Family Violence Summit Recommendations

Family Violence in America cover


Family Violence in America:
Breaking the Cycle for Children Who Witness
(Click here to download the PDF)

Intensify Collaborative Planning & Policymaking


  • Establish a clear vision and meaningful missions. Vision statements describe the future that we would like to actualize. Mission statements clarify what we are committed to do to move closer to that vision. Agencies, groups of agencies, organizations and systems that plan and deliver services to children who witness family violence must have a cohesive vision of the future and a roadmap to move toward that vision. Recommendations from this summit can serve as a foundation for both vision and mission statements.

  • Establish multidisciplinary and interagency policy and planning arrangements. All summit work groups stressed the critical importance of establishing and maintaining policy planning and service delivery systems that are multidisciplinary and interagency. These systems should include representatives of public and private agencies, as well as business leaders, victim advocates, police officers, and private citizens.

  • Clarify roles, responsibilities and lines of communication among high level policy- and decision-makers. Successful collaboration depends upon clarifying the authority and responsibilities of all high level policy- and decision-makers, both at agency and individual staff levels. Agency missions, organizational structures, job descriptions, and policies regarding decisionmaking and information-sharing must be carefully defined to provide a basis for effective communication and ongoing cooperation in the effort to reduce family violence and its impact.

  • Promote consistency in decisionmaking policies, procedures and criteria. Decision-makers must develop a common language and consistent criteria for making choices about victims and perpetrators of family violence. Choices ranging from arrest to referrals will benefit from ollaborative, community-based planning. Clarified statutes, policies, and procedures will enhance consistency.

  • Nurture community involvement and empowerment in strategy development. To reduce family violence and its impact on children, key players in local communities must be involved in developing and implementing prevention strategies. With the ongoing participation of grass-roots community activists, church groups, youth groups, and other key players, a community can work toward long-term solutions rather than invest in simplistic quick fixes to this complex social problem. Locally based policymaking can also be more culturally sensitive and consider differences between urban and rural jurisdictions.

  • Pool monetary and other resources to accomplish shared goals. Collaborative planning and policy development will present an opportunity to look beyond the confines of agency budgets and to develop strategies to make optimal use of all available resources. Since resources are not likely to ever be sufficient to fully meet identified needs, prevention and intervention goals are most likely to be attained through comprehensive interagency resource allocation. Directors of victim advocate agencies, judges, prosecutors, police chiefs, hospital administrators, and the heads of community service organizations can work together to plan resource sharing.

  • Integrate family violence victims and witnesses databases. To eliminate duplication of information-gathering and assessment functions and to promote consistency of responses to victims, agencies should integrate information systems and share appropriate information about clients in a way that doesn't compromise victim safety. This requires that protocols for screening and assessment of children who witness family violence, and their families, be comprehensive in scope and consistent in format across agencies. Protocols for access to such systems must balance privacy and confidentiality considerations with system efficiency and response goals.

  • Consolidate and share knowledge on critical issues and effective practices. Mechanisms should be established to enable policymakers and practitioners to share information on the incidence and nature of family violence and its impacts on children, as well as on effective prevention and intervention approaches. Model public education and professional training curricula should also be widely disseminated.


Clarify and Unify Statutes, Policies and Protocols


  • Redefine child abuse to include witnessing family violence. To raise public and professional awareness of the traumatic impacts of exposure to family violence on children, child abuse should be redefined to include witnessing family violence. It is important to clarify that the perpetrator of domestic or family violence alone is the abuser of child witnesses.

  • Develop guidelines to encourage appropriate and consistent responses to family violence incidents where children are present. Agencies called to respond to family violence incidents must consistent in their treatment of child witnesses, particularly first-responding police officers to 911 calls. Consistency of policies, procedures and intervention approaches should grow out of locally based collaborative planning across traditional agency boundaries. National guidelines can suggest general intervention approaches based on knowledge of effective practices, while leaving room for local creativity and fine-tuning.

  • Preserve the family by placing children with the non-abusive parent. To serve the best interest of children, most child welfare agencies are committed to supporting and enabling family preservation. Children who witness family violence should not be further traumatized by unnecessarily removing them from non-offending parents. Domestic violence advocates recommend that, when possible, the offending parent be removed from the home. When not possible, the battered partner and children should be placed together in a safe environment. Substitute care should be used only as a last resort, when the non-offending parent is unable or unwilling to care for the children.

  • Establish national guidelines for reporting children who witness family violence incidents. Mandatory or other guidelines for reporting of children who witness family violence is needed. Policy makers must be aware that the practice could have unintended negative consequences. In particular, it might reduce the willingness of victims and child witnesses to disclose family violence information to health care, school and social service personnel. The Family Violence Prevention Fund has developed a prototype state statute that outlines a "permissive" or voluntary reporting standard that could serve as a model for developing reporting policies for children who witness family violence.

  • Prohibit consideration of victims' battering for their health, disability or life insurance eligibility. Neither battered victims of family violence nor child witnesses should be denied insurance coverage solely because of their status as abused or formerly victimized persons. Federal and state statutes should prohibit this form of discrimination.


Augment Training of Service Providers


  • Ensure that police and family violence professionals receive comprehensive training to identify, assess, and refer children who witness family violence. Professionals who should be trained include all first responders?law enforcement, fire department and EMT workers; religious leaders; teachers and other school personnel; child care workers; health care providers; social service providers?mental health, pastoral care, substance abuse, domestic violence, child welfare and public assistance workers and volunteers; prosecutors; defense attorneys; and judges. Training should be tailored to local contexts, taking into account community values and available resources.

  • Ensure that first responders receive training in empathy, child development issues and interpersonal and support skills. A supportive response increases the likelihood that victims and children will be willing to talk openly to first responders. Training in empathy, and interpersonal and support skills is crucial.

  • Foster interagency, multi-disciplinary training. To implement consistent policies and practices, to foster mutual trust and respect, and to establish ongoing communication, professionals from various agencies should collaboratively design and utilize training opportunities. New Haven's Child Development-Community Policing program is a promising example of cross-disciplinary training designed to promote effective intervention in family violence by teams of community policing officers and mental health professionals.

  • Continually update pre-service, in-service, and continuing education curricula. Because knowledge about family violence and its impacts on child witnesses is continually expanding, training of professionals and volunteers who work with them must be continuous and constantly updated.


Enhance Public Awareness


  • Focus attention on the traumatic impact of family violence on children who witness and the long-range implications for public safety. The importance of heightening public awareness of the seriousness of this problem is often overlooked. Citizens are more likely to be motivated to take positive actions to reduce family violence and intervene with victims if they understand the link between family violence and community well-being.

  • Ensure that information provided to the public is credible, consistent, understandable, and culturally relevant. Facts about family violence and its impacts on children should be clearly and accurately presented. The format and timing of messages should be tailored to target audiences and local contexts. Agencies should coordinate public information efforts to maximize cost-effectiveness.

  • Reassure children and youth that they are not to blame for violence in their families and that support is available from a variety of sources. Employ age-appropriate media. Messages for children can be communicated via comic books, cereal boxes, television advertising during children's programming, posters in schools, and palm cards. Children inherently attribute family unhappiness to aspects of themselves that adults have described as mad or misbehaving. Children often blame themselves for divorce, parental strife, and sibling unhappiness.

  • Encourage hospitals and health care providers to supply information about children who witness family violence at health fairs, at public forums, and through other public education opportunities. Health care professionals should use their credibility and influence with community members to promote awareness of and responsiveness to the issues of family violence and children's exposure to it.

  • Ensure that law enforcement and justice system professionals maximize opportunities to speak out about the impacts of family violence on children. Police officers, prosecutors ,and judges make presentations to schools, community groups, and business associations on a variety of topics. They can help direct public attention and galvanize community action on issues of family violence and its traumatic impacts on child witnesses.

  • Urge the media to provide thoughtful and accurate news coverage, as well as public service and educational messages. Policymakers and practitioners who work with family violence victims must educate members of the media who report on these incidents. The media (TV, newspapers, and radio) should be discouraged from sensationalizing or exploiting family violence incidents, and encouraged to protect the privacy and dignity of all victims, particularly child witnesses.


Improve Performance Measurement and Outcome Evaluation


  • Compile baseline information on the rates of children who witness family violence. To determine whether prevention and intervention efforts are reducing incidence of children who witness family violence, the current baseline incidence must be documented by each community, county, and/or state. This will require standardization of reporting protocols by law enforcement and other first responders.

  • Design agency information systems to support both case management and program evaluation. Information systems should be designed to provide case managers with essential information on individual clients and families and to provide data for program outcome measurement.

  • Ensure that performance measures focus on outcomes, not simply on program activity levels. It is not enough to document the volume of families or child witnesses served, or the number of activities performed with or for them. Agencies must define programs in measurable outcome terms and document the extent to which intended impacts are achieved.

  • Ensure that performance measures are culturally sensitive. Outcome measures should be developed, reviewed, and approved by a team of individuals representative of the cultural-ethnic backgrounds of the target populations.

  • Design performance measures to reveal positive definitions of success as well as reductions in negative outcomes. It is certainly desirable to measure reductions in the incidence of children who witness family violence. Many other outcomes of prevention and intervention strategies can and should be measured, such as increases in stability of families, enhanced quality of interactions between parent and child, and/or increased availability of social support resources for parents and children.

  • Distinguish between short-term objectives and long-range goals when designing program monitoring and evaluation strategies. It may take a relatively long time in some communities to achieve a significant reduction in family violence, and thus a reduction in the incidence of children who witness it. Accordingly, it is important to define shorter-range interim indicators to permit a community or jurisdiction to assess whether it is moving in desired directions.

  • Undertake research to document the impacts of witnessing family violence on children and youth. Although some excellent research has already been conducted in this area, many unanswered questions remain. It is particularly important to separately document the impacts on children who witness violence in the media, in their communities, and in their families. Enhanced understanding of the full range of risk and protective factors that affect children of violent families will contribute to development of more effective prevention and intervention strategies.

  • Establish and maintain collaborative links between practitioners and researchers to ensure that evaluations are user-friendly. Researchers should work closely with practitioners to ensure that research designs and analyses of information are understandable and provide useful information useful for policy and practice.


Prevention and Intervention Recommendations


To expand the continuum of effective services community organizations and public agencies are urged to do the following:


  • Strengthen the family through an array of programs that include the following:
    • Comprehensive prenatal care for expectant mothers, to help ensure healthy babies and support women to become competent, nurturing parents, and home visitation for new parents, to enable public health nurses, early interventionists, or public health trainers to assess family violence risk factors and initiate long-term supportive services for high-risk families.

    • Parenting skills training, which can be offered in many settings, including schools, community-based family resource centers, and health care facilities.

    • Family skills training, to enhance interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, and time management skills. This "family coaching" can be particularly effective when offered to families in their homes.

  • Prepare children and youth to deal with the violence in the outside world and give them the skills to solve conflicts constructively. Schools should provide the following:
    • Conflict resolution education through such methods as
      • a process curriculum approach, in which "the principles and processes of conflict resolution are offered as a distinct lesson or course"*

      • Peer mediation, wherein trained youth work with their peers to resolve conflicts

      • Peaceable classroom and peaceable school approaches in which conflict resolution principles are incorporated into core subjects, classroom management strategies, and school policies and practices.

    • Life skills curricula that focus on topics such as violence prevention, parenting skills, and abusive dating relationships.

    • Cooperative learning approaches that empower children and youth through peer leadership and collaboration.

    • Parent education offerings on topics such as the impacts of family conflict and domestic violence on children, conflict resolution, and parenting skills.

  • Ensure that schools and other community-based agencies provide the following:
    • Information to parents and children regarding available support and services for victims and witnesses of family violence.

    • Curriculum offerings for children that teach coping skills and safety planning.

    • Safe environments in which children and youth can talk about concerns and fears regarding family violence and/or abusive dating relationships, and be reassured that they are not to blame if they are a victim or witness.

    • Referral to appropriate child protective, justice system and/or treatment resources for child witnesses and victims.

    • Ongoing monitoring and support for child witnesses and family victims.

  • Revamp law enforcement's approach to domestic violence calls that involve children who have been witnesses to violence. Even with current sensitivities to the issue of domestic violence, police responding to 911 calls still do not have sufficient protocols and policies to deal with the children present at these calls. Using a "victim response continuum" model, police must be clear on their mandate to assist the children who witness, providing instant support from officers at the scene, but also setting in motion a series of follow-up actions and visits by professionals in the field of victim services and children's services.

  • Offer safe haven for children of high-conflict or violent families in respite day care centers and "relief nurseries," as well as supportive services to battered parents. Such centers can provide a variety of family strengthening and preservation services, including therapeutic interventions for children, parent education and counseling, and crisis response.

  • Make shelters and affordable housing available for battered parents and their children. Children who witness domestic violence should not be further traumatized by separation from their non-battering parent. All victims and witnesses of family violence should have access to safe emergency housing, including transportation to safe locations as needed.

  • Develop screening protocols for children to enable first responders, including shelter workers, to make appropriate referrals to health care, support groups, and other treatment options. Since all children entering shelters with battered parents have at least witnessed family violence, and perhaps were targets themselves, shelters should systematically assess their needs, and either provide or refer them to appropriate support and intervention services.

  • Arrange for health care screening to identify and refer victims and child witnesses of family violence to appropriate education, treatment, and justice system resources. Health care providers are often the first to notice evidence of family violence, and are thus in a position to ensure that appropriate interventions occur as early as possible, to minimize both physical and emotional damage.

  • Organize multidisciplinary teams to provide specialized mental health and treatment services for appropriate children as needed. Although not all children who witnes domestic violence will require intensive, long-term psychotherapy, assessment systems should identify those for whom specialized treatments are appropriate. Both assessment and treatment services should be provided through multidisciplinary teams of specialists drawn from a wide range of agencies and service providers.

  • Make follow-up and support services for victims and child witnesses of family violence available on a continuing basis. Because the impacts of witnessing family violence are not always immediately apparent, many child witnesses of family violence will continue to require supportive and educational services long after their immediate needs for safe haven and crisis intervention are met.

  • Provide therapeutic and educational interventions to adults who witnessed family violence as children, especially those who are parenting, are substance abusers, and/or correctional supervision. Many adults who witnessed family violence as children did not receive appropriate or adequate support or services at the time. Since the negative impacts of witnessing family violence can be pervasive and long-lasting for many victims, they must have access to appropriate treatment and interventions throughout their lifetime. Adults who are substance abusers and/or who are under correctional supervision (in prison and on probation or parole) are particularly likely to have been witnesses to family violence as children.

  • Create community-based prevention and intervention initiatives that are coordinated across agencies and settings, and sustained over time. Community-based programs need to be available through a variety of organizations including churches, schools, and social service agencies in order to ensure that prevention education and strategies are made available to anyone in need of such initiatives.


*LeBoeuf, D. and Delany-Shabazz, R. V. "Conflict Resolution", Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Fact Sheet # 55, March 1997