«HELPING CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: LAW ENFORCEMENT AND COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS FINAL REPORT to The National Institute of Justice American ...»
• Victims need help to file for restraining orders. The Domestic Abuse Response Team advocates help as much as possible, but legal assistance in more complicated cases is needed.
• The prosecution of domestic violence cases has to increase. The state attorneys refuse to file a “tremendous number of cases.” The Domestic Abuse Response Team advocates believe that law enforcement is doing far more with domestic violence cases than are the prosecutors.
• There is a need to recognize that males are also victims of domestic violence.
• More public education is needed to inform domestic violence victims that there are services for them and their children. The Domestic Abuse Response Team currently provides many public domestic violence awareness workshops, but they hope to expand their efforts in this area in the future. The full-time victim advocate makes presentations in Spanish and reaches out to that community. Outreach to other special populations is important and they recognize the need to be culturally sensitive. The advocates have found that certain cultures, for example Asians and Latin Americans, are less likely to call the police or seek services. They would also like more outreach to migrant farmers and immigrants who are isolated and fearful about calling authorities or using community services.
The Domestic Abuse Response Team exists because of the strong commitment of Lakeland’s Chief of Police and the dedication of its coordinator. Through crisis and follow-up services, children exposed to domestic violence are helped with the trauma they suffer. The Domestic Abuse Response Team coordinator explained that the program is always evolving to improve the approach. Wrapping an arm around the child by notifying school counselors that there has been a domestic violence incident in the home via the Parental Consent Form is central to the program.
Law enforcement officers are primary gatekeepers to encourage parents to complete that Form. In Lakeland, officers embrace their gatekeeper role because of the Chief’s departmental policy and the mutual respect and rapport that has evolved among officers and the Domestic Abuse Response Team advocates.
THE COMMUNITYSalisbury and Newburyport are two towns located in Essex County, Massachusetts. The area, often referred to as the North Shore or greater Newburyport, is about 40 miles from Boston. The county is bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the north by New Hampshire. Although Salisbury and Newburyport are located within several miles of one another, the two towns are vastly different in socioeconomic status. Newburyport is a gentrified town that has an affluent and stable population. Salisbury is a working class community that has a highly transient population.
During the months between Labor Day and Memorial Day, hundreds of families move into Salisbury to take advantage of off-season low-rate motels and summer cottages. Salisbury claims to be second to Boston as having the highest assault rate in the state. The county is almost entirely English speaking, but there are expectations that this will change as a more diverse population settles into the area.
OVERVIEW OF SALISBURY’S RESPONSE
Selected for study were the Salisbury Police Department and the Women’s Crisis Center in Newburyport. In 1996, working in partnership with funding from the Community Oriented Policing office, the police department and the crisis center formed the Rapid Response Team.
Although that grant ended after one year, the town of Salisbury and the Women’s Crisis Center continue to support the effort. The Team provides crisis intervention and referrals to a wide array of services for domestic violence victims and their children. Children who are exposed to domestic violence are referred to the Children of Violence Empowerment project, which is under the auspices of the Women’s Crisis Center.
THE POLICE RESPONSE
The Salisbury Police Department Chief is committed to dealing with community issues. He recognizes domestic violence as a priority that needs intervention to stop intergenerational violence. His support of the Rapid Response Team has been critical to sustain the effort. The Community Services Unit, staffed by two proactive and well-trained police inspectors, prides itself on their collaboration and coordination with other community organizations. They are adept at securing funding for their efforts and seem skilled at “making things happen.” The Salisbury Police Department has 20 sworn officers. Each shift consists of two patrol officers and a sergeant. Two patrol cars are dispatched for domestic violence calls. At the scene, the officers’ first goal is to ensure the safety of the victim and to deal with the perpetrator. They are trained to look for signs of children in the home. If an arrest is made, the officers try to separate the perpetrator from the children so they do not witness the parent being arrested. Officers indicated that sometimes the children do not seem outwardly affected during the domestic violence call. This may be due to the fact that the fighting, violence, or presence of officers may not be unusual to the children. The officers give the children teddy bears stored in their patrol vehicles.
After the officers have gained control of the scene, they ask the victim if she/he would be willing to come to the police department to talk to a victim advocate. In the past, the advocate would meet the victim at her/his residence, but it was decided that this may be unsafe for the advocate and there are too many possible distractions (e.g., neighbors stopping by, family calling, etc.). If the victim says she/he does not want to meet with the advocate, the officers will describe the services available at the Women’s Crisis Center and explain the effects of exposing children to domestic violence. They give the parent a brochure that explains the effects of domestic violence on children and introduces the Children of Violence Empowerment project. This project provides services to children who have been exposed to violence. If the victim does agree to go to the department to speak with the advocate, the officers ask the victim if there is a suitable individual with whom to leave the children. If the victim does not, or can not leave the children with anyone, she/he will bring them to the department with her. About one-third of the time, the victims bring their children to the department.
THE WOMEN’S CRISIS CENTER
The Women’s Crisis Center provides free services to victims of domestic violence in the greater Newburyport area. These services include a 24-hour hotline, individual and group counseling, childcare, legal advocacy, shelter and housing referrals, education and information, and the Children of Violence Empowerment project. It is led by a committed Executive Director and has a dedicated and knowledgeable staff. There are currently 17 staff, three 'masters' level interns, and 80 volunteers.
Advocates from the Women’s Crisis Center receive 55 hours of crisis intervention training. Staff at the Center and area experts provide this training, which includes the effects of violence on children. Advocates who wish to be on the Rapid Response Team or do court advocacy must take an additional 12 hours of training. The Team advocates must live within a reasonable distance so they can respond to victims quickly. The Women’s Crisis Center and the police department screen applicants carefully. Criminal background checks are conducted on all applicants and they are interviewed to determine their “readiness” to be an advocate. All of the advocates have been women, although they do attempt to recruit men. Currently, there are ten advocates, and they are proud that they have had the same staffing since 1996.
THE RAPID RESPONSE TEAM
If the victim agrees to talk to an advocate, and most victims do agree, the responding officer notifies the Rapid Response Team. The team consists of one of the two investigators from the Salisbury Police Community Services Unit and a Rapid Response Team advocate from the Women’s Crisis Center. There are about 65 to 70 Rapid Response Team calls per year. The Salisbury Police Department and Women’s Crisis Center are trying to promote the Rapid Response Team to the nine local chiefs in the greater Newburyport area.
The Rapid Response Team meets the victim at the Salisbury Police Department. When the Team arrives, the responding officer privately briefs them on the incident. The responding officer formally introduces the Team to the victim. The advocate and the victim then meet alone. They do not include the investigator at that time, since the investigator is not bound by the same confidentiality rules as the advocate. The advocate can not share information with the police unless she has permission from the victim. If the advocate thinks it is critical to the safety or well being of the victim, she will ask the victim for permission to talk to the officer. If the victim does not agree, however, then the advocate will not betray the confidentiality of the victim by talking to the police.
If the children accompany the victim to the department, the advocate explains to the children that she needs to speak with their mother. Advocates stated that it is hard for one person to deal with the parent and children at the same time. They want to hear from the victim, but do not want the children to overhear their parent’s story. The advocate will occupy the children with crayons, paper and other toys. Advocates believe that drawing is helpful to the child and will often reveal something about how he or she is feeling at the time. In one instance, the advocate showed a victim her child’s drawing that showed a disturbing picture of a frightened child. The drawing convinced the victim to obtain counseling for her child. After the victim shares her/his story with the advocate, the advocate starts working with the victim on safety planning. If the victim wishes to get a restraining order, the advocate assists the victim with completing the forms. The advocate can call the judge at home during the evening hours and ask him to grant an emergency temporary order for 24 hours. The next day, the victim can go to court to seek a temporary order.
The advocate talks to the victim about obtaining services for her/him and the children. The advocate asks the parent several questions about the children witnessing violence, their behavior, their school performance, and about their social skills. The advocate explains post-traumatic stress disorder to the parent. She informs the parent that a Women’s Crisis Center project, Children of Violence Empowerment (COVE), offers services to children who have witnessed violence. The advocate gives the victim a COVE pamphlet that describes the program and services offered (see below).
THE WOMEN’S CRISIS CENTER (WCC) FOLLOW-UP RESPONSE
The chief advocate at the Women’s Crisis Center follows up with all victims the day after the incident. Victims are usually receptive to this follow-up even if they did not want to meet with the Rapid Response Team the day before. Initially the advocate tries to get the parents into services and then focuses on obtaining services for the children. The advocate has found that victims are often in denial that their children are impacted by the violence. Therefore, they are slow to secure services for their children. As the advocate explained, “it is like chipping away at the mom’s armor;” it is a slow process to convince parents that their children have been harmed as a result of being exposed to domestic violence. For example, one client has been participating in Center programs for two years, but has just agreed to services for her children. The Women’s Crisis Center prefers for the victim to contact COVE, thereby empowering the victim to take control. However, the advocate is also in close contact with COVE staff and encourages the staff to do outreach work with victims who are not using their services. If the victim refuses services at COVE, she encourages the victim to use the counseling services at school (see below).
If the advocates believe a child is not safe, they will file a 51a, a report to the Department of Social Services that a child has been abused or neglected. If the Center is going to file, they will have a team review and make the final decision as a group, not letting it rest on any one person’s shoulders. However, the Center tries to avoid filing, preferring a collateral agency file, since they want the victim to view the Center as their advocate.
The Women’s Crisis Center encourages evaluation feedback from their clients. Clients who worked with the Rapid Response Team are mailed questionnaires printed on police department letterhead to complete. The questionnaire primarily asks about interaction with the officers (e.g., were they courteous, did they make you feel safe, were you satisfied with the police follow-up) and with the advocates (e.g., did she help you, how, were you satisfied with the follow-up and referrals made).
The response rate for these surveys has been over 70 percent. All responses have been very positive. Comments on the excellence of the Rapid Response Team have included “You (the Women’s Crisis Center) work well with the police. Thank you.” and “My special thanks to Officer XXX. He followed up and made me feel safe. I am thankful that the police got myself and the Women’s Crisis Center together.” In addition, the Center has recently formed an advisory committee of clients to explore what they are doing well and suggest areas for improvement.
THE CHILDREN OF VIOLENCE EMPOWERMENT (COVE) PROJECT
The Women’s Crisis Center runs the Children of Violence Empowerment (COVE) project. This project, modeled after the Boston Child Witness to Violence Project and the Better Homes Foundation Bounce Back program, provides services to children who have been the victim of, or witness to, violence and trauma.
A grant from the Victims of Crime Act in mid-1998 helps supports the current COVE program.