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Patrol officers are supposed to call the team every time children are exposed to domestic violence. But we learned from interviews with law enforcement officers that in practice the team is not always called. Why? Some officers may not call because the police department is currently understaffed and they feel that their time is better spent on patrol than waiting for the team to arrive. Minor incidents involving only shouting or verbal altercations may not result in a call to the team. Or, the victim may refuse to allow the officer to call the team. However, according to the Family Violence Response Team director, officers should not ask the victim for permission to call the caseworker. Rather, the officer should automatically call the team. It is the caseworker’s job to persuade the victim to accept services, not the officer’s.

To increase officer accountability, the sergeant in charge of the Chula Vista Police Department’s Family Violence Protection Unit reviews all domestic violence reports. If the officer fails to call the Family Violence Response Team and children were present, the officer is reminded by the sergeant about departmental policy requiring that the team be called. In addition, the team’s program director receives copies of all domestic violence calls from the Chula Vista Police Department. The director contacts the victims to offer services in any cases with children present where the officer did not call the team.

Initially, officers were resistant to the Family Violence Response Team, but that has changed with time and training. The Family Violence Response Team director at South Bay Community Services provides on-going training every six months during patrol officer roll calls and patrol squad meetings. In addition, all new officers are trained through the San Diego County regional academy.

In addition to the training, officer cooperation was facilitated by the help the team gives officers in completing report to Child Protective Services (see later discussion). As time has passed, the officers have become very positive about the team. According to the Family Violence Response Team staff, almost all officers are now supportive of the program. Officers report the following advantages to using the team.

• It alleviates pressure on police officers. Law enforcement officers are not equipped to provide crisis counseling to victims and their children. The Family Violence Response Team provides a service that takes time and special skills. In addition to the crisis counseling, the team provides long-term services.

• More victims are reached. Clients are often more open to services when offered by the team than by law enforcement. The team is seen as neutral while it is the officer’s job to arrest the perpetrator even if the victim does not want that to happen. Thus, the officer may be seen by the victim as “the bad guy” and not as a helper.

• Services reduce recidivism. Officers believe that providing services to victims and their children reduces repeat calls for service and recidivism. Thus, the team saves the department’s time and helps reduce violence, very important goals for officers.

• The caseworkers are reliable and quality services are provided. Officers do not want to “waste” time waiting for caseworkers to arrive at the scene. The Family Violence Response Team responds quickly, and officers are pleased with the skills they bring to the job.

Further, officers are encouraged by the number of follow-up services provided. They do not want to promise services to families that do not materialize. South Bay Community Services does not disappoint them.


Caseworkers are provided by South Bay Community Services through an on-call system 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One staff member is on-call from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. A second staff member is available via pager to provide advice. This person also serves as the back-up during the evening hours. There are two caseworkers on-call at night (from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m.). These individuals work on a part-time basis for on-call response only, while full-time staff at South Bay Community Services provide daytime response. The team receives an estimated 50 to 55 calls per month from Chula Vista police officers, primarily during the evening through early morning hours.

When paged by law enforcement, the caseworker calls the police dispatcher to obtain background information on the case (e.g., victim’s name, number of children, location of suspect, primary language, address, and police report number). If more than three children are at the scene, a second caseworker is called to assist. Caseworkers usually respond to the scene within 15 to 20 minutes.

Upon arriving at the scene, the caseworker meets with the officer to find out what happened and how long the officer can remain at the scene. According to caseworkers, officers give them from as little as five to as much as 60 minutes to provide the crisis intervention. Ideally, caseworkers would like to have from 35 to 40 minutes to work with the entire family and explain services. Connecting with children and victims at the scene is seen as critical. Providers believe the crisis stage affords the best opportunity to engage victims in services. After the crisis is over, victims are less inclined to accept services.

While at the scene, the caseworker concentrates on the negative impact of exposure to domestic violence on the children. The caseworker talks with children about what happened, any prior domestic violence incidents, and any injuries sustained by the child. The child’s feelings about the violence are discussed. Caseworkers explain how to call 911. Caseworkers also use this interaction as an opportunity to validate the child’s feelings of fear, apprehension, or anger.

The specific approach by the caseworker depends on the child’s age and developmental level.

Younger children are held and given toys and engaged in play therapy. Teens are spoken to more directly. If there are large age differences among the children, the caseworkers will meet with them separately. This requires multiple workers at the scene. Options for action (i.e., a safety plan) if similar situations occur in the future are discussed (e.g., call 911, go to a neighbor). Available social supports, such as talking with family and friends, is encouraged.

After the caseworker has finished assessing the children, the needs of the victim are addressed. The caseworker focuses on the victim’s feelings and deflects blame away from the victim. Services are offered, safety planning is discussed, and the cycle of domestic violence is explained. Impact of the violence on children and how to help them is a primary focus during this discussion. The interaction focuses on options (e.g., shelters, restraining orders, drop-in groups, etc.), rather than instructing victims on what they must do (e.g., leave the batterer). At the end of this meeting, the caseworker notifies the victim that follow-up will occur within a week.

Finally, while on scene, if there is enough time and the offender is present and amenable, the caseworker talks to him or her. The offender is told about South Bay Community Service’s batterer treatment program. The negative impact of exposing children to domestic violence is explained.

Not only do caseworkers talk with the children, victim, and sometimes the perpetrator, but they also observe how the adult(s) interact with the children. Completion of the family assessment factor analysis (a tool designed by California State University, Fresno) is done following the intervention at the scene based on the impressions by the caseworker. The demographic information sheet is the only paperwork completed in front of the victims. In addition to the family assessment and demographic information sheet, a Child Protective Services Suspected Child Abuse fax report and a child abuse risk assessment are also compiled (see below for more details).

During the start up period of the grant (June 1, 1997 through September 30, 1997), 107 families were given crisis services. During the full first year of the project (October 1, 1997 through September 30, 1998), crisis workers served 360 families, about one family per day. The volume of families provided crisis services increased in the second year of the project (October 1, 1998 through September 30, 1999) to 454 families.


Follow-up is designed to move the client from crisis into services. Most victims accept follow-up services. The program tries to follow-up with all victims the day immediately following the incident. At minimum, follow-up occurs within a week. Follow-up begins with a telephone contact to assess the children and victim’s safety and to offer services. During the telephone call, the victim’s feelings (e.g., blaming, doubting decision to have perpetrator arrested, etc.) are discussed.

Listening is the primary function of the follow-up worker. Service providers must understand why victims stay in abusive relationships and be open to giving alternatives rather than telling the victim what to do for herself and her children. When a victim will be receptive to accepting services varies from victim to victim. Some will immediately want services while others may not be receptive for a very long time. Thus, keeping the door open is seen as critical.

A variety of follow-up services are available. For example, groups for children are offered through the parent agency, South Bay Community Services (see below). Support groups for the victim, including childcare, are also available. A 13-week parent education class is offered concurrent with the groups for children for the non-offending parent through Children’s Hospital Home Support Project. A mentoring program, Parent Pals, is offered for the nonoffending parent, in which mentors are matched with the clients for three to six months. Home Start, a community-based agency, recruits and trains the mentors, as well as coordinates the program. The mentors provide their services through a community center in Chula Vista, the Beacon Family Resource Center. Shelter, emergency food, and bus tokens can be provided.

Other services available through collaborative agencies, as well as those offered outside South Bay Community Services, are also discussed.


Groups for children, provided through the host agency, South Bay Community Services, are divided by age (e.g., five to seven year olds, eight to ten year olds, and eleven to 14 year olds).

Teenagers are referred to the teen center. Ideally, groups for children consist of about six participants. Groups occur on a drop-in basis to allow maximum flexibility for families. Sessions are tailored to meet the needs of children in attendance, their age, and developmental level. The groups deal with past domestic violence, children’s emotions, safety planning, anger management, and problem solving alternatives.


Ideally, the team of part-time staff consists of ten to 12 members, half of whom are bilingual. The seven full-time staff must have a master’s degree in social work or family therapy, have case management experience, and be bilingual. All staff participate in 15 hours of training on domestic violence. In addition, there is a 40-hour video training regarding the connection between domestic violence and child abuse. The lieutenant and sergeant with the police department provide training in safety planning for home visits to staff. Following the initial training, monthly training sessions focus on topics such as suicide, youth issues, gay and lesbian perspectives, and home visiting.


Child Protective Services are notified in every case in which children are exposed to domestic violence. Child Protective Services is called in every incident because the State of California mandates cross reporting and the San Diego County (the county in which Chula Vista is located) Domestic Violence Council has proclaimed that exposure to domestic violence constitutes child abuse and cross reporting is required.

Upon receiving a referral of children exposed to domestic violence, the Child Protective Services hotline staff review the report and it may be “evaluated out” with no further action by Child Protective Services. About half of the cases are resolved this way. The remaining cases are referred to a Child Protective Services worker for follow-up. After the cases are assigned to a Child Protective Services unit, the supervisor reviews the case and determines if further investigation is needed (i.e., assign to a Child Protective Services worker or “evaluate out”).

In the past, all cases specifically related to children exposed to domestic violence were “evaluated out” with no further action by Child Protective Services. However, there has been a philosophical shift over the past two to three years. The current philosophy is to examine emotional abuse more closely because this abuse can continue for years, is difficult to detect, and deserves services. Current Child Protective Services policy regarding these cases is as follows.

If the case is assigned to a caseworker, a home visit is scheduled to interview the parents and the children. If this is the first time the family has been referred to Child Protective Services and all individuals agree that this incident is a one-time situation, resources are provided and the case is closed as unfounded within 30 days. The types of services suggested include anger management and parenting for the perpetrator and victim. In addition, the victim can be directed to counseling, the Mom Helping Kids program (a 12-week parenting program to help children exposed to domestic violence for women who have left the abuser), groups for domestic violence victims, groups for children exposed to domestic violence, and shelters. A list of resources and several pamphlets are distributed.

If Child Protective Services is called again on the same case and no services have been accessed, Child Protective Services will sometimes file a petition for emotional abuse. However, few cases are ever handled through the courts.


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