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Vol. 8, No. 3
May 2003

Domestic Violence and Child Welfare Services

Domestic violence is the establishment of control and fear in an intimate adult relationship through the use of violence and other forms of abuse.

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Research indicates that between 30% and 60% of families served by child welfare agencies also experience domestic violence (Edelson, 1999). Despite this fact, many child welfare agencies have been less than clear about what to do when they come across domestic violence in the families they serve.

Some, interpreting their mission narrowly, have chosen not to address the issue if children were not directly involved in the violence. Others, defining children’s exposure to domestic violence as a form of child maltreatment, automatically placed the victim’s children in foster care.

While some agencies offered child welfare workers training and provided them with explicit policies and protocols about domestic violence, many did not.

In some places this lack of clarity about domestic violence resulted in inconsistent child welfare practice, the unnecessary disruption of families and, in the worst examples, the re-victimization and further endangerment of children and their mothers. Often these problems were exacerbated by poor relationships between child welfare agencies and agencies designed to support and empower battered women.

Thankfully, the fog is lifting. Today child welfare agencies across the country are educating themselves about domestic violence and the effects it has on children and their families. In light of what they learn they are re-examining their approaches to domestic violence, revising their policies, and improving their training on this topic. In many places they are also reaching out to other professionals in an effort to improve outcomes for victims of domestic violence and their families.

North Carolina is one of the places where this is happening. This issue of Practice Notes provides an introduction to domestic violence, explores upcoming changes in children’s services policies related to domestic violence, and offers practical suggestions for talking with and protecting adults and children struggling with this serious issue.

Children and Domestic Violence
  • Each year, at least 3.3 million children are exposed to violence by a family member against their mothers or female caretakers (APA, 1996)

  • In one study, 27% of domestic violence homicide victims were children (Florida, 1997)

  • In fiscal year 2000-01, more than 1,200 children received services from domestic violence programs in North Carolina (NCCWDV, 2001)

Source: N.C. Council for Women and Domestic Violence Commission, 2002



Domestic Violence: An Introduction for Child Welfare Workers

Social Causes of Domestic Violence

Similarities Between Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse

Understanding and Helping Children Exposed to Domestic Violence

North Carolina Formulates a New Response to Domestic Violence

Family-Centered Practice and Domestic Violence

Talking About Domestic Violence: Practice Tips from a Child Welfare / Domestic Violence Liaison

Wheel of Power and Control

Case Example: Principles of Partnership Can Help You Serve Victims of Domestic Violence

References for this Issue

Click here to read or print the entire issue as a pdf file

Additional resources related to this topic:

  • Childhood Abuse Victims and Adulthood Domestic Violence (Nov. 2004)
    "Violence Against Women: Identifying Risk Factors" (16 pp.) (NCJ 197019) summarizes two studies that used different methodologies and samples to determine the extent to which physical and sexual abuse as a child or adolescent contribute to later abuse.

  • "Women and Domestic Violence: Programs and Tools that Improve Care for Victims." Research in Action No. 15. Kass-Bartelmes, B.L. and Rutherford, M.K. (AHRQ Publication No. 04-0055). This publication describes training programs and tools for use by social workers, care providers, and facilities staff members. Based on studies funded by AHRQ it also identifies gaps in research and calls for building a stronger evidence base for screening, detecting, and treating victims of domestic violence. Available from AHRQ InstantFAX. Call 301/594-2800 for instructions on ordering.
  • "Police and Domestic Violence," an audio report by NPR's Wendy Kaufman from Morning Edition, Thursday, August 14, 2003. "Those who suffer domestic violence at the hands of police officers are among the most vulnerable victims. A case in Tacoma, Washington, highlights some of the problems that develop when police are accused of domestic violence . . . ."
  • Batterer Intervention Programs: Where Do We Go From Here? (, June 2003). This National Institute of Justice Special Report describes the most common types of batterer intervention programs and evaluates two studies of batterer intervention programs in Broward County, Florida and Brooklyn, New York. Evaluations of both programs call into question the effectiveness of such programs in either changing batterer attitudes or behaviors.
  • Safe@Work Coalition <>
    This website is designed to help employers address the issue of domestic violence. It makes available information about training curricula and model domestic violence workplace policies, addresses legal issues, provides domestic violence statistics and resources for employers and employees, and offers referrals to necessary social service providers.
  • Building Bridges Between Domestic Violence Organizations and Child Protective Services provides both background information and a framework for collaboration with child protection agencies that will support the work of domestic violence advocates as they try to improve safety for women and their children.
  • Domestic Violence and Children, The Future of Children, vol. 9, no. 3 (Winter 1999)
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