Interdisciplinary Social Work and Law: A Model Domestic Violence Curriculum

Article excerpt

INTERDISCIPLINARY PRACTICE has grown in both academic and nonacademic workplaces. Universities have developed centers and programs that foster research and teaching across disciplines, and there has been an increasing professional practice focus on collaborating with people from other fields to achieve better outcomes for individuals and organizations (Allen-Meares, 1998; Walsh, Brabeck, & Howard, 1999). Interdisciplinary knowledge and collaboration between social workers and lawyers has been particularly interesting to schools of social work because social workers are often required to work with clients involved in the legal system, particularly in the areas of child welfare, domestic violence, and criminal justice (Forgey, Moynihan, Strand, & Hill, 2001; Kopels & Gustavsson, 1996; Lynch & Brawley, 1994; Madden, 2000). This article presents an educational model designed to teach the interdisciplinary knowledge and skills needed for working collaboratively with lawyers in the area of domestic violence.

The curriculum described in this article represents a joint effort of faculty from Fordham Graduate School of Social Service and Fordham Law School. Coauthor Mary Ann Forgey and associate clinical professor of law, Leah Hill, were responsible for the initial conceptualization, development, and coteaching of the curriculum. Coauthor Lisa Colarossi, along with adjunct professors of law Rose Pierre-Louis and Ruth Jane Zuckerman, have all cotaught the curriculum and have contributed to its on-going development.

Background and Rationale

Research continues to show high rates of domestic violence in the general population and in situations within which social workers have traditionally operated, such as family service settings, mental health treatment settings, and child welfare (Aldarondo & Straus, 1994; Aron & Olson, 1997; McCloskey, Figueredo, & Koss, 1995; Peled, 1996). However, studies of providers in these settings have shown a lack of recognition of this problem and an inadequate amount of importance given to intervention (Douglas & Mederos, 1992; Hansen, Harway, & Cervantes, 1991; McKay, 1994; O'Leary, Vivian, & Malone, 1992; Saunders, Kilpatrick, Resnick, & Tidwell, 1989). In response, social work education should place greater emphasis on coursework that includes the prevalence, characteristics, and treatment of domestic violence, and it should also teach the knowledge and skills necessary for assisting clients involved in the legal system because many of the survivors, perpetrators, and child witnesses will be involved in this system.

Allen-Meares (1998) notes, "if social workers lack knowledge on the workings of the legal system, they cannot advocate effectively on a client's behalf, and they may unintentionally promote an adverse outcome" (p. 3). Lynch and Brawley (1994) outline a number of needed changes in the curriculum to prepare social workers for their dealings with the legal system, including providing information regarding privileged communication; confidentiality and the duty to warn; client access to records; the relationship between legal and ethical issues; practice regulation, malpractice, and agency and worker liability; common legal issues that arise in practice; the legal rights of various client groups; areas in which rights are frequently in conflict; preparation for court appearances of various kinds; and systems advocacy. Social work programs are responding to this need and are adding information about domestic violence laws and legal procedures to the curriculum (Kopels & Gustavsson, 1996). However, several recent service delivery developments suggest that social work education needs to go beyond this focus to one that teaches students the knowledge and skills required for effective collaboration with other professions, particularly the legal profession, in the area of domestic violence.

One major development that has led to an increased need for interdisciplinary training is the domestic violence movement's call for a coordinated community response. …