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Working with Families, Child Welfare and Domestic Violence

Produced by a collaborative effort involving community members, mandated reporters and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, Domestic Violence Unit.
Reviewed 2009

Working with families, child welfare and domestic violence

Approaches to Assessing Safety and Risk:

Risk factors may not always be present. There are circumstances which may indicate a mandated report is not appropriate. Mandated reporters are encouraged to assess carefully the caretaker's and child's conditions, and to evaluate whether community services and support will strengthen the caretaker's resolve and ability to safeguard the child. Connecting the family to social services, school, counseling services, faith organizations, battered women's programs or concerned family and/or friends may provide the support and encouragement needed to assist the victim and keep the children safe. When considering whether or not to file a report of concern please refer to the factors below to help you make your decision.

  • Is there access to weapons? Has there been a threat to use weapons?
  • Have "everyday objects" been used as tools of abuse or to instill fear?
  • Is the violence escalating? Has the severity of the violence increased?
  • Does the perpetrator stalk or harass the caretaker, and is there an impact on the children?
  • Does it appear as if the caretaker is increasingly isolated or restrained from obtaining help?
  • Is there a support system which helps the family maintain safety?
  • Is the child isolated from responsible adults who might recognize domestic violence's damaging impact; e.g., is the child in day care, in school, regularly seeing a doctor?
  • Have the caretaker and/or others made prior attempts to seek safety? What were the results?
  • Is substance abuse present in the home, and what is the impact on the caretaker and children?
  • Is there mental illness present in either the perpetrator or the caretaker? What is the impact on the caretaker and children?
  • Does the caretaker appear to have the ability to evaluate or to address the negative impact on the child?
  • Does the perpetrator allow the caretaker parent to address the impact on the children and to meet their needs?
  • Has there been a restraining order issued against the perpetrator? What happened? When?

Has the child exhibited changes in behavior:

  • Constant worry about possible danger (hypervigilance)
  • Very high activity level (hyperactivity)
  • Changes in play habits
  • Sleep troubles including nightmares, trouble waking up and fear of falling asleep (sleep disturbances)
  • Increase in aggressive behavior and angry feelings
  • Forgets how to do things that he/she has already learned, such as potty training. Loss of other previously mastered skills
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Increased clinginess (separation anxiety)
  • Moody for no obvious reason
  • Emotional numbing (acts as if nothing bothers them)
  • Repeated risk taking that pushes the limits of safety
  • Excess worry about the safety of loved ones
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Somatic complaints

These problems may occur at home or in school when a child sees or hears violence. If a mandated reporter observes some of the changes in behavior listed above, careful consideration should be given as to whether or not witnessing violence is a cause.

Derived from Child Witness to Violence Project, Boston Medical Center, Boston, MA

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