Child Protection Professionals Identifying Domestic Violence Indicators: Implications for Social Work Education
Spath, Robin, Journal of Social Work Education
This article presents findings from a study of 3 professional groups most frequently involved in child maltreatment cases: child protection social workers, district attorney social workers, and police detectives. The survey instrument examined the identification and concordance level of domestic violence indicators. Analysis of the research findings suggest varying differences across the 3 groups surveyed. The author discusses the importance of social work education in training professionals on domestic violence theories and assessment tools, and developing systems to assess for and address domestic violence issues, multidisciplinary approaches, and ethical practices for sharing client information.
NUMEROUS RESEARCH STUDIES over the last several decades have reported a connection between domestic violence and child maltreatment within families (Edleson, 1999). In a review of the literature, Edleson (1999) reports that in families with known or suspected cases of child maltreatment there was a domestic violence rate of 26-73%. Most of these studies of known or suspected cases of child maltreatment collected data on the co-occurrence of domestic violence through reviews of child protection services (CPS) records (Edleson, 1999). The reliance on CPS records, however, has a number of limitations. This method does not take into account a social worker's observation of domestic violence and child abuse that is not recorded in CPS records. Some CPS social workers may observe indicators of domestic violence in cases of substantiated child abuse but not infer, because of their personal beliefs or lack of training, that these indicators signify domestic violence and therefore need to be recorded. The time required for record keeping might lead to the omission of domestic violence in records that must focus on allegations of child abuse. In addition, child abuse investigation record-keeping systems may not necessitate nor provide for the recording of information on domestic violence.
This study expands on the approach used in previous studies, collecting demographic data from agency records as well as survey data on domestic violence indicators from three different child protection professionals. In particular, forensic social workers in the field of child maltreatment prosecution may identify domestic violence indicators, but forensic social workers are often not included in the research examining the co-occurrence of domestic violence in cases of child maltreatment. This study addresses this gap in the knowledge base. In addition, many of the studies examining such co-occurrence in cases of child maltreatment focus only on physical child abuse and often do not include cases of child sexual abuse (Bowen, 2000). This study adds to the research literature by focusing on the co-occurrence in cases of physical and sexual child abuse.
Victims of child maltreatment who also observe domestic violence may experience a "double whammy" (Hughes, Parkinson, & Vargo, 1989, p. 206). In addition to problems resulting from their own victimization, studies show that children who observe domestic violence experience developmental delays and have increased behavioral and emotional problems (Davis & Carlson, 1987; Gordis, Margolin, & John, 2001; Hughes, 1988; Huth-Bocks, Levendosky, & Semel, 2001; Levendosky & Graham-Bermann, 2001; Rosenbaum & O'Leary, 1981; Somer & Braunstein, 1999; Sternberg et al., 1993). Furthermore, physically abused children who have observed parental violence have a lower level of psychological adjustment and are significantly more distressed than children who witness violence but are not abused (Hughes, 1988). Therefore, it is critical that child protection professionals identify indicators of domestic violence in cases of child maltreatment to develop appropriate case management and treatment plans that ensure child safety and well-being.
Research suggests that training child protection professionals to detect domestic violence and providing child protection workers with appropriate domestic violence assessment tools has a positive effect on the detection, assessment, and response to the co-occurrence of child maltreatment and domestic violence (Aron & Olson, 1997; Jones & Gross, 2000; Magen, Conroy, & Tufo, 2000; Mills & Yoshihama, 2002; Mills et al., 2000; Saunders & Anderson, 2000).
Although such detection is critical, no study to date has examined the domestic violence indicators identified by three different types (or groups, in this study) of professionals involved in cases of child maltreatment. The study discussed in this article addresses this gap of missing cross-group analysis through a survey of three different child protection professionals: CPS social workers, social workers in a District Attorney's Office, and police detectives. The article focuses on the following questions: (1) What domestic violence indicators are identified by different child protection professionals? (2) Does the identification of domestic violence indicators vary among the three groups of child protection professionals surveyed? and, (3) Is there concordance among the three professional groups?
Study participants were asked to identify one or more indicators of domestic violence in alleged cases of child maltreatment in which the participants were involved. The approach of this study adds a new perspective to the existing research and literature by examining commonalties and differences in the perceptions of domestic violence indicators of social workers involved in child abuse investigation and prosecution. A discussion of study implications for educating and training social work students and professionals follows the presentation of findings.
This research used administrative data as well as survey data collected from three groups of professionals, identified above, most frequently involved in child maltreatment cases in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, which includes the towns of Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop. Administrative computer files were reviewed for data on demographic characteristics and the type of abuse alleged of substantiated. A survey was conducted using an instrument specially designed to collect data on domestic violence indicators from the three different groups of child protection professionals.
Consent of Participants and Protection of Confidentiality
A number of steps were taken to insure the human subjects' protection. To protect family confidentiality, the case log numbers were used on all surveys in lieu of names, and all data were identified only by case log numbers. Copies of the District Attorney's Office data forms, listing the subject names and identification numbers, were kept in a locked file cabinet at Brandeis University. Only research staff and the liaison between the District Attorney's Office and the research staff had access to the forms. Results are only reported in the aggregate to avoid the possibility of any family being identified. To maintain confidentiality and anonymity, survey respondents were instructed to tear off and confidentially discard the cover sheet listing the victim name or initials and the perpetrator name before returning the survey.
To insure that professionals could choose not to participate in the survey research without fear of consequences, the degree of participation of each professional in the research, as well as any data collected, was known only to the research staff. Information regarding individual staff participation in the survey was not revealed to the District Attorney's Office, CPS central of regional offices, or police departments involved in the study. The survey information was not used to evaluate job performance; the information was used purely for research purposes and only by the research staff. The additional data collected through this research project did not become a part of the clients' case file. No other persons, including supervisors, professionals, nor other colleagues, had access to these data.
The child protection professionals participating in this survey are mandated reporters under Massachusetts state law. These individuals are required to report suspected child abuse to the appropriate CPS agencies. Although it was not necessary in this study, the researcher was prepared to confirm that the appropriate steps were taken on the part of the professionals if any instances of child abuse were detected during the research project.
Administrative data on demographic characteristics. Administrative computer files were reviewed to obtain data on demographic characteristics and the type of abuse in 932 child maltreatment cases referred to the child abuse unit of the District Attorney's Office of Suffolk County, Massachusetts, from June 1, 1997, to August 15, 1998. Since the sample of child maltreatment cases was drawn from referrals made to the district attorney's child abuse unit, this research focuses on the definitions for child maltreatment outlined by state law. Cases that were not assigned a criminal charge were not included in the study; therefore, this study involves cases in which child maltreatment had been legally alleged or substantiated. By way of contextualizing the collection of administrative data, under state law CPS is required to provide a copy of their investigation report to both the District Attorney's Office and law enforcement authorities for the county in which the child resides and in which the offense occurred if CPS has reasonable cause to believe that any of the following conditions has resulted from abuse or neglect: (a) a child has died; (b) a child has been sexually assaulted; (c) a child has suffered brain damage, loss or substantial impairment of a bodily function or organ, or substantial disfigurement; (d) a child has been sexually exploited; (e) a child has suffered serious physical abuse of injury. CPS is also required to notify the District Attorney's Office within 45 days of a referral of the service plan, if any, developed for a child and his/her family.
Survey data on domestic violence indicators. To collect data on domestic violence indicators, a survey instrument was created based on a review of domestic violence instruments well known and accepted in the field, as well the assessment tool currently in use by CPS in the state (Hudson & McIntosh, 1981; Lewis, 1985; Marshall, 1992; Shepard & Campbell, 1992; Straus, 1979; Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, 1996; Tolman, 1989). The questions pertaining to domestic violence indicators in the survey (see the Appendix) include items for physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. The survey was designed to determine if the child protection professional identified any indicators of domestic violence through their contact with case data, with other professionals, or with families for whom there had been a substantiated child maltreatment report. Historically, research in this area has not collected data directly from families; therefore, a limitation to the studies in this field is the inability to verify …
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Publication information: Article title: Child Protection Professionals Identifying Domestic Violence Indicators: Implications for Social Work Education. Contributors: Spath, Robin - Author. Journal title: Journal of Social Work Education. Volume: 39. Issue: 3 Publication date: Fall 2003. Page number: 497+. © 1999 Council On Social Work Education. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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