«HELPING CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: LAW ENFORCEMENT AND COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS FINAL REPORT to The National Institute of Justice American ...»
Third, we included a self-addressed, stamped return envelope and also gave respondents the option of faxing the completed survey. Fourth, we instituted a tracking system and mailed a reminder postcard to those departments we had not heard from after three weeks from the original survey mailing date. After we reasoned that the response rate from the postcards was saturated and survey responses had dwindled, we sent a second letter to the chief of police or sheriff. He, or she, was asked to check a box if they did not have a policy/protocol requiring officers to investigate if children were exposed to domestic violence and return the survey. If they require officers to ask if children were exposed to domestic violence, they were asked to complete the original survey or contact us for another survey if the original was lost. A total of 495 law enforcement departments were mailed surveys and 360 were returned. The response rate was high, 73 percent.
We asked respondents if there is a law or written policy that requires officers to document that a child was exposed to domestic violence. Most often (40% of the time), it is required by written policy; less often (25% of the time), it is required by law; 11 percent of the time, it is required by both law and policy; and less than one-quarter (24%) said it is required neither by law nor policy (Table 1).
Ninety-one percent of the respondents reported that officers are required to write a narrative describing how children were exposed to domestic violence (e.g., they overheard it, witnessed it, were used as a shield, or intervened to stop it). Most often, 79 percent of the time, it is included in the incident report. The next most common place to narrate this information (52% of the time) is in the supplemental report (the supplemental report, like the incident report, is not subject to public scrutiny). Forty-six percent noted the narrative appears in the arrest report and the remaining 20 percent said it “depends” on things such as: if the child was a witness; if the child was at risk; if it was relevant to the facts of the case; if the child was injured; and/or on the child’s age (Table 1).
Nature of Response to Children Exposed to Domestic Violence
What do officers do when they learn that children were exposed to domestic violence? The most common response, given by 56 percent of the respondents, was that they notify child protective services. In descending order of frequency, other answers were that they make a referral to a social service agency (44%); 35 percent intervene in “another” way (such as refer the case to a detective; notify school counselors; call a child abuse hotline; arrest the offending parent); 24 percent call a helping agency on the phone; 16 percent call a helping agency to the scene; and 12 percent respond to the scene along with a helping agency (Table 2).
There are a variety of ways in which officers can enlist the help of agencies to assist children with the trauma that accompanies being exposed to domestic violence. Some ways are more proactive than others; thus, they are more time intensive and expensive. The least expensive intervention is to do nothing at all. Nearly one-quarter of our respondents reported that they do not even have a policy requiring officers to find out if children are exposed to domestic violence. If they do, officers may hand the non-offending parent a pamphlet, or card, that explains what services are available, or officers may contact a helping agency for the nonoffending parent so that they can explain the services available to the child.
Several police departments have programs designed to help children who have witnessed domestic and community violence. Often these programs are the result of a partnership between the police department and a service provider.
• Example. In one jurisdiction, a new intervention program had just started to assist children exposed to violence. Officers carry laminated cards instructing them on what to do when a child has been exposed to family or community violence. The card explains to the officer that police officers are often the first responders for these children and it is critical that the officer takes advantage of the intervention program. The card tells the officer how to explain that witnessing violence is very serious and that children may need help dealing with it. It instructs the officer to give out information on the impact of witnessing violence to the families and to encourage the family to participate in the program. If the family is receptive to participation in the program, then the officer calls the program and makes a referral. Officers are notified in writing when the program contacts families.
• Example. A program run by the local police department and the community services board has a brochure that officers give to parents whose child has witnessed violence. The brochure assists parents by giving tips on signs to look for after their child has witnessed violence, what to expect of their child after witnessing a violent incident, how to help the child, and how to take advantage of the services provided by the program. If parents are interested in receiving help, they complete an attached form and return it to the officer. Parents are informed that a child specialist will contact them within 24 to 48 hours. The child specialist will conduct an interview and assessment. Based upon this, they make appropriate referrals.
Parents are told the services provided by the program are confidential and are given a number to call if they would like to contact the program directly.
A more time-consuming, proactive approach is for the officers to call a counselor from a helping agency to the scene to provide assistance. This may require the officer to remain on the scene until the counselor arrives to ensure the counselor’s and family’s safety. The most costly approach is for counselors to be on-call to respond to the scene with the officer. This approach is costly for the agency and may take the officer off call for some period of time while awaiting the counselor’s arrival. We asked how often the latter happens (i.e., how often the officer is accompanied to the scene by a child-centered or domestic violence agency). The response categories for six different agencies were “always,” “often,” “sometimes,” “seldom,” and “never.” The results are displayed in Table 2.
Looking at the results, it is interesting to note that of the five agencies we directly asked about, in less than five percent of the time do these agencies “always” go to the scene with officers (although respondents told us that 17 percent of the time they “always” go with an “other” agency not named by us — more about this later). Combining the “often” and “sometimes” responses, 45 percent of the time child protective services workers accompany officers; 33 percent of the time non-profit victim advocates accompany; 29 percent of the time victimwitness staff from law enforcement or the prosecutor’s office accompany; eight percent of the time counselors from hospital-based programs accompany; and six percent of the time school counselors accompany (Table 2). Many respondents named “other” agencies that “always” (17%), “often” (10%), or “sometimes” (68%) accompany them to the scene. These included crisis center workers, shelter staff, mental health centers, clergy, and volunteers.
• Example. A jurisdiction surveyed had a policy specifically for children who witness a violent or traumatic incident. The purpose of the policy was to provide children (under 18 years) who witness violence (or traumatic incidents) with immediate counseling and follow-up treatment. Upon arriving at the scene, the officer first determines if the child (1) witnessed a violent incident and (2) is under 18 years of age. If so, the officer contacts a supervisor and the dispatch center is advised of the situation and relays that information to a response team.
The officer remains on the scene until the team arrives or, if necessary, removes the child to an appropriate place and meets the team there. Once the team arrives, the officer briefs the team on the situation and remains on the scene until appropriate action has been taken by the team. When time permits, the initial responding officer completes a form to notify a juvenile officer. Juvenile detectives follow-up with the response team to check on the condition of the child. The Juvenile Bureau maintains a confidential file on the incident and of the team’s initial involvement.
A less proactive outreach, but still a very important mechanism for helping children exposed to domestic violence, is for officers to refer the non-offending parent to agencies with programs for these types of children. Respondents more often reported that officers make referrals than that officers were accompanied to the scene by a helping agency. Among the five agencies we queried about, 34 percent of respondents reported that officers “always” and 54 percent “often” or “sometimes” make referrals to child protective services; 25 percent “always” refer to law enforcement or prosecutor’s victim witness staff and 48 percent “often” or “sometimes” do; 14 percent “always ” refer to non-profit victim advocates and 55 percent “often” or “sometimes” do; two percent “always” refer to school counselors and 26 percent “often” or “sometimes” do;
two percent “always” refer to counselors from a hospital-based program and 24 percent “often” or “sometimes” do (Table 2). Again, many respondents named “other” agencies they refer to not included in our list — 34 percent “always” refer to another agency and 63 percent “often” or “sometimes” do. These agencies included crisis units, religious groups, the YWCA, special units within the police department, mental health professionals, domestic violence shelters, and abuse hotlines.
• Example. In one county, a new process has been developed for domestic violence calls in which there are children under 16 years of age in the home. The officer encourages the parent to sign a parental consent form for domestic violence intervention. The consent form states the parent agrees that school personnel can offer support and education to his or her child regarding domestic violence. School personnel are defined as a guidance counselor, social worker, school psychologist, mental health counselor, nurse, and/or school resource officer. The form includes the parent’s name and signature, the child’s or children’s names, the name of the school, the officer’s name, and the date of the incident.
It is one thing to make referrals, it is another to follow-up and see if the children actually received any services. There are many reasons why non-offending parents may not reach out for help for their children. They may feel ashamed or guilty; be too upset with their victimization to pursue help for the children (or to even comprehend what the officer is saying just minutes after they were assaulted); fear reprisals from the abuser if they seek help for the children; think it is hopeless; not have the financial means to pay for services (even if services are free, transportation costs or taking time off from work can be serious inhibitors to getting help); and/or receive resistance from their children about going somewhere for help. If all the children who need help are to obtain it, follow-up by professionals is critical. We asked respondents if anyone follows up with the non-offending parent. Over one-third said follow-up happens (Table 2).
Funding Sources and Model Approaches The vast majority, (85%) of departments, receives no special funding to respond to children exposed to domestic violence (Table 3). Of the 15 percent who have (or had) special funding, the source was overwhelmingly the federal government through the Community Oriented Policing (COPS) Office and the Violence Against Women Office, although a few attributed the source to state or private funds. Most often the funding for children exposed to domestic violence was included in broader general funding for domestic violence. For example, the funding might be used for a victim advocate who is available to counsel the victim’s children in addition to the victim. Funding sizes ranged from a total of $20,000 to over $2,000,000 with some departments noting more than one source of funding. Funds were primarily used to staff special units (with victim advocates, investigators, specially trained officers, and so on) or for specialized response teams for domestic violence cases.
When asked if the respondent considered their department’s approach to children exposed to domestic violence to be a “model” for the country, 31 percent said it was (Table 3). We asked them to briefly describe what they perceived as innovative and helpful about their response. We received an impressive account of many different types of programs. We cannot include each one here, but provide four examples to illustrate the breadth and scope of what departments are doing with community partners to help children exposed to domestic violence.
• Case Example One. This case example comes from a sheriff’s department in the Northwest.