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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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Victim Service is made up of four units: a Crisis Team, a District Representative, Major Crimes (also called Criminal Investigations Bureau), and the Family Violence Protection Team. A federal grant supports part of the Family Violence Protection Team including five counselors, one supervisor, seven to nine detectives from Austin Police Department, one sergeant, one Travis County Sheriff Office detective, one and a half Travis County Sheriff Office victim services personnel, two attorneys from Legal Aid, two attorneys from the Women’s Advocacy Project, one protection order person from the County Attorneys Office, and one and a half Safe Place counselors. Family Violence Protection Team offers short-term counseling for children and provides parenting skills training to explain the impact of domestic violence on children. The service includes up to six to eight sessions for each family, including family, child, and/or adult counseling. At times, Victim Service counselors provide longer-term case management or counseling services. Victim Service has a program which serves children who witness violence, titled the Children Who Witness Violence Program. The counselors coordinate with law enforcement, school counselors, and other human service providers to provide effective clinical and case management assistance. The Family Violence Protection Team counselors and other Victim Service counselors provide school-based individual and children’s group counseling. The groups are psycho-educational therapeutic and the group members are identified from offense reports, referrals made by the Family Violence Protection Team members, school counselors, and parents. The identified children participate in weekly group sessions for ten weeks. Group size depends on the demeanor and age of children. While parental involvement is not a requirement for group sessions, parents must consent to their child’s participation.

The Children Who Witness Violence Program has a research and evaluation component. Victim Service has designed a longitudinal study and participates in gathering data before, during, and after services. They are interested in designing a pre/post instrument to measure the effectiveness of the school groups. Presently, the five Family Violence Protection Team counselors receive positive feedback from self-reports from the children and their teachers.

Agencies

The Family Violence Protection Team has a contract with the Austin Child Guidance Center, a local counseling agency, to provide long-term counseling for a total of 15 hours a week. The counseling is offered by priority based on severity of cases. The Family Violence Protection Team Victim Service supervisor coordinates and monitors the clients that go to the Austin Child Guidance Center.

The Family Violence Protection Team refers a majority of their clients to Safe Place. Safe Place provides the Austin/Travis County community with comprehensive domestic violence and sexual violence prevention and intervention services. In January 1998, the Center for Battered Women and the Austin Rape Crisis Center merged to form Safe Place: Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survival Center. Safe Place is also supported by 400 trained volunteers to assist with hotlines, community education, and children’s activities. Safe Place has been funded by federal and state government grants, fundraising/public support, United Way/Capital Area, Capital Campaign, and Safe Place Thrift Place. There are several components to the Safe Place program. First, there are two immediate crisis shelters, a family shelter and a women’s shelter, that can be used by clients for up to two months. An on-site school and child development center at the family shelter offers therapeutic programs for children. Second, the Resource Center is a non-residential client counseling center for group counseling for parents and therapeutic children’s services. Third, the Supportive Housing Community houses children and parents for up to two years and has onsite children’s activities. The Supportive Housing Community is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Women and children are assisted with home furnishings, clothes, and household essentials through the Safe Place Thrift Place.

School Services

Safe Place coordinates Expect Respect, an Austin school-based services program. The school-based program is funded through 35 different on-going grants (i.e., Victims of Crime Act, local city, county, United Way, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The program components include classroom education, staff and parent training, school policy development, counseling and support groups, summer teen leadership program, and professional training and presentations. A team of four school-based counselors oversee the program. Program referrals are made by individual school counselors, students, parents, and other counselors. Counseling is offered from kindergarten through 12th grade and is for children who have witnessed domestic violence, are involved or have been involved in abusive dating relationships, or have been a victim of sexual assault. In elementary schools, the goal of the Expect Respect program is to help students develop skills and expectations for safe and healthy relationships. It also aims to promote a school environment free from bullying and sexual harassment. Elementary students are offered individual counseling on an as needed basis. In middle and high schools, the goal of the Expect Respect program is to help students prevent dating and sexual violence, as well as promote equality and respect in dating. For these students the program has 22 on-going groups that are 24 weeks in duration. The Expect Respect program serves about 450 students per year. Seventy percent (70%) of students have reported that they have witnessed domestic violence.





Chesterfield, Virginia Overview of the Response In the spring of 1999, the Chesterfield County Police Department and Chesterfield Community Services Board, a county agency, introduced a response to children who are exposed to violence.

The program, Referral and Education to Assist Children in Trauma (REACT), is geared toward children who witness violence and traumatic events. However, up to this point, the response only has focused on children who witness domestic violence. The program focuses on helping parents understand their child, know what to expect from their child, and how to help their child. Referrals to services are made for both parent and child. This program was heavily influenced by the Child Development-Community Policing model in New Haven.

The Police Response

Officers are trained during roll call in how to respond to children exposed to domestic violence. A video, followed by a presentation on the program from mental health practitioners from the Community Services Board, is used. After responding to the call and gaining control of the scene, the officers are to ask the adult if children live in the home. If so, the officer takes a few minutes to talk to the parent and explain the effects of domestic violence on their children. They show the parent the REACT brochure and ask if they can pass the parents’ name on to the program. Having been trained to be very thorough in their explanation of the program, officers are careful to stress to the parents that this program is not related to child protective services, since parents are very sensitive about child protective services involvement. The officers are also careful not to mention “mental health,” but instead describe the counselors as “child specialists.” If the parent agrees, the officer completes a form and returns it to the Domestic Violence Coordinator in the department.

She then forwards the information to the Community Service Board REACT program.

The REACT Program and Response

The REACT program receives the referral from the Domestic Violence Coordinator and within 48 hours one of the three “specialists” will contact the parent. Their contact rate is over 75 percent.

Once they reach the parent they determine if they should do an in-person assessment with the parent and child. After meeting with the family they may refer the case to individual or family counseling. If the incident is less serious, they may try to handle the case through prevention or education programs. The Chesterfield community does not have specialized services for children who are exposed to domestic violence, but recognizes the need for these services.

Colorado Springs, Colorado Overview of the Response The Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team (DVERT) identifies individuals who pose a significant risk to their past or present intimate partners through documented acts or threatened acts of domestic violence. These are considered to be Level 1 cases and DVERT handles a caseload of 175 to 200 cases a year (in Colorado Springs, there are 15,000 to 20,000 domestic violence cases a year). Less serious cases are handled as Level 2 and they receive follow-up services, but not crisis intervention services, at the time of the incident.

The Police Response

DVERT began in March 1996. It was an initiative of the police department in response to the growing number of serious repeat offenders. The DVERT team consists of 25 staff and includes a detective, a prosecutor, a child protective services worker, and a victim advocate from The Center for Prevention of Domestic Violence. The team is on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A patrol officer calls the DVERT team to addresses in which there have been a repeated history of domestic violence (i.e., Level 1 cases). If it is a DVERT Level 1 case, the advocate responds to the scene as part of the team. DVERT Level 1 cases are identified based on ten criteria, for example, those with a long history of domestic violence; those involving serious physical injury; and abusers with lengthy non-domestic violence criminal histories. If it is a DVERT Level 2 case, the advocate responds with the team to the victim’s house a day or two later.

The DVERT team assists the patrol officer in the investigation of the offense and provides support services for the victims in Level 1 cases. If children are involved, a secondary response team with special expertise on children responds. When children are involved, the DVERT team will have the victim advocate, a child protective services worker, and perhaps a court appointed special advocate work with the victim and the children. They try to separate the children from the parents (one advocate stays with the parent while the other is working with the children). They allow the children to vent their feelings and fears, help the children with a safety plan, and calm the children with coloring books and play therapy.

If children witness the domestic violence or are present in the same room, the Colorado Springs Police Department charges child abuse (a misdemeanor charge). The head of the DVERT team said “we are winning these child abuse cases." Child abuse is charged for three reasons: (1) it sends a clear message that domestic violence is inappropriate in front of the children; (2) it forces the Department of Health and Human Services to open the case; and (3) the abuser can be given an enhanced penalty, be required to pay for the child’s treatment, and receive restricted access to his children.

Follow-up Services

There are many referral places for children. The primary one is the Center for Prevention of Domestic Violence. It conducts play therapy; provides individual and group counseling; and operates a support group called DOVE children. The DOVE children’s program is 12 weeks long and has two age groups: four to seven and eight to twelve year olds. Services are provided on a sliding fee and if the family cannot afford to pay anything, DVERT will pay for the child’s therapy.

Funding DVERT receives over $1 million from the Violence Against Women and Community Oriented Policing grants to operate its program. It is being evaluated by several projects, including one funded by the National Institute of Justice.

New Haven, Connecticut Overview The Yale-New Haven Child Development-Community Policing (CD-CP) program was one of the first programs to reach out to children exposed to violence. Started in January 1992, its original intent was to provide immediate consultation to officers regarding children’s responses to violence and trauma and provide follow-up counseling services to these children. About one-quarter to one-third of their caseload involved children who witnessed domestic violence. In 1996, they added children exposed to domestic violence as a special component of the program and targeted these children for more intensive services. For these cases, it has brought together community police officers, domestic violence detectives, child mental health clinicians, and battered women’s advocates to coordinate services to domestic violence victims and their children. The Yale-New Haven program has sparked replication in eight sites across the country.

The Police Response

Law enforcement officers decide when a child is exposed to domestic violence whether to call a counselor from the Yale Child Study program. The decision is discretionary with the officer who determines if services are needed. The New Haven Police Department receives 150 to 180 domestic violence calls per month. CD-CP is called to the scene about 15 to 20 times per month; thus officers are calling in about ten percent of the cases. The Yale counselors are on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide immediate response. All contact with the CD-CP team is voluntary and the mother must agree to the children being interviewed by a counselor. The counselor works with the child and the victim of the domestic violence to determine their needs for services and to construct a safety plan.

All officers on the New Haven Police Department are required to attend a 40-hour training run by the Yale Child study on the effects of domestic violence on children and how the officer should respond. New recruits receive this training at the Academy. Officers who attended the Academy prior to the inception of the training are sent to the 40 hour class.

The interdisciplinary CD-CP team meets weekly to review cases and coordinate strategies. They share information and brainstorm about how best to respond to victims and their children.



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