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«HELPING CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: LAW ENFORCEMENT AND COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS FINAL REPORT to The National Institute of Justice American ...»

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CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE FREQUENTLY SUFFER SHORTAND LONG-TERM EFFECTS THAT REQUIRE SPECIAL SERVICES

There are a host of social problems related to children (such as missing and exploited children, children living in poverty, children drawn into gangs and criminal activity) that demand the attention of community leaders. Difficult choices may have to be made to prioritize how to spend limited resources. The pervasive problem of domestic violence also cries out for community attention to the meet the needs of victims and hold abusers accountable through some combination of batterer treatment, community corrections, and incarceration. As communities struggle to address the myriad of problems they face, it is possible to forget the silent victims of domestic violence, the children. Children exposed to domestic violence often suffer psychological and behavioral difficulties that if left untreated can severely impact on their lives and may ultimately result in perpetuating an intergenerational cycle of violence. With help, many children can be saved from a downward spiral. Community leaders, particularly police chiefs and mental health service directors, must help. In all five communities we studied, children exposed to domestic violence were given priority, and proactive responses worthy of replication thrived.

Unfortunately, the five study communities were not typical of the nation. Our mail survey responses from 360 law enforcement departments documented that many departments have not recognized the problem of children exposed to domestic violence by establishing special procedures and policies for these vulnerable children. The responsibility to report that children are exposed to domestic violence, or to make referrals, is all too frequently left to the discretion of the individual officer rather than to an established protocol. Fortunately, we found some departments with innovative, proactive approaches that require officers to report when children are exposed to domestic violence. These reports typically trigger some type of response from a helping agency. Some departments have progressed further and instituted a cooperative approach with a helping agency to respond to these children very soon after a domestic violence incident to begin the assessment of the psychological distress inflicted on the child and the healing process.

Based on the literature, we know that children exposed to domestic violence frequently endure a wide variety of psychological and behavioral problems. Communities must embrace these findings or it is unlikely that law enforcement and helping agencies will initiate and sustain the kinds of programs needed to help these children. We recommend that communities initiate a task force to identify the needs of children exposed to domestic violence, services available in the community, and gaps in services. Further, a strategic planning process should be implemented to reach out to these vulnerable children. In each of the five study sites, there was a vision, a charismatic leader, and a plan for action.

RECOMMENDATION 2: LAW ENFORCEMENT SHOULD PLAY A PIVOTAL

GATEKEEPER FUNCTION IN REFERRING CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC

VIOLENCE TO SERVICES

Law enforcement officers are usually the first to respond to a domestic violence incident. They are in a unique position to investigate if children were exposed to the violence and to talk with parents about how exposure can damage the psychological well-being of children. In all of our five study sites, law enforcement officers were charged with the responsibility of informing parents about services for their children. How they approach parents with this information will critically impact the parent’s willingness to accept help for their children. Officers need to present available services in a positive light and be cognizant that many domestic violence victims are fearful of outside intervention. Their biggest fear is often that their children will be removed for failure to protect them. Officers can reassure them that services are not intended to remove their children (unless of course, the officer or child protective services assess that the children are not safe in the home), but to help them put their lives back together.

In addition to verbal and attitudinal clues officers use to reassure parents, it is helpful if they can leave a pamphlet that explains services in a non-judgmental, easy-to-read fashion with accompanying telephone numbers to call for help. Each of our five study programs provided officers with written materials to give parents. Domestic violence victims often cannot focus on the needs of their children while in a crisis state. However, by introducing the possibility of services during the crisis period, a seed may be planted in the victim’s mind. When things subside, written materials may present options and explain services. Community leaders and law enforcement command staff in all five of our study sites recognize the pivotal gatekeeper function officers assume in opening the doors to services.

RECOMMENDATION 3: PROACTIVE RESPONSES TO CHILDREN EXPOSED TO

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE REQUIRE SUBSTANTIAL COMMITMENT FROM THE

COMMUNITY AND SERVICE PROVIDERS





Initiating a program to reach out to children exposed to domestic violence is labor intensive. Crisis and follow-up services need to be identified and engaged. Sustaining the program takes substantial commitment and resolve. Each of the five study sites had a dedicated program director and staff to carry out their response to children exposed to domestic violence. The more comprehensive approaches studied functioned with the assistance of a considerable number of staff and were costly. Communities should anticipate and be realistic about what it will take to plan, implement, and sustain a viable approach to children exposed to domestic violence. They should also guard against promising crisis and long-term services they cannot deliver. We learned from each of the five study sites that law enforcement officers are willing to call crisis teams to the scene (or alert them by phone) only if they are assured, and practice reveals, that a prompt response will result. Otherwise, officers do not want to waste their time, and that of the families, waiting for help that never arrives. Further, law enforcement officers want to be assured that when they tell domestic violence victims that help is available for them and their children that the services are truly available and do not involve unduly protracted waiting lists. Service agencies need to fulfill the promises they make.

From the five study sites, we learned that providers are often faced with multiple challenges when trying to help children exposed to domestic violence. These children often suffer from overriding problems beyond living in a violent home, such as poverty, learning disabilities, social isolation, and so on. Service providers need to decide the breadth of services they can realistically deliver and be prepared for the myriad of problems faced by children in domestic violence homes.

RECOMMENDATION 4: COORDINATION OF EFFORTS AND RAPPORT

BUILDING BETWEEN LAW ENFORCEMENT AND SERVICE PROVIDERS

SHOULD BE IMPLEMENTED TO SERVE CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC

VIOLENCE Police chiefs can require officers to refer parents to agencies to help children exposed to domestic violence. But if the relationship is to become a solid one, officers must come to see their interaction with helping agencies as a partnership that benefits these children. Among the five study sites, various techniques were used to build a partnership. Joint trainings/meetings of officers and service providers were held. Ride-alongs in which providers rode with patrol officers were common. Participation in mutual social events was encouraged. Feedback (without breaching confidentiality) to officers on how referred families and children were doing was provided. Thank you letters to officers who made referrals were sent, and for those who failed to make appropriate referrals, law enforcement command staff demanded to know why the referral was not made. Tangible benefits directly to the officers were provided when possible (e.g., completing repot to social services so officer did not have to file the paperwork).

All of these techniques helped establish mutual respect and understanding of each other’s roles.

Further, officers were able to rely on service providers responding quickly when summoned to the scene, thereby allowing them to return to service without undue delay. That is not to say there were not bumps in the road and occasional flare-ups, but open communication smoothed over tense situations and enabled the partnership to grow.

RECOMMENDATION 5: RESOURCES SHOULD BE AVAILABLE TO EFFECTIVELY

SERVE CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Crisis and follow-up services cost money, as do brochures and pamphlets explaining available services. In all five study sites, resources were garnered to help these children. Some sites creatively incorporated the service of volunteers while others found money to pay a cadre of mental health professionals. Federal, state, county, and foundation/charitable funds were used in some sites to support intervention efforts. The challenge for all five sites will be to develop longterm plans to maintain the flow of dollars into the program.

RECOMMENDATION 6: EVALUATION IS NEEDED TO DETERMINE “BEST

PRACTICES” TO SERVE CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Little is known about what types of services best improve the plight of children exposed to

domestic violence. In each of the five study sites, a variety of approaches were used:

group/peer counseling, play/art/sand therapy, in-home counseling, anger management classes, safety planning exercises, and so on. Which approaches work best for children with different problems has not been empirically tested. Nor do we know how long services need to be maintained to effect long-term positive changes in these children. Until such research is done, providers are making service decisions based on best guesses gleaned from general psychological and child development principles. Evaluation is needed to learn how best to help children of different ages exposed to domestic violence who display multiple and diverse symptoms and profiles.

–  –  –

Appendix A

CASE STUDY CONTACT INFORMATION

CHULA VISTA, CALIFORNIA

South Bay Community Services Norma Amezcua, Contract Compliance Coordinator 315 Fourth Avenue, Suite E Chula Vista, CA 91910 (619) 420-3620

CUYAHOGA COUNTY, OHIO

Children Who Witness Violence Program Elsie Day, Coordinator Standard Building, Suite 900 1370 Ontario Street Cleveland, OH 44113 (216) 263-4623

HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT

Violence Intervention Project The Village for Families and Children, Inc.

Joy Burchell, Project Coordinator 1680 Albany Avenue Hartford CT 06105 (860) 236-4511 LAKELAND, FLORIDA Domestic Abuse Response Team (D.A.R.T.) Lakeland Police Department Linda Rahmatian, D.A.R.T Director 219 N. Massachusetts Avenue Lakeland, FL 33801 (863) 834-8927

SALISBURY, MASSACHUSETTS

Salisbury Police Department Community Service Unit Investigator Ann Champagne 24 Railroad Avenue Salisbury, MA 01952 (978) 465-3121 Appendix B

PHONE SURVEY CONTACT INFORMATION

AUSTIN, TEXAS SafePlace Barri Rosenbluth, Director of School Based Services P.O. Box 19454 Austin, TX 78760 (512) 356-1628 Family Violence Protection Team Austin Police Department Kachina Clark, Victims Services Supervisor 1106 Clayton Lane, Suite 490 East Austin, TX 78753 (512) 974-8548

CHESTERFIELD, VIRGINIA

Chesterfield County Police Department Sharon Lindsay, Domestic Violence Coordinator P.O. Box 148 Chesterfield, VA 23832 (804) 751-4113

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO

Domestic Violence Unit Colorado Springs Police Department Detective Howard Black 705 S. Nevada Avenue Colorado Springs, CO 80903 (719) 444-7814

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT

New Haven Family Services Lieutenant Kelly Dillon 1 Union Avenue New Haven, CT 06519 (203) 946-6993 Yale Child Study Child Development - Community Policing Program 230 South Frontage Road P.O. Box 207900 New Haven, CT 06520-7900 (203) 785-7047 SANDY, UTAH Sandy Police Department Lieutenant Mark Nosack, Investigations Commander 10000 S. Centennial Parkway Sandy, UT 84070 (801) 568-7237 XENIA, OHIO Domestic Violence Intervention Emergency Response Team (D.I.V.E.R.T) Xenia Police Department Detective Holly Hyer Detective Eric Hughes 101 N. Detroit Street Xenia, OH 45385 (937) 376-7216

–  –  –

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