«HELPING CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: LAW ENFORCEMENT AND COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS FINAL REPORT to The National Institute of Justice American ...»
Some agencies pay a minimal amount for being on-call, regardless if they actually are called, and others do not. If an officer requests their services, the Violence Intervention Project pays for their time at the scene. Counselors reported that they average one to two calls per week. Some frustration was expressed by counselors that officers do not call them as often as they should. To encourage referrals, counselors occasionally do ride-alongs with officers. This provides the opportunity to remind officers about the Violence Intervention Project and build rapport. As an added bonus, when a domestic violence incident occurs during the ride-along, the counselors are on the spot to provide services.
Following the crisis intervention, the Violence Intervention Project counselor conducts up to five follow-up visits to the family (if the project was not called to the scene, but the incident is appropriate, follow-up visits are also made). For safety reasons, usually a team of two Violence Intervention Project counselors responds to a call. If the counselors do not feel safe knocking on the door, they may request that a law enforcement officer accompany them. Counselors noted that parents sometimes confuse them with the Department of Children and Families and parents often think they are there to remove the children. The Violence Intervention Project counselor may need to spend time assuring them that they are not Department of Children and Families workers before the parent will accept their services.
The Violence Intervention Project provides services on average to 15 to 18 families each month.
About 40 percent of the services (i.e., about five to six cases per month) include a response to the scene. The remaining 60 percent (or about ten to 12 cases per month) include follow-up calls for which the project was not called to the scene. Approximately, 80 percent of the project’s services are to children who are exposed to domestic violence while the remaining 20 percent are children exposed to other types of violence.
FOLLOW-UP WITH FAMILIES AND SERVICES
A wide variety of services are available to children exposed to violence and their families in Hartford. Through the Village for Families and Children, St. Francis Hospital, the Institute for Living, and Catholic Charities, individual, group, and peer counseling are offered. Help is also available to secure food and safe housing if needed. All counseling services operate on a sliding fee scale. If the family cannot afford the minimal payment, the Violence Intervention Project pays out of their grant funds. The project will pay for counseling services for up to six months. Some children receive weekly services and some monthly depending on their needs. The Village for Families and Children also offers an after school recreational program. This program puts children in a structured environment to reduce their chances of witnessing or participating in violence.
The Violence Intervention Project is funded via three primary sources. The Hartford Foundation contributes $75,000 to pay the Violence Intervention Project director’s salary and some core operating costs. The Office of Victim Services contributes $30,000 to cover the costs of the counselors' on-scene response. The Hartford Jaycees $30,000 grant pays some of the expenses of the Tuesday meetings (the Violence Intervention Project counselors who attend the meeting are paid for their time by the program) plus the costs of beepers, posters, coloring books, and games.
THE INVOLVEMENT OF DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES IN
CASES IN WHICH CHILDREN ARE EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCEThe police are mandated to call the Department of Children and Families every time children are endangered. The Hartford Police Department interprets the Connecticut statute on endangering children to include all cases in which children are exposed to domestic violence. The police, however, noted that it takes the Department of Children and Families “forever to arrive” if they are needed at the scene. In Connecticut, the Department of Children and Families services are centralized which means that a worker may be dispatched from anywhere in the state, not just from the Hartford area. This is a real disincentive for officers to request the Department to respond to the scene since they may have to wait hours for the worker to arrive. In addition to officers, the Violence Intervention Project counselors are mandated to report to the Department of Children and Families if they believe the child is at risk of injury, but in the history of the Violence Intervention Project the need to report to Department of Children and Families has only happened once.
LESSONS LEARNEDInterviews with police and the Violence Intervention Project staff and counselors who work with children exposed to domestic violence yielded rich information about how to manage and sustain such a program. We learned the following.
• A program like the Violence Intervention Project needs the dedicated commitment of team members who “believe in a vision” and are willing to work through the inevitable conflicts with open communication. The Steering Committee members have all labored long hours over and above their day-to-day jobs to realize the project’s vision.
• Do not expect “miracles overnight.” Police departments are para-military organizations not subject to easy acceptance of new rules or “interference” of “do-gooders” from the outside. It takes “persistence, persistence, and more persistence” to reach officers. It is “personal” to officers and they want to do the right thing for these children, but you have to “get your foot in the door.” The Violence Intervention Project realized this reality from the start, and it is a major reason they have survived and grown.
• There are “peaks and valleys” in the number of cases officers refer to the Violence Intervention Project. It is critical to be patient with the number of referrals and consistently encourage officers to call the project. Officers need “gentle reminders.” Aggressive punitive action directed towards officers who do not call the project will shut down the program. Officers typically do not react well to “outsiders” interfering with their work and need time to see the benefits of a program like the Violence Intervention Project. Once they see the benefits for themselves, they become the biggest advocates of the program.
• “Getting the word out” about the Violence Intervention Project is a constant task. Turnover and reassignment of officers is common in any department and thus re-education is critical.
The Hartford Police Department has undergone major command level changes, which has resulted in unusually high numbers of line staff changes. The Violence Intervention Project has been challenged to recruit and maintain the support of officers.
• A good way to build rapport between the Violence Intervention Project counselors and patrol officers is for counselors to ride-along with officers on patrol. It allows officers to become acquainted with the counselors and the work the project does. It further provides counselors with the chance to appreciate officer’s work and responsibilities.
• For a program like the Violence Intervention Project to prosper, it must forge and maintain good working relationships with the helping agencies in Hartford. The Violence Intervention Project is designed to move children and their families into services. This would not be possible if it did not maintain strong working relations with the agencies that provide the help. This may mean overcoming turf issues, but the Violence Intervention Project has been able to do just that.
• The Steering Committee participated in a group retreat with a trained facilitator. This retreat helped them work through problems they were encountering and foster a renewed spirit of cooperation and determination to make the Violence Intervention Project excel.
• As one Steering Committee member stated, “it is much easier to get something started than to sustain it.”
• It is hard to track the success of a program like the Violence Intervention Project. Those interviewed felt the program was truly helping children and families, but there is no hard empirical evidence to support that conclusion. They would welcome such evidence.
IMPROVEMENTS FOR THE VIOLENCE INTERVENTION PROJECTWe received several insightful suggestions to improve the Violence Intervention Project in the future.
• The Violence Intervention Project would like to recruit more counselors who reflect the ethnic makeup of the community, especially counselors who are Spanish speaking. Hartford is about 40 percent Hispanic and the Violence Intervention Project freely admits they need more Hispanic counselors, but have a hard time recruiting them.
• The Violence Intervention Project notes they need more counselors than they have to respond to the scene.
• The Violence Intervention Project would like to see more officers attend the weekly Tuesday meeting, but have a difficult time getting officers to attend.
• The Violence Intervention Project’s future depends on the continued cooperation of the Hartford Police Department. Because it is uncertain who will become the new Chief and what command staff the new Chief will appoint, there is understandable concern about the future of the project.
• The Violence Intervention Project would like to become more involved with schools and promote the project to school officials. It would also like to use the schools as a vehicle for educating the public about the Violence Intervention Project and the services available.
• The Violence Intervention Project would like to add an evaluation component, but there are no funds to support it. The staff noted that it is hard to track families, especially in domestic violence cases, as families tend to quickly relocate thus making it difficult to track how well children and families are doing.
Hartford’s response to children who witness domestic violence is impressive. The working relationship between the Hartford Police Department and the Violence Intervention Project has withstood major changes in the police department, and persistence has been a key to the Violence Intervention Project’s endeavors. The wide variety of helping agencies involved with VIP and the services offered at minimal, or no cost, provides alternative resources to these children and their families. Hartford’s approach serves as one model other communities may want to replicate.
OVERVIEW OF THE RESPONSEIn June 1997, South Bay Community Services (a local community-based agency), in cooperation with the Chula Vista Police Department, received a grant from California Office of Child Abuse Prevention to implement the Family Violence Response Team. The team provides immediate crisis services and follow-up services to children exposed to domestic violence and their families. The grant pays for the case workers involved with the program, officer training, the extra time spent at the scene by the patrol officers to ensure case worker safety, and equipment (e.g., pagers for caseworkers).
IMPETUS FOR THE PROGRAM
The environment at the Chula Vista Police Department was conducive for cooperation with this project. The department had recently formed the Family Violence Protection Unit that focuses on domestic violence, child abuse, and sex crimes. The unit’s philosophy is that helping children and victims of domestic violence can reduce repeat calls for service to the department. One way to accomplish that is to bring social workers to the home immediately after an incident to introduce available services. The grant gave the department $25,000 per year to compensate for overtime required by officers to implement the program (e.g., time waiting for caseworkers to arrive at the scene, time spent at the scene during service provision) and time not available to respond to other calls. This funding more than equitably reimburses the police department and is provided to the department regardless of the total number of hours officers are involved in such cases (i.e., no documentation is required to justify the expense). Support for the program was probably influenced by the inclusion of funds for the department.
In addition to the above incentive, the sergeant in charge of the Family Violence Protection Unit had prior positive experiences with South Bay Community Services when he was assigned to the juvenile division. The agency provided juvenile diversion programs for cases referred by the Chula Vista Police Department. Further, early in the program, he was promoted to lieutenant in charge of patrol, which facilitated acceptance of the program by patrol officers.
THE POLICE RESPONSEPatrol officers responding to domestic violence calls determine if any children were present during the incident. If children were present (even if they were asleep), the officer secures the area and notifies the Family Violence Response Team by either calling the police dispatcher or paging the team directly.
When the Family Violence Response Team caseworker arrives, the officer introduces the worker to the victim. According to policy, the officer remains at the scene as long as the caseworker is working with the children, but the officer may leave if the perpetrator is in custody or no immediate danger is perceived to the caseworker. On average, the officer remains at the scene from 30 to 45 minutes with the caseworker.