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Minnesota Rural Project for Women and Child Safety

Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse

History of the Issue

The child welfare system in the United States is in the midst of a major re-examination of how to best provide long-term safety to abused and neglected children. A variety of issues are driving this reform. Among the most prominent issues are reductions in public support of social welfare programs in general, as seen in welfare reform, and recognition that the child protection agencies are often overwhelmed by the large number of reports coming in each year. For example, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System received 2.9 million reports of alleged child maltreatment from state child protection agencies in 1994. State agencies substantiated over 1 million of these reports. Overall, these data indicate a 14% increase in reports and a 27% increase in substantiated cases in the five years from 1990 to 1994 (NCCAN, 1996).

Many child welfare reform efforts have been focused on increased collaboration with existing community-based services in the private non-profit sector and a shift away from problem-focused practice. Greater interaction with community-based programs has led some child welfare systems to re-examine their approaches to protecting children. Reforms such as alternative or differential response and neighborhood-based agencies are some examples.

One result of this interaction has been increased recognition of other victims of violence in the home, particularly assaulted mothers. Traditionally, child protective services have depended upon mothers, as most often the primary caregivers, to be the stalwarts of safety for children. Yet, as the general public and child welfare workers have become more aware of domestic violence, they have uncovered increasing numbers of assaulted mothers among their child protection caseloads.

Recent reviews of over 35 studies conducted during the past two decades have revealed that in about half the families in which a child is being abused, their mother is also being assaulted (Appel & Holden, 1999; Edleson, 1999). Most often these studies have collected data for other purposes, only mentioning the overlap between child abuse and mother assaults as an aside. They provide little more than an indication that there is a significant overlap between abuse of children and their mothers in the same homes.

Estimates of the number of children who are not abused but rather witness adult domestic violence vary from 3.3 million (Carlson, 1984) to 10 million (Straus, 1992). A growing body of research has shown that these child witnesses are likely to exhibit a host of developmental problems (Edleson, 1999). These problems include behavioral, emotional, cognitive and physical difficulties experienced by the children. Increasingly, this literature has shown that problems associated with witnessing assaults on one's mother are distinct from the effects of the child's own victimization. But among children who have witnessed abuse, also being a victim one's self adds a greater risk for emotional and behavioral problems (Rossman, 2000).

Increased awareness of the danger in families where multiple forms of violence exist has raised questions concerning the extent to which informal and formal systems of help improve the safety of abused children and their battered mothers. Informal sources such as family, friends, and neighbors have been found useful in enhancing battered mother's safety. For example, women have received material assistance, emotional support, and protection from informal sources (Lampert, 1993). Bowker's (1993) study of battered women found that they turned first to informal networks for help and when those failed to stop violence they turned to formal systems. How formal systems respond to these situations can seriously affect both children's and their mother's safety. For example, common practice in child protection is to require mothers to obtain an order for protection excluding the abusive adult from the home. However, it has been suggested that orders for protection may be counter-productive because they can result in increased violence by perpetrators who are angry at being excluded from their residences (Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence, 1984).

History of the Project

Over the past number of years, Professor Jeffrey Edleson of the University of Minnesota has worked with Susan Schechter of the University of Iowa to begin a national policy discussion of how to respond to families in which both children and their mothers are being assaulted. A Conference in June of 1994 at Wingspread in Wisconsin, sponsored by the Johnson and Ford Foundations, brought together national leaders in child protection, family preservation and domestic violence intervention for three days of discussion and debate about the best ways to respond. Schechter and Edleson's briefing paper for this Wingspread Conference, entitled "In the Best Interest of Women and Children", has been widely circulated and cited in child welfare reform efforts nationally.

The Conference, briefing paper, and many other projects around the country have generated a number of follow-up meetings, publications, new practice protocols and pilot programs aimed at building collaboration among these diverse service sectors. Among the meetings and publications have been those sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), the Children's Safety Network, Edna McConnel Clark Foundation and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. In the past five years, several publications have been released, which pull together much of the research, policy, and practice insight on the complex issue of co-occurring child maltreatment and domestic violence. For example, the NCJFCJ has published two important documents that serve as groundwork for this curriculum project Family Violence: Emerging Programs ---For Battered Mothers and Their Children (1998) and Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence & Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice (1999). In May 1999, Child Maltreatment, the journal of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children published a special focus issue entitled "Interventions and Issues in the Co-Occurrence of Child Abuse and Domestic Violence", and finally in late 1999, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation released "Domestic Violence and Children", a volume in the edited series The Future of Children.

During this same time period many jurisdictions around the country have piloted exciting collaborative ventures. These many meetings, conferences, publications, and ground breaking service efforts have generated a great deal of interest and action; and serve as the basis for this curriculum. Equally important are the contributions of over four dozen collaborative programs across the country that have been working over the past decade to develop more effective ways of serving the victims of family violence.

In Minnesota, we were invited to contribute this to another such collaborative effort. The project was a statewide, multi-agency effort to assist rural and tribal communities to better address the needs of battered women and their children. This training curriculum is one part of the total project that was funded by a grant from Violence Against Women Office of the Department of Justice, under their Rural Domestic Violence and Child Victimization Enforcement Grant Program, to the Minnesota Center for Crime Victim Services (MCCVS). They, in turn, contracted with the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse (MINCAVA) to develop the training curriculum.

We hope this curriculum and the protocol development segment of this project will be useful to the communities in Minnesota who are beginning to work together in innovative and collaborative ways, across long-standing boundaries, to better serve and protect both child and adult victims of family violence.

Training Curriculum

Description: This training curriculum, designed for multidisciplinary teams, is intended to enhance practice and policy when domestic violence and child maltreatment co-occur.

Protocol Guidelines

Description: This document contains recommendations regarding best practices and/or protocol components for child protection agencies, abused children's, and battered women's programs. It is intended as a guide for the local/county multidisciplinary teams who are Minnesota project participants.