Domestic Violence Screening and Service Acceptance among Adult Victims in a Dependency Court Setting

Article excerpt

Many child welfare systems are unable to effectively identify and address co-occurring domestic violence and child maltreatment. In response, the Dependency Court Intervention Program for Family Violence implemented a protocol to identify indicators of domestic violence in families involved with child protection proceedings. This article highlights data that demonstrate the ability of an outreach and screening process to identify adult victims of domestic violence in dependency court and to offer them appropriate intervention services.

Domestic violence is a devastating social problem that occurs in every segment of the population. It has been identified as a significant risk factor for child verbal abuse, physical punishment, and physical abuse (Kerker, Horowitz, Leventhal, Plichta, & Leaf, 2000; Ross, 1996; Straus & Smith, 1995; Tajima, 2000). Children are at risk for emotional and psychological trauma based on their exposure to the violence. They may also suffer from neglect or abuse and the loss of one or both of their parents. All of these factors may negatively affect these children's short-term and long-term well-being, safety, and stability (National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, 2003).

Previous studies in the general population and child protective services system suggest that potential correlates of co-occurring domestic violence and child maltreatment may include: (a) sociodemographic characteristics (age, race/ethnicity, marital status, socioeconomic status, education, household size, urbanicity) (Coker, Smith, McKeown, & King, 2000; Pagan & Browne, 1994; Celles & Straus, 1988; Kessler, Molnar, Feurer, & Applebaum, 2001; Rossman, 2001; U.S. Department of Justice, 1998); (b) mental health, substance use, and physical health problems (Follingstad, Brennan, Hause, & Polek, 1991; Gleason, 1993; Plichta & Falik, 2001; Stets & Straus, 1995; West, Fernandez, Hillard, Schoof, & Parks, 1990); and (c) history of contact with the child protective services system (Beeman, Hagemeister, & Edleson, 2001; English, Marshall, & Orme, 2000).

Children are significantly overrepresented in homes in which domestic violence occurs (Fantuzzo, Boruch, Beriama, Atkins, & Marcus, 1997). Small-scale studies estimate that approximately 3.3 to 10 million children witness the abuse of a parent or adult caregiver each year (Straus & Celles, 1990). The Dependency Court Intervention Program for Family Violence (DCIPFV) was created and designed to identify and address domestic violence in families involved with the child protection system. DCIPFV originated as a national demonstration project funded by the Department of Justice, Violence Against Women Office1 in Miami-Dade County's llth Judicial Circuit Court. Over the next seven years, the DCIPFV implemented a protocol for identifying domestic violence in fami lies interfacing with the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) or the dependency court and to engage mothers dealing with domestic violence to voluntarily participate in the program's advocacy services.

The data presented in this article document the degree to which the DCIPFVs outreach and screening efforts have been successful in identifying indicators of domestic violence in families appearing before the dependency court as well as the program's ability to provide supportive services to mothers appearing in dependency court as victims of domestic violence. This demonstration program was intended to test the feasibility of screening for and identifying domestic violence in child maltreatment cases in a dependency court setting, to engage qualified adult victims (all mothers in this instance) in services designed to enhance their and their children's safety, and to improve the prospects for timely reunification. Due to logistical, practical, and resource allocation considerations, it was not possible to screen all women whose cases were being heard in dependency court. …