Domestic violence and child maltreatment co-occur in 30-60% of families experiencing violence. Yet agencies serving children and adults too often fail to coordinate, resulting in disjointed, erratic and less effective services, leaving children and adults experiencing violence and trauma unidentified, untreated, and less safe.
- Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), and Family Violence Prevention Services Act (FVPSA) all address discrete areas of family violence and public health remediation. All three are have expired and are awaiting reauthorization.
- The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Visiting Program (MIECHV) supports home visit services for families in high needs with children under five years; benchmarks include coordination of community services and reduction of domestic violence and child abuse.
- Confidentiality provisions have been misinterpreted to reinforce barriers between agencies serving children and adults. This can thwart coordination, conflicting with the most effective programs that apply a two-generation, wraparound model of integrated services that protect victims’ safety.
- Structurally, services have often been set up in a manner that reinforces barriers to integrated services, including disparate agency locations, an absence of shared identifiers for children, adults and families across agencies, and a lack of interoperable data information systems that can communicate.
- Culturally, there has been a lag between research and practice. Integrating service systems requires a shift in ethos and a heavy lift from leadership at the community/agency levels, often reinforced by states.
Opportunities for Improvement
Though social services are administered at the state and community levels, Congress can help policy and practice catch up to evidence by scaffolding and incentivizing local efforts in keeping with best practices:
- Clarification of confidentiality laws. Many states have established memoranda of understanding (MOUs) across agencies serving children and families to promote comprehensive, integrated services for families while ensuring victims’ safety. MOUs do not negate the need for written releases of information (ROI) in compliance with VAWA and FVPSA, but outline and ease collaboration. Such opportunities for collaboration might be clarified within legislative language.
- Co-location of services: States such as Oregon, Florida, New York, and New Jersey have co-located services for children and adults experiencing family violence. A New York state audit reported benefits including improved and earlier identification of domestic violence by child welfare workers, more timely access to services, enhanced family engagement, reduction in the rate of repeated maltreatment, reduction of out-of home placements, decreased exposure of children to violence and expedited reunifications of families.
- Interoperability/Information Systems: Despite longstanding federal efforts to promote the capacity for information sharing in social service data information systems — including shared identifiers across agencies for individuals and families – many states still lack interoperable systems. As with co-location, confidentiality laws can be maintained while ensuring that family violence agencies can communicate to protect both children and adults. Yet federal incentives to upgrade to interoperable systems have expired. Most notably, though ACF developed guidelines for states to upgrade to Comprehensive Child Welfare Information Systems (CCWIS), few states have been able to meet the guidelines during the initial period of incentivization and progress has slowed.
- Partnering with law enforcement and judiciary: Recommendations from the Attorney General’s national task force on children exposed to violence included training law enforcement, family court and juvenile justice officials in trauma-informed screening, assessment and care, including appropriate referrals for children. Efforts to reach this standard are taking place in select states such as South Carolina to California. Historically, programs funded to improve legal responses to violence via VAWA, FVPSA and CAPTA have been grant-based, time-limited with competitive application processes.
In reauthorizing VAWA, CAPTA and FVPSA legislation, Congress has the opportunity to support sustainable two- generation best practices to prevent and mitigate the trauma of family violence via legislative text to: clarify confidentiality regulations do not preclude the coordination of services supporting the safety of both children and their caregivers; extend incentives for interoperable data systems; and support peer education across social service leadership so child welfare and domestic violence teams are able to learn from evidence-based two-generation work including co-located services and partnerships with family court, juvenile court, and law enforcement.
- Stone, D & Barber, S. (2018). S.C. Domestic Violence Advisory Committee: 2018 Annual Report. Retrieved from https://www.scstatehouse.gov/reports/SCCPC/2019%20SC%20Domestic%20Violence%20 Advisory%20Committee%20Annual%20Report.pdf
- Center for Human Services Research (2014). Evaluation of Co-Locating Domestic Violence Advocates in New York State Child Protective Service Offices. Retreived from https://www.albany.edu/chsr/Publications/CPS_DV%20Study%20final%20report16.pdf
- Resource Center on Domestic Violence: Child Protection and Custody. Co-Occurrence of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Exposure. Retreived from https://www.rcdvcpc.org/co-occurrence-of-child-abuse-and-domestic-violence-exposure.html
- Gebstadt, B. & Lemmon, P. (2017). Working Together: Domestic Violence Advocates Co-Located at DHS Offices. Retreived from https://www.doj.state.or.us/wpcontent/uploads/2018/02/ Working_Together_DV_Advocates_Co-Located_at_DHS_Offices.pdf
- Selleck, K., Newman, J., & Gilmore, D. (2018). Child Protection in Families Experiencing Domestic Violence (2nd ed). Retreived from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/domesticviolence2018.pdf