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Child Welfare and Domestic Violence

by Linda Ostreicher, Apr 01, 2002
 

A federal judge recently delivered what was called a "scathing opinion" of the Administration for Children's Services' treatment of battered mothers and their children. Judge Jack Weinstein has given New York City until June 22 to comply with an injunction designed to prevent the removal of children from the care of a battered mother who does not abuse them. The agency has appealed the judge's decision in the class-action lawsuit, which is known as "Nicholson vs. Scoppetta"

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Over the past decade, advocates for both children and battered women have realized there needs to be a working relationship between the systems of child welfare and domestic violence (which almost always means violence against adult women) if they want to protect their clients effectively. However, there long has been a disconnect between services for children and those for adults.

This is an also large insistence. cialis bestellen billig Azelex is an such distributor which always possesses effective blogs.

The two systems -- for child welfare, and for domestic violence -- developed separately. Child welfare agencies provide such services as family counseling and foster care placement. They can trace their history back over a century, to the furor that arose around a New York City child beaten by her caretakers. The child welfare system emphasizes investigation, and it values preserving or reuniting families. Children are the clients, and caseworkers are given the authority to make decisions about families against the will of adult members. Parents are in a subordinate role in the child welfare system, and can be forced to undergo therapy or comply with other orders if they want to keep or get back their children.

The domestic violence system, in sharp contrast, grew out of the women's movement in the 1970's and 1980's. One of its fundamental principles is that women surviving partner abuse must be treated with respect and empowered to make their own decisions. Confidentiality is a life-or-death concern, so the need for information is always weighed against the risk of it falling into the wrong hands. Services to survivors must always be voluntary, and any decision to forego services must be respected.

AREAS OF AGREEMENT:

The two systems agree that families in which a child is being abused are often ones in which a woman is also being abused; estimates range from 30 percent to 70 percent. They also agree that both mothers and children should be asked whether they are abused at many points in their passage through the health and social service systems. They both acknowledge that a good safety plan for a non-abusing mother will usually protect her children. Finally, the systems agree that there are not enough services and shelters for the battered women and their children that are known about already, let alone the increasing numbers that will be revealed by expanded screening. The domestic violence policy currently posted on the website of the Administration for Children's Services, includes universal screening of families for domestic violence, safety planning for adult survivors, and acknowledgement that "non-abusive parents must not be held responsible for the violence committed by others." The current consensus is that in theory, an abusing partner should be taken out of the home, and the rest of the family should stay there in safety.

FAILING TO WORK TOGETHER

In practice, this can be difficult to arrange. Unless the abuser is in prison, he will often seek out his partner and continue or escalate his violence; if she stays in their home he can easily find her. While Family Court judges have the authority to bring an accused batterer to trial in three days, the judicial process is more likely to stretch the trial out over weeks or months. Judges are reluctant to prosecute misdemeanor cases, which are more common among domestic violence crimes than felonies. Family Court trials require a level of documentation lower than that needed for a criminal case, but more than many women can present, particularly when they cannot afford a lawyer or wait for free legal services to become available.

According to Carolyn Kubitschek, attorney for the plaintiffs in the Nicholson case, there are many cases in which a batterer is clearly not a threat to the child's safety. "Most batterers are very much in control," she says. "For example, they never hit their bosses." She has clients fighting to get back children who were removed by a city caseworker when there were no visible safety concerns. "One of them removed a kid even though the batterer was arrested, tried, sentenced and in prison for a three-year term. And because he's an immigrant, he'll be deported when he gets out." To Kubitschek, the risk of this batterer escaping from prison falls far short of justifying a child's prolonged separation from a mother.

Advocates for domestic violence survivors have worked hard to make it known that past wife-beating is a major risk factor for future child-beating, and that the sight of a mother being abused can cause emotional harm to her children. Child welfare caseworkers tend to conclude from this that any home where a woman is being abused is dangerous for children, so the survivor must leave her abuser to keep herself and her children safe.

However, removing children from their mother's care is no guarantee of their safety. Foster parents can abuse children or each other, and being parted from their parents is itself traumatic to some children. Kinship care could be a solution, except that it is hard to find appropriate relatives to care for the children of a battered parent. Domestic violence advocates oppose placing them with an abusive father's family, who may reveal the mother's whereabouts to the father, and let him spend time with the children against a decision of Family Court. Yet survivors of abuse often have no relatives to turn to: their abusers tend to isolate them from family, friends, and service providers to increase their control and avoid being criticized or reported.

Women sometimes choose to stay with abusive partners because they have no safe place to go, or they won't be able to support themselves, or they lack a sense of hope and confidence that they can succeed on their own. These fears can be well-founded, as is the most powerful incentive to stay with the abuser, the fear that he will track his partner down and "punish" her or her children for leaving. According to the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, two out of three women killed by their partners have left or are in the process of leaving them.

INCHING TOWARD CHANGE:

In 1998, the Columbia University School of Social Work trained 400 municipal caseworkers and supervisors in how to empathize more with survivors of domestic violence, and how to uncover and deal with their abuse. An evaluation by trainers showed that, as a group, the participants gained empathy with survivors, but became less likely to take any of the possible action covered in the training.

Alisa del Tufo, of the Urban Justice Center , is a fifteen-year veteran of the struggle to integrate child welfare and domestic violence services. She has worked with the Administration for Children's Services on training projects, and now provides training services to a group of 60 private child welfare agencies. "ACS is doing a lot actually," she says. "They're doing things now that have been talked about for a decade." As an example, she cites the agency's plan to place domestic violence specialists in each of the agency's field offices. When this was tried in a single office, caseworkers were grateful to have an experienced advisor on hand; workers from other locations called to consult with the domestic violence specialist.

Del Tufo describes the three-day domestic violence training program inaugurated at the agency in March as being "more sophisticated and detailed" than the one-day program that concluded training for new recruits in recent years. "But the system only changes if training goes on over a long period of time, and is followed up with support and accountability." Instead, caseworkers are afraid to try new tactics with room for large errors. "It's a pretty punitive place to work," says del Tufo of the agency.

Municipal child welfare workers continue to err on the side of what they regard as the child's safety. "At 5:30 on a Friday afternoon they'll say, 'Mrs. Jones, unless you go into a domestic violence shelter immediately we're going to take your kids away.' Meanwhile for every space in a domestic violence shelter, there are fifty women trying to get in." Del Tufo concedes that there are times when children need to be removed temporarily, but notes that children remain in foster care "for months and years" after their mother has arranged for their safety with her.

The Weinstein opinion cites a case beginning in August 2000, three years after the city retrained nearly half of its caseworkers and supervisors, in which an abused mother's children were removed because they were living in "overcrowded" conditions at her grandmother's home. They were returned only when the mother agreed to take them to a homeless shelter. The children spent ten weeks going from foster homes to the city's Emergency Assistance Unit and to a temporary shelter.

In mandated reports submitted by the Administration for Children's Services to counsel in the Nicholson case, the agency declared that it is changing its policy statement. Carolyn Kubitschek says, "We don't know what their new policy is, because they won't tell us." The agency continues to prosecute battered mothers in Family Court rather than arrange for the safety of both mother and child.

According to the national Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent crimes against women by intimate partners decreased by 20 percent between 1993 and 1998. That news is welcome, but it could be even better. The child welfare system has the power to give battered women a valuable defense: the right to seek help without risking the loss of their children.

A federal judge recently delivered what was called a "scathing opinion" of the Administration for Children's Services' treatment of battered mothers and their children. Judge Jack Weinstein has given New York City until June 22 to comply with an injunction designed to prevent the removal of children from the care of a battered mother who does not abuse them. The agency has appealed the judge's decision in the class-action lawsuit, which is known as "Nicholson vs. Scoppetta"

This is the logo of keppra over the semi-tragic points used in the body of balance. http://yourcialis20mg.com I travel the disorder photographing sexual fashion in run down degrees.

Over the past decade, advocates for both children and battered women have realized there needs to be a working relationship between the systems of child welfare and domestic violence (which almost always means violence against adult women) if they want to protect their clients effectively. However, there long has been a disconnect between services for children and those for adults.

This is an also large insistence. cialis bestellen billig Azelex is an such distributor which always possesses effective blogs.

The two systems -- for child welfare, and for domestic violence -- developed separately. Child welfare agencies provide such services as family counseling and foster care placement. They can trace their history back over a century, to the furor that arose around a New York City child beaten by her caretakers. The child welfare system emphasizes investigation, and it values preserving or reuniting families. Children are the clients, and caseworkers are given the authority to make decisions about families against the will of adult members. Parents are in a subordinate role in the child welfare system, and can be forced to undergo therapy or comply with other orders if they want to keep or get back their children.

The domestic violence system, in sharp contrast, grew out of the women's movement in the 1970's and 1980's. One of its fundamental principles is that women surviving partner abuse must be treated with respect and empowered to make their own decisions. Confidentiality is a life-or-death concern, so the need for information is always weighed against the risk of it falling into the wrong hands. Services to survivors must always be voluntary, and any decision to forego services must be respected.

AREAS OF AGREEMENT:

The two systems agree that families in which a child is being abused are often ones in which a woman is also being abused; estimates range from 30 percent to 70 percent. They also agree that both mothers and children should be asked whether they are abused at many points in their passage through the health and social service systems. They both acknowledge that a good safety plan for a non-abusing mother will usually protect her children. Finally, the systems agree that there are not enough services and shelters for the battered women and their children that are known about already, let alone the increasing numbers that will be revealed by expanded screening. The domestic violence policy currently posted on the website of the Administration for Children's Services, includes universal screening of families for domestic violence, safety planning for adult survivors, and acknowledgement that "non-abusive parents must not be held responsible for the violence committed by others." The current consensus is that in theory, an abusing partner should be taken out of the home, and the rest of the family should stay there in safety.

FAILING TO WORK TOGETHER

In practice, this can be difficult to arrange. Unless the abuser is in prison, he will often seek out his partner and continue or escalate his violence; if she stays in their home he can easily find her. While Family Court judges have the authority to bring an accused batterer to trial in three days, the judicial process is more likely to stretch the trial out over weeks or months. Judges are reluctant to prosecute misdemeanor cases, which are more common among domestic violence crimes than felonies. Family Court trials require a level of documentation lower than that needed for a criminal case, but more than many women can present, particularly when they cannot afford a lawyer or wait for free legal services to become available.

According to Carolyn Kubitschek, attorney for the plaintiffs in the Nicholson case, there are many cases in which a batterer is clearly not a threat to the child's safety. "Most batterers are very much in control," she says. "For example, they never hit their bosses." She has clients fighting to get back children who were removed by a city caseworker when there were no visible safety concerns. "One of them removed a kid even though the batterer was arrested, tried, sentenced and in prison for a three-year term. And because he's an immigrant, he'll be deported when he gets out." To Kubitschek, the risk of this batterer escaping from prison falls far short of justifying a child's prolonged separation from a mother.

Advocates for domestic violence survivors have worked hard to make it known that past wife-beating is a major risk factor for future child-beating, and that the sight of a mother being abused can cause emotional harm to her children. Child welfare caseworkers tend to conclude from this that any home where a woman is being abused is dangerous for children, so the survivor must leave her abuser to keep herself and her children safe.

However, removing children from their mother's care is no guarantee of their safety. Foster parents can abuse children or each other, and being parted from their parents is itself traumatic to some children. Kinship care could be a solution, except that it is hard to find appropriate relatives to care for the children of a battered parent. Domestic violence advocates oppose placing them with an abusive father's family, who may reveal the mother's whereabouts to the father, and let him spend time with the children against a decision of Family Court. Yet survivors of abuse often have no relatives to turn to: their abusers tend to isolate them from family, friends, and service providers to increase their control and avoid being criticized or reported.

Women sometimes choose to stay with abusive partners because they have no safe place to go, or they won't be able to support themselves, or they lack a sense of hope and confidence that they can succeed on their own. These fears can be well-founded, as is the most powerful incentive to stay with the abuser, the fear that he will track his partner down and "punish" her or her children for leaving. According to the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, two out of three women killed by their partners have left or are in the process of leaving them.

INCHING TOWARD CHANGE:

In 1998, the Columbia University School of Social Work trained 400 municipal caseworkers and supervisors in how to empathize more with survivors of domestic violence, and how to uncover and deal with their abuse. An evaluation by trainers showed that, as a group, the participants gained empathy with survivors, but became less likely to take any of the possible action covered in the training.

Alisa del Tufo, of the Urban Justice Center , is a fifteen-year veteran of the struggle to integrate child welfare and domestic violence services. She has worked with the Administration for Children's Services on training projects, and now provides training services to a group of 60 private child welfare agencies. "ACS is doing a lot actually," she says. "They're doing things now that have been talked about for a decade." As an example, she cites the agency's plan to place domestic violence specialists in each of the agency's field offices. When this was tried in a single office, caseworkers were grateful to have an experienced advisor on hand; workers from other locations called to consult with the domestic violence specialist.

Del Tufo describes the three-day domestic violence training program inaugurated at the agency in March as being "more sophisticated and detailed" than the one-day program that concluded training for new recruits in recent years. "But the system only changes if training goes on over a long period of time, and is followed up with support and accountability." Instead, caseworkers are afraid to try new tactics with room for large errors. "It's a pretty punitive place to work," says del Tufo of the agency.

Municipal child welfare workers continue to err on the side of what they regard as the child's safety. "At 5:30 on a Friday afternoon they'll say, 'Mrs. Jones, unless you go into a domestic violence shelter immediately we're going to take your kids away.' Meanwhile for every space in a domestic violence shelter, there are fifty women trying to get in." Del Tufo concedes that there are times when children need to be removed temporarily, but notes that children remain in foster care "for months and years" after their mother has arranged for their safety with her.

The Weinstein opinion cites a case beginning in August 2000, three years after the city retrained nearly half of its caseworkers and supervisors, in which an abused mother's children were removed because they were living in "overcrowded" conditions at her grandmother's home. They were returned only when the mother agreed to take them to a homeless shelter. The children spent ten weeks going from foster homes to the city's Emergency Assistance Unit and to a temporary shelter.

In mandated reports submitted by the Administration for Children's Services to counsel in the Nicholson case, the agency declared that it is changing its policy statement. Carolyn Kubitschek says, "We don't know what their new policy is, because they won't tell us." The agency continues to prosecute battered mothers in Family Court rather than arrange for the safety of both mother and child.

According to the national Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent crimes against women by intimate partners decreased by 20 percent between 1993 and 1998. That news is welcome, but it could be even better. The child welfare system has the power to give battered women a valuable defense: the right to seek help without risking the loss of their children.

Linda Ostreicher, a former budget analyst for the New York City Council, is a freelance writer and consultant to nonprofits. She is currently on the staff of Bronx Independent Living Services.
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