Domestic Violence, the Recession and Child Welfare

By Morton, Thomas D.; Reese, Lisa | Policy & Practice, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Domestic Violence, the Recession and Child Welfare


Morton, Thomas D., Reese, Lisa, Policy & Practice


Clark County, Nevada, has been hit very hard by the recession. It registers one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, leads the nation in foreclosures and 71 percent of homeowners with mortgages owe more than their houses are worth. For many observers, all of this suggested an impending increase in child abuse and neglect reports and children coming into foster care. But that has not happened in Clark County. In fact, child protective services removals have continued to decline during the recession. Both local law enforcement and child protective services agree that they are not seeing the increases in incidents they expected. But, the incidents they see appear to be more serious. That is, violent acts toward children and spouses or partners are resulting in more serious injuries than commonly seen in the past. While domestic violence tracking characteristics used at the CPS Hotline showed a steady decline from 2007 through 2009, 2010 saw a 47.8 percent increase in reports with active domestic violence as an element compared with 2009.

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Domestic violence continues to present a challenge for child welfare staff. Discussions with domestic violence service providers in Clark County led to the following observations:

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* As unemployment increased, couples in which one partner has a pre-existing propensity for domestic violence are spending more time in contact with each other, increasing opportunity for violent episodes.

* Due to the economy, people in the process of divorcing continue to live together.

* Not as many women are entering shelters as shelter time has limits and there are few jobs available afterwards.

* Women have to return to the abuser more often because no support is available to them.

* At the same time, more people are being evicted, which leads to more requests for shelter.

* Lethality appears higher.

* Family courts are not providing protective orders as frequently as needed and do not include the children in the protective order.

A basic challenge in Clark County has always been the availability of community services. This is even truer now as government and private funding have been reduced. For the workforce, the challenges come from increased workloads and attendant stress. The apparent increase in the prevalence of domestic violence combined with less access to services enhances compassion fatigue.

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