violence is important.
accountable for playing both positive and negative roles in children’s
exposure to violence. Communities can seek to ensure that local news stations
do not cover violence gratuitously, that local newspapers publish program
ratings so parents can keep violent images out of their homes, and that the
media report on positive efforts to stop violence, enhance protective factors,
and implement collective efficacy. Communities and individuals can work with
the media to develop compelling, accurate portrayals of the impact of
violence on children. Representatives of the media should be included on
community task forces and collaborative teams formed to address these issues.
In addition, the media should participate in developing a range of tools
(such as parental warnings and “V-chip” technology) to reduce children’s
exposure to violence over the airwaves. Finally, the media should help
ensure that efforts to educate parents and youth about violence include
information about the roles and responsibilities of the media.
We do a terrible job of covering child abuse because there is a thicket of difficulty in covering it accurately. So it takes a great deal of patience and belief in the story on the part of editors to make this work. We have to invest resources in these stories.
policing describe it as a foundation for problem-solving partnerships
between communities and law enforcement. Through this strategy, law
enforcement can also reorganize and reallocate resources to take a more
holistic approach to working with families. In New Haven, CT, for example,
the police department changed its Juvenile Division to the Family Services
Unit to better serve families as a whole.
Who’s doing it?
For more information, write David M. Kennedy, Senior Research Analyst, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 79 John F. Kennedy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 (or call 6164957533); or write Lieutenant Kevin Foley, Youth Violence Strike Force, Boston Police Department, 364 Warren Street, Roxbury, MA 02119 (or call 6173434444).
The Child Wire. A recently launched news service, The Child Wire expects to become the definitive source of news pertaining to and affecting children and the premier medium for positive, solution-oriented news stories about young people. The Child Wire concept was developed to create a newsroom atmosphere in which children’s issues are met with seriousness and considered both news and newsworthy. Child Wire journalists will provide indepth reporting on broad topics that affect the growth and development of children.
For more information, write Rachel Jones, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, The Child Wire, P.O. Box 15575, Washington, DC 200030575; call 2025435033; or e-mail Rachella35@aol.com.
Families and Schools Together (FAST). This program model is dedicated to early intervention to help at-risk youth succeed. It offers youth structured opportunities for building relationships with parents and other family members, peers, other families, school representatives, and community members. The goal is to provide youth with a social safety net of protective factors to help them through difficult times. FAST has been widely acclaimed and replicated. The first 10 FAST trainers were certified in 1989; now, more than 250 trainers are active in the United States, Canada, and Australia.
For more information, write Lynn McDonald, Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1025 West Johnson, Madison, WI 53706; call 6082639476 or 6086632382; or visit www.wcer.wisc.edu/fast.
For more information, write Parents Anonymous, Inc., 675 West Foothill Boulevard, Suite 220, Claremont, CA 91711; call 9096216184; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.parentsanonymous.org/paIndex1.htm.
Partnerships for Preventing Violence. This free, national satellite broadcast training program specifically teaches violence prevention practitioners (not the lay public) how to implement effective primary prevention initiatives. The program is cosponsored by the U.S. Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services and is operated by the Prevention Institute.
For more information, write Rachel Davis, Prevention Institute, 1181 Colusa Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94707; call 5105284482; or visit www.hsph.harvard.edu/php/VPP/partnerships/.
For more information, write Chief Jim Bueermann, 212 Brookside Avenue, P.O. Box 1025, Redlands, CA 92373; or call 9097987661.
Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative. In 1999, the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice launched the Safe Schools/ Healthy Students Initiative to support comprehensive, integrated, communitywide approaches to promoting healthy childhood development and addressing the problems of school violence and alcohol and other drug abuse. Local initiatives will work from strategic plans that include issues such as school safety, violence and substance abuse prevention and treatment, school- and community-based mental health services for prevention and treatment, early childhood development, and educational reform. Grants totaling more than $141 million have been awarded to 77 communities to support implementation of 3-year projects.
For more information, write Kellie J. Dressler, Program Coordinator, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 800 K Street NW., Suite 300, Washington, DC 20531; call 2025144817; or e-mail email@example.com.