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• Feedback is rewarding for the officers. The law enforcement leaders were impressed with the dedication of MHS and the feedback provided to officers regarding their referral. In one department, MHS statistics were posted for the officers to see.

Several concerns and challenges were also mentioned by the law enforcement leaders.

• Communication. Making sure information regarding the program is communicated through the ranks to patrol officers was mentioned as a continuous challenge.

• The importance of not overwhelming MHS. The importance of a 24-hour response by MHS was questioned. They believed the therapists could contact the family within several days of the incident rather than immediately. Often, families did not want services the night of the incident.

• Additional time commitment by officers. There was a concern about officers being taken out of service if they need to wait for MHS to arrive. To date, however, this has not been a major problem.

• Providing data for the evaluation. This has been a challenge for all the law enforcement agencies involved. At the time of the site visit, close coordination and collaboration between the evaluators and agencies had address many of the problems related to data collection.


The following short descriptions of four focus groups of three to five officers reveal challenges they face when responding to domestic violence cases and their thoughts about the program.

Focus group #1 When the officers arrive at the scene, the home or apartment is usually small and crowded.

Most often they assume the children have seen or heard the violence. They often look to the child’s demeanor to reveal the extent to which the child was exposed to violence. They talk to the parent and make the call to MHS. They may encounter cultural issues since some cultures do not like outsiders getting involved in their family business. Initially skeptical about the program, they were worried that the program would be time consuming in terms of demanding additional paperwork and requiring them to remain at the scene. However, unlike other past programs and organizations, officers reported that MHS has responded quickly. Their supervisors review their reports to make sure they called the program. If an officer reports a child was present at the scene, but did not call MHS, the supervisor has the officer make the call later.

Officers receive a letter from MHS indicating a referral was made, but they do not learn if the family accepts the services. They would like to know if the child is actually in services, but understand that due to confidentiality concerns they are unable to receive this information. The officers would like one central number to call to make all referrals. Often they need to give several organizations the same information, thereby having to repeat it multiple times. The officers said they would like to see this program work. They hope this program is helping the children and stopping the cycle of violence.

Focus Group #2

Officers reported that the majority of the parents are receptive to the services of the program.

The officers say they call the program in every case in which children are exposed to domestic violence. Officers explain to the parents that MHS is not being called to evaluate their parenting skills nor are they going to remove their children. The officers believe it is not imperative that MHS respond in the middle of the night. The officers like the feedback from MHS and would welcome more if possible.

Focus Group #3 Officers were very impressed with the response of MHS. When MHS says they will come to the scene they do, and they do so quickly. There is no “run around” like other agencies. If they tell a family that someone is going to come and help them and then no one visits the family, the officer credibility is undermined. Sometimes, however, they do not believe the children need help immediately. It was their perception that MHS usually comes to the scene within the hour.

Typically, at the scene, the officer moves the children into a room away from the parent(s) and asks them what happened. However, they feel that officers often are not experienced in dealing with the children and trauma. They try to promote the program to families as “free services that will help your children” and “they will come to your house at your leisure.” Officers would like to receive more feedback regarding the case and if someone came to help the children. The letters from MHS have not always been consistent in every case. They believe the program will survive based on the police participation. Like other officers, they wish there was one central number to call. Officers indicated that possible incentives for officers to do “one more thing,” such as making the referral, include giving an award or recognition, feedback, thank you or holiday card, and a quarterly report of how their department uses the program. Sometimes they forget to call if it is not domestic violence (e.g., if it is a school incident). Officers have received positive feedback from the parents when they have gone back to the house. They have respect for the specialists for going into dangerous neighborhoods.

Focus group #4

One major challenge these officers have faced is that many residents in their district do not have telephones. They like the feedback they have been receiving from MHS, but would like more.

When dealing with cases that might not be appropriate for referral, the officers reported that they prefer to make the call to MHS and let the specialists’ screen out inappropriate calls. They said they participate in the program because they care. If there is a chance this program will make a difference in children’s lives, then the extra effort is worth it.


The crisis response is delivered by Mental Health Services (MHS), Inc., a non-profit agency that operates adult, adolescent, and child mobile crisis teams. The agency provides on-site services to deal with the stress of traumatic events. MHS has approximately six full-time equivalent master’s level crisis intervention specialists who are trained in providing services to children who are exposed to domestic violence. There are additional staff who assist with supervision as well as administrative and voucher functions. The major components of their program are outlined below.

The 24-hour Hotline and Subsequent Phone Calls

The MHS agency has a 24-hour hotline number for the CWWV Program. The referral to MHS is made by either an officer or dispatcher who contacts the hotline either from the scene or from the department. Officers have been trained to provide very specific information to the hotline. The hotline number is also on the pamphlet officers provide to parents and can also be called by the parent. Two crisis specialists are on-call at all times. The hotline worker notifies an on-call specialist about the incident. The specialist calls the officer directly to obtain more information on the case.

The specialist also calls the parent at home and explains the program to the parent. The specialist makes it clear that he or she is not with the Department of Child and Family Services. This is important because often parents fear Department of Child and Family Services involvement will result in their losing custody of their children. The specialist explains that the agency’s focus is on helping the child and the family.

The Team

Originally, the program called for one specialist to go to the scene, but this was quickly changed to a two-person team to accommodate safety concerns. A benefit of having two specialists on the scene is that one specialist can focus on the adult victim and the other on the child(ren). Two specialists are also useful because often these families have multiple children of different ages.

Children at different developmental stages have different immediate needs. It is difficult for one specialist to talk with the parent and deal with several children at the same time, especially when the family is distraught. If the family is large with multiple children, they may use three or four specialists. The program believes that the input of the parent is critical to help the specialist assess the children.

Prior to going to the scene, the team calls the parent to make sure that he or she wants them to come to the home. The specialists try to get to the scene within 30 minutes of the police referral.

The crisis intervention and referral process that the team provides is generally done in an average of three visits.1 The visits are usually to the house unless it is deemed unsafe, in which case a neutral location is selected.

The First Visit

The immediate goals of the first visit are for the specialists to gain rapport with the family and make sure they are safe. These goals are met by doing whatever is necessary to help the family at that time (e.g., helping bathe the children and get them in bed). The specialists strive to present themselves as true helpers and to be as least threatening as possible.

The first visit can last from ten minutes to three hours. During the initial visit, the specialists work with the family on safety planning. One specialist talks with the victim and the other with the children. The specialist engages the children in play, art, or sand therapy using materials the specialist brought with him or her. The specialists observe the children and the interaction between the parent and children. If the perpetrator is present, they may talk to him or her about the effects of the children being exposed to the violence.

In July 1999, statistics show that during that month 3.5 contacts were made on average with each family, with a range from one to 16 contacts per family.

Several instruments are employed during each visit. The victim is asked to sign a consent form for treatment and research. Occasionally a parent does not want to participate in the study. The specialists stress to the parent that they have an opportunity to affect the types of services that children can receive. This information may empower the parent and encourage them to participate. Some parents have even found that answering questions from the assessments has been helpful to them. If a parent refuses to participate in the study, the family still receives services. Each child is assessed for trauma symptoms and an initial visit checklist is completed.

Additional assessment forms are completed depending on the child’s age. Individual sand and art therapy are employed and assessments are made. The specialist works with the parent to get more information about the child and the child’s behavior. If however, the family is in crisis, the specialists may not conduct or complete all the tests. They must also consider the children’s attention span. Their first goal is to simply meet the family’s needs. Prior to leaving, the team makes a second appointment with the parent.

The team learned early on not to take “no” as an answer from the families. They go out of their way to locate families. If the parent is not home when they visit, they leave a card that indicates they stopped by and were sorry they missed the parent.

Frustrations mentioned by specialists include not being called by officers when they should be, being called a significant amount of time later than the incident occurred (the incident may occur at 9 p.m., but they are called at 3 a.m. when the officer gets off his or her shift), and not being allowed into the home, even when they know the officer and parent are in the house.

The Second and Third Visit

During the second and third visits, individual sand, play, and art therapy are continued, several different assessments are conducted, and the safety plan is reviewed. During these visits, the specialists determine the needs of the family, discuss on-going available services, and work within individual family preferences. On the third visit, the community service provider accompanies the specialists to talk to the family about community resources. By the end of the third visit, MHS finds that they usually have retained 80 percent of their clients. Most often, families that have made it to the third visit are open to receiving long-term services.

Case Example

A domestic violence incident occurred between a husband and wife. Six children were present when the incident occurred. The husband, who was the perpetrator, was arrested and jailed. The victim went to the hospital to be treated for injuries sustained from being struck in the face and head. On the night of this incident, MHS was called at approximately 2:00 a.m. and a specialist went to the family residence, a hotel where they had lived for over a year. When no one answered the door, the specialist slid a note under the door and explained why she had come and that she would return in the morning. In the morning, she returned with several other specialists. The mother agreed to accept services and to participate in the program. During the first visit, the specialists began interviewing and assessing the mother, six children, and a male youth from the neighborhood who essentially lived with the family. Because the boy spent most of his time with the family and had been exposed to violence, the specialists believed that he should be interviewed and assessed to determine if he needed services.

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