Child Protection Professionals Identifying Domestic Violence Indicators: Implications for Social Work Education

Article excerpt

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. …