Bridging the divide between child welfare and domestic violence services: Deconstructing the change process

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<ul><li><p>Practitioners in both the child welfare and domestic violence service systems may agree on broader common goals,</p><p>Available online at</p><p>Children and Youth Services Review 30 (2008) 674688including the well-being of families, the empowerment of non-abusive parents to protect their children, accountabilityFrom the time that the first organized services for battered women appeared in the United States in the 1970s,domestic violence services operated separately from child welfare services, with little collaboration and often a greatdeal of tension and distrust between the two (Fleck-Henderson, 2000; Findlater &amp; Kelly, 1999; Magen, Conroy, &amp;DelTufo, 2000; Mills, 1998a; Peled, 1996; Schechter, 1996; Schechter &amp; Edleson, 1999; Stark, 2007). Until recently,child welfare agencies have largely ignored the presence of intimate partner violence (IPV) in families when there wasno indication that a child was being directly abused (Findlater &amp; Kelly, 1999; Gordon, 1988; Stark, 2007; A. Williams-Isom, personal communication, April 21, 2006). At the same time domestic violence service providers have oftenavoided collaboration with child welfare agencies because of their distrust in that system's willingness or ability to besensitive to the needs of abused mothers (Beeman, Hagemeister, &amp; Edleson, 1999; Findlater &amp; Kelly, 1999; E. Roberts,personal communication, September 20, 2007; Stark, 2007).In spite of the long and well-documented history of tension between the domestic violence and child welfare systems in theUnited States, a number of communities have developed effective collaborations between the two in order to better meet the needsof families involved with both. After setting the historical context for the tensions between providers of child welfare and domesticviolence services, the changing relationship between the two systems is examined from the perspective of professionals in bothfields in one large urban community, New York City. Recommendations are made for continued progress. Communities seeking toimprove their own response to the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment may be able to gain from developinga broader understanding of the challenges and successes of the change process in a community which has struggled to improvecollaboration. 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.</p><p>Keywords: Domestic violence; Intimate partner violence; Child welfare; Systems change; Change process; Collaboration</p><p>1. IntroductionBridging the divide between child welfare and domestic violenceservices: Deconstructing the change process</p><p>Kerry Moles </p><p>The Children's Aid Society, 150 East 45th Street, New York, NY 10017, United States</p><p>Available online 31 January 2008</p><p>Abstract</p><p> Tel.: +1 212 503 6837; fax: +1 212 972 7790.E-mail address:</p><p>0190-7409/$ - see front matter 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2008.01.007</p></li><li><p>for the abusive partner, and the interruption of the intergenerational transmission of family violence. Improvedcommunication and collaboration between the systems is necessary to achieve these goals (Conroy, 2000; Findlater &amp;Kelly, 1999; Fleck-Henderson, 2000; Schechter &amp; Edleson, 1999). Collaboration, or the act of working jointly towardcommon goals, in this case entails two distinct social service systems working together to address the overlappingissues of intimate partner violence and child maltreatment in a population which is served by both. This collaborationmay be served if members of both communities develop a better understanding of the history, values and missions ofboth systems, as well the current struggles to reconcile the conflicts between them.</p><p>This paper examines the progress in the collaboration of the two systems, using New York City as an example todeconstruct the change process. While it is acknowledged that IPV occurs with similar frequency among same-sexcouples as heterosexual couples, and that women perpetrate IPVagainst men, this discussion generally refers to abusedmothers whose perpetrators are men, as these are the vast majority of cases that come into contact with the child welfaresystem.</p><p>2. The historical context</p><p>The first social agencies devoted to issues of family violence arose in the United States in the 1870s, called Societiesfor the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC's) (Gordon, 1988). While these agencies focused on child abuse, childwelfare workers were well aware of the high incidence of IPV in their caseloads. In her analysis of hundreds of caserecords of child protection agencies in the United States from 1880 to 1960, Gordon (1988) identified IPV in 34% ofthe cases, found that 28% of battered women were alleged to be neglectful, 13% of abused mothers were also childabusers, and 41% of men who abused their wives also abused their children. In light of the current themes of distrustmany abused women feel for child welfare workers, it is ironic that battered women virtually dragged the childprotection workers into wife-beating problems in spite of a strong professional disinclination on the part of childprotection workers to get involved (Gordon, 1988).</p><p>Battered mothers turned to child protection agencies in part because of the inadequacy of police protection, but childprotection workers were not much more helpful. Gordon (1988) traces the evolution of what domestic violence serviceproviders today term victim blaming on the part of child protection workers. When they were unable to ignore thewife-beating but could not reform violent men, many caseworkers began to define IPV as a problem for the woman towork on (Gordon, 1988). Victim blaming became even more pervasive after the 1930s, in part due to changes inprocedures that required social workers to map the problem onto the client who was present and influenceable(Gordon, 1988, p. 281). Fewer men were seen as casework became increasingly professionalized and moved out of thehome and into the office; women were more introspective and self-critical, while men were more defensive about theirbehavior. In search of any ways to influence troubled families, social workers not unnaturally focused on those mostopen to influence (Gordon, 1988, p. 282). Then in the 1950's, the psychiatric influence led social workers topathologize and blame women for their husband's abuse, with labels like masochist, neurotic, frigid orprovocative (Gordon, 1988). This theme has been a constant to this day: Mills et al. (2000) found a tendency amongchild welfare workers to view the battered woman, rather than the batterer, as responsible for the abuse, and to perceivea woman who stayed in an abusive relationship as complicit.</p><p>During the revival of feminism in the 1970's, as the first domestic violence shelters were established and large-scaleorganized activism began, the feminist movement declared domestic violence a social and political issue. Until thispoint, family violence in general was treated as resulting from individual maladies: child abuse was attributed to poorparenting skills, anger management problems, stress, substance abuse or mental illness, while IPV was attributed topoor interpersonal relations, the stress of poverty, a man's alcoholism or short-temper, or a woman's emotionalinstability. In the 1970's, IPV was redefined in terms of the social and political maladies of patriarchy, sexism, and thehistorical subjugation of women. The Battered Women's movement developed its own set of philosophies, responses,institutions, legislation and funding. Thus the problem of family violence had split into two distinct issues: childabuse and woman abuse. This was an important paradigm shift which greatly widened the chasm between domesticviolence and child welfare service providers.</p><p>Other sources of tension are the differing and sometimes conflicting missions of child welfare and domestic violenceprofessionals. The priority of child welfare organizations is the protection of children and the preservation of families,while the priority of domestic violence services is the safety and empowerment of women. These philosophical</p><p>675K. Moles / Children and Youth Services Review 30 (2008) 674688differences affect the approach, focus and impact of each system's interventions with clients. The child protective</p></li><li><p>the name of the agency during the time period under discussion. The city's child welfare system is partially privatized.Children's Services investigates allegations of abuse or neglect and contracts private non-profit organizations toprovide over 95% of foster care services. The city also contracts out the vast majority of what is known as Preventivedomestic violence and child welfare service providers in it. To understand these events and relationships, the authorinterviewed members of both the domestic violence service community and the child welfare system in NYC, many ofwhom have been involved with efforts at collaboration and integration over the past three decades.</p><p>New York City's child welfare system has undergone numerous changes in organizational structure and name. Forthe sake of consistency, the city-operated child welfare services will be referred to as Children's Services regardless ofsystem, in its ability to challenge parental rights, can disempower women, while the battered women's movement, in itscommitment to a woman's right to make her own choices, can neglect child safety (Fleck-Henderson, 2000).</p><p>Many domestic violence programs define child protection as the enemy of battered women, removing theirchildren precipitously and blaming mothers for the violence that their male partners perpetrate. For their part,CPS workers often see domestic violence advocates as blindly loyal to women and as willing to ignore female-perpetrated child abuse and neglect. (Schechter, 1996, p. 62)</p><p>A related source of friction is the coercive vs. voluntary nature of services. Child welfare agencies can leveragethe legal system to charge a parent with a crime, mandate participation in social services, or order the removal ofchildren. Domestic Violence advocates see a victims' voluntary participation in services as core to their philosophy ofempowerment and self-determination (Fleck-Henderson, 2000; Mills, Grauwiler, &amp; Pezold, 2006; Schechter, 1982).While the presence of coercive power is a significant aspect of any governmental intervention, its meaning can beparticularly weighty for a mother who has experienced domestic violence, as the relationship of a child protectiveworker to the victim of IPV can in many ways replicate the power imbalance and coercion of an abusive intimaterelationship (Fleck-Henderson, 2000). Fleck-Henderson (2000) points out that the child protective worker who strivesto empower a victim of domestic violence is implicitly in a paradoxical position.</p><p>The Child Welfare and Domestic Violence systems also have important structural differences. Child welfare inthe United States today is a highly regulated government bureaucracy, while domestic violence services are usuallyprovided by community-based, non-profit organizations that operate under a combination of government grants,fundraising and private donations. In fact, domestic violence organizations developed in large part because of women'sfrustration with government agencies, including law enforcement and child welfare, which were not responding to theneeds of abused women and were experienced as victim-blaming (Fleck-Henderson, 2000). The advent of domesticviolence services in the 1970s was seen as a threat to some in the child welfare system who worried that acknowledgingdomestic violence would open a political Pandora's box, and that funding to help battered women could diminishfinancial support for children's services (Stark, 2007).</p><p>The treatment of domestic violence and child maltreatment as two separate phenomena began to change in the 1990sas a growing body of literature documented a high incidence of co-occurrence (American Humane Association, 1994;Appel &amp; Holden, 1998; Hangen, 1994; Straus &amp; Gelles, 1990). Efforts to coordinate services and develop collaborativerelationships between domestic violence and child welfare providers has now become commonplace in the UnitedStates (Findlater &amp; Kelly, 1999; Stark, 2007; Whitney &amp; Davis, 1999).</p><p>The historical tension between the child welfare and domestic violence systems has evolved around differences inthe two system's missions, priorities, politics and organizational structures. The philosophical emphasis on voluntaryvs. coercive nature of services, as well as the different perceptions of the underlying causes of maltreatment as personalvs. social maladies, have resulted not only in a lack of collaboration, but at times distrustful and even antagonisticrelationships. While some tension between the two systems may be necessary and at times even useful, manycommunities in the United States have recognized the need to improve collaborative relationships in order to addressthe needs of both children and mothers who have been affected by family violence.</p><p>3. The change process in New York City</p><p>The remainder of this article explores the changing relationship between child welfare and domestic violence serviceproviders in New York City (NYC). This particular community was chosen as the subject of this examination becausethe author resides and works in this community, has a working knowledge of its systems, and has access to both</p><p>676 K. Moles / Children and Youth Services Review 30 (2008) 674688Services. The goal of Preventive Services is to prevent child maltreatment and the need for foster care placement by</p></li><li><p>providing services to increase safety and improve family functioning (City of New York, 2005). Preventive Servicesare often mandated by the city when a child is deemed at risk but removal from the home is not warranted.</p><p>3.1. Early dynamics between domestic violence and child welfare providers</p><p>During the first two decades or more that domestic violence organizations operated in NYC, child welfare anddomestic violence advocates provided parallel services to frequently overlapping populations, but typically did notwork together (Connect, Inc., 2005b). Some of the city's earliest domestic violence advocates described manifestationsof the distrust they felt toward the child welfare system. A founding board member of the NewYork State's first publiclyfunded domestic violence shelter, established in Brooklyn in the mid-seventies, remembers a debate about whether staffshould report cases of child abuse to Children's Services, and whether the shelter should avoid hiring professional socialworkers because they were mandated reporters. She recalls that there was an assumption that professional socialworkers could only pathologize survivors of domestic violence (K. Conroy, personal communication, April 18,2006).</p><p>The founder and former Director of a shelter that opened in 1983 said that at the time, shelters were required to run...</p></li></ul>