REBUILDING CONNECTION BETWEEN CHILDREN AND PARENTS WHO USED VIOLENCE
In the aftermath of family violence, it takes a great deal of work to ensure a child’s safety and...
Advocates working in the field of domestic violence (DV) have long grappled with their role as mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect alongside their commitment to support, empower, and keep survivors of DV safe from harm and oppression. Several questions have been repeatedly raised and examined.
Who is a mandated reporter?
When do I need to file a report?
How do I file a report more safely?
Is children’s exposure to domestic violence a reportable condition even if the child wasn’t hurt physically or sexually?
Children’s exposure to domestic violence is something that the child welfare system became concerned about because of advocacy by leaders in the domestic violence field who worked to raise awareness about:
the harm of children’s exposure to domestic violence;
root causes of DV; and
bias against women embedded in public systems, DV practices, and child and family policies.
As part of their efforts, leaders called for a bridging of the gap between services to support survivors in violent intimate relationships and services to protect children from maltreatment. The intent of that education was to build community capacity to help children by seeing and responding to their experiences specifically and fully, not just as an extension of what their parents and caregivers experience. Instead, the impact of this work to raise awareness, improve systems, and engage community has been that domestic violence has become a condition that warrants a nearly automatic, knee jerk response by professionals to report child exposure to domestic violence as a form of child maltreatment.
In reality, harm to children who live in homes where there is domestic violence requires thoughtful assessment and a thorough understanding of the dynamics at play. Often, professionals outside of the domestic violence field do not consider the context of violence in a family but instead they are only focused on incidents. This is further clouded by a threshold of reasonable suspicion to warrant a mandated report which is highly subjective to bias – both explicit and implicit (Palusci, V., Botash, A., 2021) (Beniwal, 2017) (Knispel, 2020) (Luken, A., Nair, R., Fix, R., 2021) (Barbarin, 2020).
It has been repeatedly documented that mandated reporters fail to recognize or consider the impact of poverty, systemic racism, and cross generational trauma when they suspect maltreatment (Sheats, K. J., Irving, S. M., Mercy, J. A., Simon, T. R., Crosby, A. E., Ford, D. C., … & Morgan, R. E., 2018) (Morsy, L., & Rothstein, R., 2019). This lack of awareness contributes to and compounds bias in mandated reporting, resulting in generations of communities of color experiencing the child welfare system as a system of surveillance and not support. The threat and consequence of family separation are real, particularly for Black, Indigenous and other families and communities of color.
There is an open dialogue now in the U.S. about the fairness and efficacy of mandatory reporting. Some policy advocates and activists are organizing to make changes to the law by arguing that the law criminalizes poverty, is racist and sexist, and disrupts relationships between professionals and families. See an example from New York City here.
Call to Action – Mandatory Supporting Instead of Mandatory Reporting
Free breakfast and lunch for all students
Clothing drives and consignments shops
Referrals to accessible and culturally affirming food banks, cash assistance, housing, child care
Home visiting and solutions focused interventions to manage problems (e.g. school attendance, child behavioral issues, etc.)
Inclusive, free, and culturally responsive family nights and weekend events sponsored by local towns & cities
In house or identity affirming referrals for trauma and mental health support
Connection to accessible and affordable extracurricular activities, sports, play, arts, and music
Parent led advocacy and support groups
Family resource centers
Family support services including locksmiths, handy people, carpenters, credit help, and babysitters
Extended hours for after school programs with free dinner
Domestic violence is a complex dynamic in families that requires unique and additional considerations when deciding whether a child abuse report is needed. Filing child abuse reports often has impacts that the reporters do not see. Mitigating unnecessary harm to families, offering real help and support and preserving the provider’s role as an authentic source of help is as important as the mandate to report.