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We employed three research methods. A mail survey provided a national perspective of how law enforcement departments are responding to children who are exposed to domestic violence.

Telephone surveys with law enforcement departments and service providers in select communities uncovered greater details about their approaches. Finally, site visits to five communities provided an in-depth understanding of the coordinated response between law enforcement and service providers to help children exposed to domestic violence.

The National Mail Survey The national mail survey synthesized current practices law enforcement departments use for children exposed to domestic violence. A multi-pronged purposeful sampling plan maximized the chances of finding law enforcement departments using creative and innovative approaches. The mail survey was sent to departments that have demonstrated an interest in domestic violence and/or who have experienced large numbers of these cases. The survey was sent to a sample of 495 departments (see Chapter 3 for an in depth discussion of the mail survey methods).

The main queries of the mail survey included the following.

• Does the department have a policy or protocol that requires officers responding to domestic violence cases to investigate if any children were exposed to domestic violence? If so, under what circumstances would officers ask if children were exposed? How would officers document that children were exposed to domestic violence?

• How do officers respond when they discover children are exposed to domestic violence? Do they involve a service agency to help the children and, if so, does the agency respond to the scene, does the officer telephone them, or does the officer give the referral to the nonoffending parent?

• Does follow-up occur with the non-offending parent to see if services are obtained or whether further help is needed?

• Does the department receive any funds to help children exposed to domestic violence?

• Does the department have a model approach to children exposed to domestic violence? Do they have any evidence that their approach is working.

Special efforts were made to obtain a high response rate. A total of 495 law enforcement departments were mailed surveys and 360 were returned. The response rate was high, 73 percent.

The information from the mail survey was analyzed to obtain a national perspective on how law enforcement departments are working with community partners to help children exposed to domestic violence. See Chapter 3 for the mail survey findings.

Telephone Survey

Based on the information from the mail survey, telephone interviews were conducted in 22 communities that have a coordinated approach between law enforcement and community programs for children exposed to domestic violence. In each community, an interview was conducted with the law enforcement contact that completed the survey. Further information was gathered on the details of the department’s approach and how they coordinate with the helping agency. Contacts at the helping agency as well as other organizations in the community were sought and contacted. These contacts were interviewed in regards to their approach to children exposed to domestic violence and on their efforts to coordinate with law enforcement.

The telephone survey identified promising candidates for inclusion in the five case studies. Eleven sites were selected as possibilities for case studies. Five sites were ultimately selected to be case studies. The remaining six sites are briefly profiled in Chapter 4.

Advisory Panel Meeting

Following the completion of the mail and telephone surveys, a carefully selected Advisory Panel was convened. Representatives from the fields of law enforcement, mental health, child welfare, and domestic violence were included. The representatives heard key findings from the national mail and telephone surveys. Possible communities for case studies were discussed. Selection

criteria for inclusion in the case studies were:

• the extent to which a coordinated approach existed between law enforcement and at least one other agency (child protective services, crisis services, a Children's Hospital, a victim advocacy group, or another agency/program) in order to help children exposed to domestic violence

• diversity of approaches among the five sites in the manner in which they work with community partners to serve children exposed to domestic violence

• diversity in communities (size, rural/urban, economic, and demographics)

• diversity in geographic location

• availability of data to measure how effectively the approach works

• willingness to be in the case studies and cooperate with the design

• input, and approval from, NIJ.

Case Studies A team of two researchers visited the five communities. Project staff spent an average of three and a half days on site to complete research activities. In all five sites, the following occurred.

Interviews with Agency Representatives

Representatives included:

• the chief of police and command staff

• patrol officers

• the director and line workers of agencies providing services to children exposed to domestic violence

• follow-up service responders and therapists

• representatives of child protective services

• school counselors

• others involved in community agencies and organizations.

During interviews with officials in each of the five sites, process issues such as the following were raised.

• Who spearheaded the coordinated approach? What was its impetus? Who were its supporters and detractors?

• What are the primary objectives in using a coordinated response to children exposed to domestic violence?

• Which agencies -- law enforcement, victim advocate programs, child protective services, the mental health communities, a Children's Hospital -- were needed to achieve the objectives they sought? How much training was needed to educate the police and their coordinating community partners about the importance of providing services to children exposed to violence and to help them identify which children needed services? Did barriers have to be overcome? If so, how was that achieved? How were coordination issues and problems resolved?

• What resources were needed to plan and implement their coordinated response? Where did the resources come from?

• What type of services are provided to children who are exposed to domestic violence? Who pays for the services? Who provides services in their community? What is the quality of services provided? Are there long waiting periods to receive services? What are the gaps in services?

• In their opinion, are children exposed to domestic violence better served as a result of their coordinated approach? How? What evidence do they have to support their opinion?

• If other communities want to replicate their approach, what are the elements critical to its replication? What pitfalls need to be avoided? What would they do differently if they were planning or establishing a strategy today?

In addition, being on-site allowed the project team to directly observe the physical environments in which children exposed to domestic violence are served.

Additional Research Activities In addition to interviews with agency representatives critical to the coordinated approach, the following activities were commonly conducted in each site.

• “Ride-alongs” with law enforcement. Project staff accompanied patrol officers (and supervisors) to observe how officers handle domestic violence incidents in which children are exposed to domestic violence. In addition, it allowed the researchers to interview officers during their shift to obtain their perspectives.

• “Ride-alongs” with crisis responders. Project staff joined crisis specialists as they responded to children who have been exposed to domestic violence. This provided first hand observation by researchers and additional time to talk with the specialists about their experiences.

• Attend program meetings. The approach in each site involved a collective effort among multiple organizations. Attending meetings on site allowed researchers to observe the complex process of coordinating and sustaining a coordinated response to children exposed to domestic violence.

• Review of records and data. When available, sites provided records and statistics that document the number of children served, data on the impact of providing services, and documentation of the effectiveness of services.

• Interviews and focus groups with non-offending parents. We planned to conduct focus groups of non-offending parents in each of the five sites. The intent of the focus groups were to obtain the opinions of parents on the appropriateness of services provided and to learn about gaps in services needed, quality of services provided, satisfaction with services provided, impact of services on their children's well-being, and suggestions for improving the provision of services. We worked with program officials in each of the sites to select a diverse group of participants and to solicit participation. The non-offending parent victim was paid a stipend of $25 for their participation to thank them for their time and to compensate them for travel, babysitting, or other expenses. Strict confidentiality procedures were developed for protecting the identities of parents participating in the focus groups. An institutional review board reviewed all focus group methods and protocols.

Unfortunately, the focus groups of the non-offending parents did not yield what we had hoped to learn. It proved difficult to get the appropriate parents to the focus group. Several problems emerged that were beyond our control. First, we did not obtain the attendance we desired despite vigilant efforts to work with our site contacts. Second, some parents who attended the focus groups had not actually used services for their children or were from other communities outside the service area served by the providers under study. Third, many of the parents dealing with the impact on domestic violence on themselves were not able to focus on the needs of their children. Our principal finding from the focus groups was that domestic violence victims are faced with an array of difficult problems and cannot always place their children’s needs first. Programs need to understand this dynamic and reach out to parents at many points in time if they are to be successful in reaching the children.

–  –  –


The national mail survey was intended to learn how law enforcement departments respond to children exposed to domestic violence. For the purposes of the survey, children exposed to domestic violence was defined to include any children of the adults in the domestic violence incident who were present, heard, witnessed, were used as a shield, and/or intervened to protect their parent. Information gathered included

• whether the department has a policy or protocol that requires officers responding to domestic violence cases to investigate if any children were exposed to domestic violence and, if so, under what circumstances they would ask if children were exposed and how officers document that children were exposed to domestic violence;

• what officers do when they discover children were exposed to domestic violence — do they involve a service agency to help the children and, if so, does the agency respond to the scene, does the officer telephone them, or does the officer give the referral to the non-offending parent;

• whether follow-up occurs with the non-offending parent to see if services where obtained or whether further help is needed;

• whether the department receives any funds to help children exposed to domestic violence;

• whether the department believes they have a model approach to children exposed to domestic violence and whether they have any evidence their approach is working.


We used a multi-pronged purposeful sampling plan designed to maximize the chances of finding law enforcement departments using creative and innovative approaches. We mailed the survey to departments that have demonstrated an interest in domestic violence and/or who have experienced large numbers of these cases. The survey was sent to a sample of 495 departments. The sample included the Community Oriented Policing (COPS) Office domestic violence grantees, COPS Office community partnership grantees that identified domestic violence as their problem area, and departments that are members of the Major City Police Chief’s Association. In addition, we sampled additional departments in Florida, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and California. At the time of this survey, these five states had enacted legislation that created, or enhanced, penalties for batterers who expose children to domestic violence. Also surveyed was the Yale-New Haven program and its eight replication sites. In addition, we also posted a notice of the project and survey on several web sites and bulletin boards, including the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law Web site, the Community Policing Consortium Bulletin Board, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) network, and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) Bulletin Board. Notice of the survey was also given in the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executive’s (NOBLE) newsletter.


Special efforts were taken to obtain a high response rate. First, we kept the survey short (4 pages) and formatted it in a style easy to complete. Checklists and matrices were used to make responding easier. Second, we sent a personalized letter to the chief of police or sheriff explaining the intent of the survey and the importance of completing it. The chief or sheriff was asked to have the person most knowledgeable in his or her department complete the survey.

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