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The National Institute of Justice

American Bar Association

Center on Children and the Law

740 15th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20005

(202) 662-1720

American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law


San Diego Association of Governments Barbara E. Smith Laura B. Nickles Darlanne Hoctor Mulmat Heather J. Davies March 2001 DISCLAIMER Helping Children Exposed to Domestic Violence: Law Enforcement and Community Partnerships ©2000, American Bar Association. All rights reserved.

This guide was developed under grant number #1998IJCX0069 from the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice. The points of view expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Institute of Justice.

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association and, accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association or its Center on Children and the Law.

Printed in the United States of America.

******* iii


The project staff thanks the many people who shared their knowledge and expertise to the research. Input from the project Advisory Board assisted us in developing the mail and phone surveys and selecting communities for the case studies. Advisory Board members were Officer Loretta Bolling, Chief Ed Flynn, Jack Hagenbuch, Dr. Hope Hill, Dr. Joy Osofsky, Linda Spears, and John Stein.

At each case study site, dedicated individuals generously gave their time, shared experiences, and provided detailed descriptions of their sites’ coordinated response to children exposed to domestic violence. Five communities were studied: Lakeland, Florida; Salisbury, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; Chula Vista, California; and Cuyahoga County, Ohio. We give special thanks to our key contacts at these sites: Linda Rahmatian (Lakeland); Ann Champagne (Salisbury); Marcus Sherman (Hartford); Norma Amezcua (Chula Vista); and Elsie Day (Cuyahoga County).

Additional individuals, too numerous to name, also contributed to the case studies in each of the five sites by granting time for interviews with project staff. We also thank law enforcement and social service providers who completed mail surveys as well as those who participated in followup phone interviews.

Howard Davidson, Director of the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law and Susan Pennell, Director of the Criminal Justice Research Division of the San Diego Association of Governments, enthusiastically provided feedback throughout the project, reviewed drafts of the final report, and offered helpful comments and suggestions throughout the project.

Foremost, we thank our funder, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Community Oriented Policing Office (COPS) who provided funds to NIJ for the project. Our monitor, Rosemary Murphy, was very supportive and helpful to us throughout our research.

–  –  –

Children are all too frequently exposed to domestic violence. In the mental health community, it has been well documented that children exposed to domestic violence, particularly children who witness violence inflicted by one parent on the other parent, suffer many forms of trauma. Early intervention can be a powerful tool in helping these vulnerable children put their lives back together and breaking the cycle of violence. Traditional policing practices are generally focused upon apprehending and gathering evidence on perpetrators and have overlooked the service needs of these children. In contrast, the philosophy of community oriented policing is consistent with looking beyond investigation and arrest and including law enforcement in serving the needs of citizens. In a number of community oriented policing departments around the country, law enforcement has partnered with community service providers to identify and help children exposed to domestic violence.


Our study sought to reveal current practices and develop detailed case studies of promising approaches to help children exposed to domestic violence. The findings can help communities replicate promising approaches. Four research questions addressed how community oriented police departments are working with community partners.

(1) To what extent are law enforcement departments working with community providers to help children exposed to domestic violence receive services to mitigate the short- and long-term effects of the violence?

(2) What types of working partnerships are being formed between law enforcement and community providers to meet the needs of children exposed to domestic violence? How did these approaches emerge? What are the goals of various approaches? What resources are needed to implement different approaches? What are the effects of these approaches?

(3) What can we learn from communities that have implemented a coordinated response to children exposed to domestic violence?

(4) What data exist, or can be collected, to measure the impact of a coordinated response to children exposed to domestic violence?


We employed three research methods. A mail survey provided a national perspective of how law enforcement departments are responding to children who are exposed to domestic violence.

Telephone surveys with law enforcement departments and service providers in select communities uncovered greater details about their approaches. Finally, site visits to five communities provided an in-depth understanding of the coordinated response between law enforcement and service providers to help children exposed to domestic violence.


The sampling plan for the mail survey was not intended to yield a representative picture of how law enforcement departments are responding to children exposed to domestic violence. It was skewed to capture as many innovative and comprehensive approaches as possible by purposively reaching out to departments likely to have such approaches. Therefore, the results do not reflect a national average. We uncovered many creative and comprehensive approaches and our data reflect that many departments are working with agencies in their community to help children exposed to domestic violence. To summarize, we found the following.

• Nearly three-quarters of the departments surveyed have a policy, protocol, and/or law that requires officers to investigate whether any children were exposed to domestic violence.

• About one-half of the departments have a box on the arrest, incident, or supplemental report that officers are required to check if children were exposed to domestic violence. In nine out of ten departments with a written policy or protocol, officers are required to write a narrative describing how the children were exposed to domestic violence (e.g., overheard it, witnessed, were used as a shield, tried to intervene to stop it.)

• The most common type of outreach made by officers to help children exposed to domestic violence is to make a referral to child protective services or another service agency. Less commonly, the service provider accompanies the officer to the domestic violence scene to immediately begin intervention.

• There is follow-up to learn if children exposed to domestic violence are getting the help they need according to over three-quarters of those surveyed.

• Only 15 percent of the departments receive (or have received) funds to respond to children exposed to domestic violence. Most often, the funding for children exposed to domestic violence was included in a grant with a much broader focus on domestic violence. The remaining departments are reaching out to these children without any special funding.


Case study sites were Lakeland, FL; Salisbury, MA; Hartford, CT; Chula Vista, CA; and Cuyahoga County, OH. Each of the five sites implemented a unique approach to children exposed to domestic violence. Major features of each of the approaches are presented in the matrix below. A discussion of their advantages and disadvantages follows.

–  –  –


The use of volunteers as first responders is less expensive than using salaried counselors. It is a promising mechanism for engaging the community in these cases and has potential for increasing public awareness of problems suffered by children who are exposed to domestic violence.

However, it is not without cost. It takes time to recruit, train, and supervise volunteers.

Professionals with extensive training in crisis intervention may be in a better position than volunteers to identify the myriad needs of the families they see. Consistency among responders

–  –  –

ix There was disagreement among those we interviewed as to the need for an immediate on-scene response. Some thought a phone call was a better, less obtrusive way to respond. Others thought a follow-up visit the next day was preferable than trying to reach out in the middle of the night.

Most, however, felt that the immediate response presented the best opportunity for persuading victims and their children to seek services.

Safety of the responders was also an issue in the sites. In Lakeland, it was perceived as unsafe for volunteers to go to the house unless they happen to be on a ride-along with officers. In Salisbury, advocates met the victim at the police department because they were concerned for the safety of their workers. In Hartford, Chula Vista, and Cleveland, advocates went to the house but all advocates received safety training and were intensely trained to assess their safety and act accordingly. In addition, police officers remain on the scene in these three sites to protect the safety of counselors.


All of the sites had formal procedures to review police reports each morning to make sure officers made referrals whenever children were exposed to domestic violence. It is to their credit that they recognized the need to constantly check to make sure no children fell through the cracks.


Lakeland and Salisbury providers worked closed with schools to help children exposed to domestic violence. Some might consider this an invasion of the children’s privacy. In Lakeland, they requested parents sign a parental release form to allow the program to tell school officials that children were exposed to domestic violence so that school counselors could reach out to the child.

In Salisbury, the outreach to schools was done informally. In the remaining three sites, confidentiality issues precluded their notifying school officials. Ultimately, the wisdom of involving schools in individual cases depends on how one weighs the need to help children versus the need to protect their privacy.


All programs provided short-term follow-up with victims and their children. Two of the programs referred clients out for long-term counseling services while the remaining three provided such services themselves. The later is more expensive and may create long waiting periods. The former spreads clients out to a number of different agencies and has the potential for raising awareness about the needs of children exposed to domestic violence. But it may alienate families by leaving the impression that they are shuttled from one agency to another. Further, they may perceive that their original counselor is abandoning them when they are sent to someone else for services.


All of the five sites implemented proactive responses to help children exposed to domestic violence. Compared, their approaches have advantages and disadvantages. Together, they should be commended for their leadership in providing crisis and long-term services to these vulnerable children and their families. Each can serve as a model for other places interested in replicating their approach.


Our recommendations are based upon and telephone surveys with law enforcement departments and service providers, as well as site visits to five sites with innovative approaches to children exposed to domestic violence. We draw six recommendations.




There are a host of social problems related to children (such as missing and exploited children, children living in poverty, children drawn into gangs and criminal activity) that demand the attention of community leaders. Difficult choices may have to be made to prioritize how to spend limited resources. The pervasive problem of domestic violence also cries out for community attention to meet the needs of victims and hold abusers accountable through some combination of batterer treatment, community corrections, and incarceration. As communities struggle to address the myriad of problems they face, it is possible to forget the silent victims of domestic violence, the children. Children exposed to domestic violence often suffer psychological and behavioral difficulties that if left untreated can severely impact on their lives and may ultimately result in perpetuating an intergenerational cycle of violence. With help, many children can be saved from a downward spiral. Community leaders, particularly police chiefs and mental health service directors, must help. In all five communities we studied, children exposed to domestic violence were given priority, and proactive responses worthy of replication thrived.

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