«HELPING CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: LAW ENFORCEMENT AND COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS FINAL REPORT to The National Institute of Justice American ...»
Several dedicated individuals who consider domestic violence a serious problem for families lead the community effort. The Rapid Response Team, part of the Salisbury Police Department and the Women’s Crisis Center, is committed to identifying and helping victims of domestic violence and their children. The Team introduces to parents to a wide array of the specialized services offered by the Children of Violence Empowerment (COVE) project for victims and their children exposed to domestic violence. Additional services within the greater Salisbury/Newburyport area are very comprehensive. The multiple police departments, social services agencies and organizations, and schools are highly coordinated. Because the community is small, service providers can mobilize quickly to effectively provide services to domestic violence families.
OVERVIEW OF HARTFORD’S RESPONSEThe Hartford Police Department has approximately 450 officers who serve a population of 250,000.
Hartford has a comprehensive approach to children who witness violence, not just to children who witness domestic violence. Modeled on the Yale-New Haven approach, it was instituted in 1995.
The Violence Intervention Project (VIP) began in response to the large number of drive-by shootings being witnessed by children. Hartford officials perceived the need to help these children with the trauma associated with witnessing violent events. The Violence Intervention Project (VIP) approach was quickly extended to include children who witness domestic violence in addition to street violence. In fact, in recent years as the number of drive-by shootings and other violence has gone down, the effort shifted more to domestic violence. Today, about 80 percent of the program’s caseload are children who witness domestic violence. The Hartford Police Department received 11,133 calls for service from domestic violence victims in 1998 and 9,594 in 1999.
IMPETUS AND PLANNING FOR THE VIOLENCE INTERVENTION PROJECT
The acting Chief of the Hartford Police Department is a strong community-oriented policing leader. She is committed to the principle that policing is about more than making arrests. She believes that children exposed to domestic violence need therapeutic intervention and prevention before these children begin to act out their trauma and pain by becoming victims or perpetrators themselves. As the Commander of Youth Services explains to her officers “you can reach out and help these kids today or chase them tomorrow and they keep getting faster while we keep getting older!” Prior to the Violence Intervention Project, four agencies, the Village for Families and Children, St.
Francis Hospital, the Institute for Living, and Catholic Family Charities competed to serve the mental health and health needs of Hartford citizens. A Steering Committee was formed with these agencies, the Hartford Police Department, the Hartford Mayor’s Office (they supplied the funds for some of the initial the Violence Intervention Project training), and community agencies to forge a way to work cooperatively rather that competitively. The partnership with the police was seen as key to the success of the Violence Intervention Project and indeed, is still seen as key to its survival.
The Steering Committee first convened in 1994 and “everyone pitched in with resources.” The Hartford Steering Committee focused on the needs of children exposed to violence and visited the Yale program to learn more about it. Unlike Yale, the Hartford Steering Committee decided that their response would draw on the strengths of the above-named four helping agencies and that they would respond as a team rather than unilaterally. The Hartford Steering Committee was determined to provide help to children exposed to violence and their families regardless of their ability to pay. They decided not to try to collect payment from insurance companies. They reasoned that victims in crisis should not have to worry about insurance papers and may not want their insurance company to know their children witnessed violence.
The Hartford Steering Committee struggled to pull all the agencies together. They have maintained their focus on children who witness violence. They have avoided the temptation to wander off course to other related causes “simply because some funding became available.” They have weathered some difficult times, such as changes in the Hartford Police Department’s command staff and the vacancy of a Violence Intervention Project director for a several month period. They believe they are moving in the right direction with their new director. He maintains an office at the Village for Families and Children as well as an office at the police department. The Committee sees his presence at the department as critical in building rapport with officers and maintaining the program’s visibility. He frequently presents information about the Violence Intervention Project during roll calls. Much of his time is spent educating officers about the program. He also periodically goes on ride-alongs with officers.
THE POLICE RESPONSE
The acting chief of the Hartford Police Department at the time of our site visit had previously been in charge of Youth Services at the time the Violence Intervention Project began. She has been a strong supporter of the program since its inception. The current commander of Youth Services is also an ardent supporter of the Violence Intervention Project. The vibrant, determined support of the command staff is seen as paramount to the program’s success.
At the Academy, officers receive 16 hours of training specifically focused on the Violence Intervention Project program. Periodic updates and reminders are presented at roll call and through memos. Officers are supposed to call a Violence Intervention Project counselor to the scene whenever children (ages 3 to 17) are exposed to violence. Some officers are more faithful in calling than others. Newer officers are usually better about calling than those who were trained before the imposition of the16 hour Academy training. The officer at the scene may call the program directly or may call his, or her, sergeant to request that the program respond. There are a number of reasons why an officer may elect not to call the Violence Intervention Project. One reason is the children are asleep. A second reason for not calling is that officers may not want to wait on scene for a program counselor to arrive. Unless the perpetrator is arrested, the officer is supposed to wait at the scene during the counselor’s intervention to protect his, or her, safety. A third reason for not calling the Violence Intervention Project is that officers must ask the parents if they will allow their children to talk to someone from the program. Parents in a crisis state usually, but not always, agree to the program being called. A fourth reason that officers do not call is their lack of awareness about the program.
If the Violence Intervention Project is not called to the scene, the officer may hand a referral card and pamphlet about the program to the parent. The pamphlet is in English and Spanish. The title is Children Who Witness Violence Are Victims, Too. The cover design has a cute teddy bear and attractive red lettering aimed at getting parents' and children’s attention. It describes behaviors that children who are exposed to violence might exhibit, including sleep disturbance, fear of playing outside, overly aggressive behaviors with others, overly aggressive behavior with toys, withdrawn behaviors, depression, fear of being alone, excessive bed wetting, sudden outbursts, and tearfulness or sudden crying. It provides the number to call Violence Intervention Project anytime, 24 hours per day, 7 days a week to help children exposed to violence. The program also distributes full sized posters with the teddy bear logo and the Violence Intervention Project number to call for help.
The Hartford Police Commander of Youth Services reviews every police report of domestic violence the day after the incident. If it is noted that children were present and the Violence Intervention Project was not called, she sends a note to the officer asking him, or her, to explain why the program was not called. She believes this follow-up is critical in reminding officers that the program should be called whenever children are present during a domestic incident. The note sent by the commander does not become part of the officer’s permanent record (this is viewed as too punitive by the commander). If the commander needs to send more than one reminder to an officer, she calls them in to explain why they are not calling the Violence Intervention Project. Thus far, she has not had to send more than two reminders to any one officer.
The director of the Violence Intervention Project and the officer in charge of the Hartford Police Department’s victim witness unit also review every police report of domestic violence. They determine if the Violence Intervention Project should conduct a visit regarding children exposed to domestic violence when a counselor had not been called to the scene. The officer in the domestic violence unit also sends a letter to every victim of domestic violence explaining the help that is available through the victim assistance unit of the Hartford Police Department. The Violence Intervention Project’s director sends a thank you letter to any officer who called the program. He believes the positive reinforcement is as important as negative feedback (e.g., sending a letter to officers who fail to call the program) and that both are effective tools in educating officers about the program.
FOLLOW-UP WITH OFFICERS
Every Tuesday, the Violence Intervention Project has a meeting of on-call responders from the four agencies and project staff. Officers who called the program to the scene may attend to learn what services were given to the children and their families. This encourages officers to “buy in” to the program by giving them feedback. If the officer is on duty, he may report to the meeting during his shift. If the officer is off duty, the department will pay overtime for the officer to attend the meeting. Despite this, the Violence Intervention Project has been disappointed because few officers attend the Tuesday meetings. However, the Tuesday meetings are valuable. They provide counselors with the opportunity to share response techniques, talk about troubling cases, provide help to each other to deal with the trauma they witness, and exchange resource information.
THE OFFICER’S PERSPECTIVE
We received the perspective of officers through two venues. First, several patrol officers were interviewed. Second, we rode with officers during a night shift and had the opportunity to observe and speak with a number of officers. Most officers view the Violence Intervention Project as beneficial to children and an asset and a tool for officers to do their job. The program can handle the emotional issues while the officer tends to police work. However, officers could only relate a handful of times that they actually called the program. When they saw a need for the program, they were pleased with the response.
• Example. One officer told of an incident in which a 12 year-old boy stabbed his cousin in front of several other cousins during a sleepover at their grandmother’s house. It happened at 2 a.m. in the morning. When the officer arrived, the cousins and the grandmother were all hysterical. Violence Intervention Project counselors were called and responded promptly.
The counselors built a rapport with the grandmother and cousins and stayed on the scene for over eight hours. The officer was able to complete her paperwork and leave the scene assured that the family was in good hands. The officer later contacted the Violence Intervention Project counselors to learn how things were going and was relieved to learn the family had received services.
THE OPERATION OF THE VIOLENCE INTERVENTION PROJECT
The Violence Intervention Project is part of the Village for Families and Children. In addition to the services provided by the Village, three additional agencies provide counselors to respond to calls to the scene and provide follow-up services: St. Francis Hospital, Institute of Living, and Catholic Charities. Each of the four agencies has two people on-call to respond to Violence Intervention Project calls. The Violence Intervention Project staff include trained psychologists to assess the child’s trauma and provide follow-up services.
THE VIOLENCE INTERVENTION PROJECT RESPONSE
When the Violence Intervention Project is called by law enforcement, they usually respond within 20 minutes. Counselors are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Violence Intervention Project “appropriate” calls include any criminal incident in which children are exposed to violence. When a counselor arrives at the scene, the officer fills him or her in on the situation. If the perpetrator is at the scene, the officer stays while the counselor is there; otherwise the officer can clear the scene.
The counselor brings to the scene their “bag” filled with stuffed animals, coloring books, and tablets for children to draw on as well as pamphlets explaining services available to the children and their families. The immediate goal is to calm the child and do safety planning with the child (e.g., teaching them how to call 911). The counselor first talks to the non-offending parent to explain their services and to obtain permission to speak with the child. Depending on the circumstances, the counselor may speak to the child in front of the parent or in another room. It depends on where the child, and the parent, feels most comfortable in having the child speak with the counselor.
If there are several children, two Violence Intervention Project counselors usually go to the scene.
The counselors may spend anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours at the scene depending on how upset the child is and how long the officer can remain at the scene. If the perpetrator is arrested, the officer may leave the scene, as there is not a safety issue for the counselor.
On-call Violence Intervention Project counselors may, or may not, be compensated for being oncall regardless of their need to respond to the scene. It depends on the policy of their agencies.