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When home's not sweet.

Studies suggest that violence is learned - and may be stopped - not in prison, but at home.

"Building prisons to deal with crime is like building cemeteries to deal with AIDS," says Georgia Senator Mary Margaret Oliver.

Along with building prisons, some policymakers are exploring crime prevention at an earlier stage, before children learn violent behavior patterns - often from their own parents. New evidence suggests that family violence is a major cause of subsequent delinquency, crime and acts of violence. Violent families too often produce violent youngsters. Intervening early in those families may help stop the creation of the next generation of criminals.

A just-released study, funded by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), followed 1,000 seventh- and eighth-grade Rochester, N.Y., students for four years. It found that mistreated youngsters who grew up in violent families were twice as likely to commit brutal acts as were children from non violent families. The highest rates of youth violence occurred among youngsters exposed to all three types of family violence - spouse abuse, child mistreatment and general hostility. Nearly 80 percent of these youngsters reported involvement in violent delinquency (six offenses that include assault, rape and robbery, but not murder) compared to 39 percent of those from nonviolent homes.

OJJDP Administrator Shay Bilchik says that we now know that "if we can reduce family violence - not just abuse and neglect - we can prevent future violence by its young victims." The study is the first to compare violent behavior among youths who experience a range of violence in their homes. In addition to child mistreatment, researchers examined violence between parents or intimate partners and family hostility such as physical fights and general conflict. They found that any brutality in the home increased the likelihood of adolescent violence, but rates skyrocketed for youngsters exposed to multiple types of family violence.

"Policymakers must recognize the social costs as well as the human costs [of family violence]," says former Maine Representative Charlene Rydell, director of the Milbank Memorial Fund's Domestic Violence Project. "It is not a private family matter; this is a societal matter."


Family violence has traditionally been perceived in two distinct categories: domestic, generally thought to be perpetrated between intimate partners, often a man against a woman, and abuse of children, either physical, sexual or emotional. Although response and intervention systems focused on one or the other, more recent research indicates significant overlap within families. Some studies suggest that from 40 percent to 80 percent of men who batter their wives and girlfriends also abuse their children.

Unfortunately, the agencies that respond to domestic violence and child abuse are separate and often operate with different goals, clients and approaches. Lack of collaboration can camouflage underlying causes as well as potentially more effective solutions to the overall problem of family violence. For example, a child shows up at school with bruises, and the teacher reports it. A social worker investigates and determines that the father physically abused the child and that the mother failed to protect her. The social worker attempts to help the child.

But what if that caseworker had been trained to look for spousal abuse? She might have recognized that the mother was a victim as well and that violence permeates this family. Perhaps it would be better to address the threat to both the child and the mother as well as to other family members.


Several states are encouraging cooperation between child protective and battered women's services. Michigan, Massachusetts and Hawaii have established programs to identify, assess and respond effectively to both types of abuse, helping to ensure all family members' safety.

Michigan has integrated the Families First intervention program for child abuse and the state's Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment Board. Created in 1988, Families First provides intensive home-based counseling for families at risk of losing a child to foster care due to abuse or neglect or both. By providing help over a four- to six-week period, the goal is to remove the risk to the child, instead of removing the child.

"When we started Families First in Michigan, we began with a conviction that instead of creating substitute and alternate families, we wanted to make a commitment to safe families where parents are equipped to care adequately for their children," says Susan Kelly, director of Families First. "We felt that as public policy, the human cost of unnecessarily removing children from their families was too high."

The program has been successful in keeping children safely with their families and saving state money. For up to six weeks, Family First workers provide intensive counseling, teach parenting and communication skills and often help troubled families with concrete needs such as transportation or housing. The average cost per family is about $4,000, compared to $10,000 to $12,000 for a year of foster care. A cost benefit analysis reports a savings of at least $55 million for the program's first three years. After the first 18 months, more than 80 percent of the families were still together.

Families First workers found that in more than 30 percent of their cases spousal abuse occurred. Kelly took this information to the state's domestic violence board. Even though the two agencies often worked with the same families, they perceived themselves to be focusing on different goals: Domestic violence staff concentrated on women's safety while Families First workers focused on the safety of children. In working together, the two groups soon realized that they had some identical goals: ensuring safety, breaking victims' isolation, holding perpetrators accountable and stopping the cycle of abuse.

"We realized that the best way to keep children safe was to learn better ways to keep their mothers safe," explains Jan Findlater, a law professor and the vice chair of the Domestic Violence Board.

The Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment Board and Families First are now cross-training workers. Shelter workers ar referring families directly to Families First programs. And family preservation workers are also learning to identify and respond to spousal abuse.

Together, the agencies identified five demonstration sites to serve 14 counties around the state. Indicative of the joint nature of the project, pilots were funded with $325,000 from the state's Domestic Violence Board matched by an equal amount of federal funds available through Families First.

"It makes sense to coordinate crisis intervention services for child abuse and domestic violence," says Senator Bob Geake, a supporter of Families First and the new collaboration. Not only is there a chance to save the state money, there's a better chance to save whole families, he says. "Families surely benefit from a holistic approach."

Advocates hope that the new collaboration will be cost efficient and better protect family members, ultimately reducing demand for other social services. Results to date are promising: Families First has already served 50 families from domestic violence shelters - successfully and safely.

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation in New York has been a pioneer in these efforts. "Almost by necessity we brought the family preservation and domestic violence communities together," says Susan Notkin, director of the foundation's Program for Children. "Our goal has been the safety of the children first. But it has become very clear that children's safety requires the mother's safety as well."

However, family preservation workers said that they weren't adequately prepared to deal with domestic violence - particularly on a short-term basis. The foundation's response was to pay the Family Violence Prevention Fund in San Francisco, a nonprofit advocacy group, to develop a national curriculum for training workers in how to deal with families where a spouse or partner is abused as well as a child. The curriculum was recently tested in Washington, and Michigan will soon use it to train all family preservation workers. Last month the organization conducted a trainers' conference to develop multidisciplinary teams that can teach family preservation nationwide.

"There are clearly things that workers can learn to do to ensure immediate family safety. One effective option is to develop a contingency plan to use if violence erupts," Notkin explains. Families are helped to plan safety measures such as enlisting the aid of close relatives, friends or neighbors so that children know where to get help immediately if violence explodes. Workers also may help women obtain restraining orders, alert police, and connect them with hotlines and other domestic violence services. They also might escort children to school.

But Notkin cautions that preservation programs are no panacea for violence within American families.

"Beyond assuring immediate safety, there is a clear need to link families with services that can help change violent behavior patterns," Notkin cautions. "There is little consensus in the field about what changes a batterer in the long term - treatment, criminal sanctions or both."


The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is pushing new state policy tackling family violence. Its Model Code on Domestic and Family Violence released last summer was developed by a task force that included legislators, judges, attorneys and advocates.

"Basically, once we identified the seriousness of the problem, we knew there needed to be greater cooperation and training," said former Missouri Representative Kaye Steinmetz, who devoted hours to the project. "Now there is this holistic approach that I believe is terribly important. Agencies don't work well enough together unless the laws require it. It is time for us to think in broader terms about abuse within the family."

The model code calls for procedures to ensure that those who investigate child abuse and neglect also screen for domestic violence. The code further requires state advisory councils on domestic and family violence; training for law enforcement officers, court personnel, judicial officers, social workers and health care professionals; and that hospitals provide information about family violence to parents of newborn infants and hospitalized minors.

Last year, the Colorado legislature enacted an omnibus domestic violence bill that is largely based on early versions of the model code. The state legislation specifically authorizes police to protect both the victim and the victim's children including transportation to a shelter.

Within the domestic violence and child protection systems, opinions vary about the best way to change adults' violent behavior over the long haul. As policymakers create a framework for collaboration between the two crisis intervention services, it is clear that comprehensive, coordinated community response to partner battering and child abuse makes sense. In the short ran, early evidence suggests that coordination can reduce duplication of effort and make intervention more effective. Perhaps if we can better address family violence and create safer families, more children will learn that violence is not a normal way of life.


The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has developed a model law for legislators interested in a holistic approach to family violence. The model calls for:

* Procedures to help social workers screen for child abuse and neglect and domestic violence.

* State advisory councils on domestic and family violence.

* Training for law enforcement officers, court personnel, judicial officers, social workers and health care professionals.

* Requiring hospitals to provide information about family violence to parents of newborn infants and hospitalized minors.

Copies of the model code are available from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, P.O. Box 8970, Reno, Nev. 89507; call (702) 784-6012.

RELATED ARTICLE: Violence is a Family Matter

Programs in Massachusetts and Hawaii link services for child protection and domestic violence.

The Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS) created a plan in 1991 to integrate domestic violence services into the child welfare system.

The department found that more than 70 percent of child abuse cases involved a battered spouse, abuse that had gone unrecognized or unacknowledged.

Initially, a single specialist was hired to train child protective services staff. Now there are 13 specialists who work throughout the state with the regional child protection offices and provide training and consultation. They also work with the district attorneys' offices, batterers' treatment providers and shelters, and help existing child protection teams handle complex cases.

In addition, there are two local interagency domestic violence teams that include DSS batterers' treatment specialists and law enforcement. They promote interagency collaboration and provide case management. Initially financed with federal money, these teams are now primarily supported with a $450,000 annual appropriation from the state legislature.

Hawaii's Healthy Start Program also deals with both child and partner abuse. This program, different from those in Michigan and Massachusetts, focuses on early prevention of child abuse. Families at high risk for abuse are identified through hospital admissions when a child is born, and are offered home visiting services. In addition to child abuse, the risk assessment interview contains questions aimed at identifying domestic abuse, which is reportedly present in about 35 percent of high-risk families.

"We consider it basic training to teach families to put together a safety plan [a course of action to escape abusive situations]," says Ha'aheo Mansfield, program director for the Hana Like Healthy Start program.

Brenda J. Robinson is a former NCSL staffer who specialized in child abuse issues. Shelley L. Smith is director of NCSL's Children and Families Program.
COPYRIGHT 1995 National Conference of State Legislatures
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:domestic violence
Author:Smith, Shelley L.
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jun 1, 1995
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Next Article:The 85% solution.

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