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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Domestic Violence as Child Maltreatment: Differential Risks and Outcomes among Cases Referred to Child Welfare Agencies for Domestic Violence Exposure

  • Author(s): Lawson, Jennifer Nicole
  • Advisor(s): Berrick, Jill D
  • et al.

As awareness has grown regarding the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment, and the potential deleterious outcomes associated with children's exposure to domestic violence, some public child welfare agencies are expanding their reach to include domestic violence as a form of maltreatment warranting protective intervention. Research to date has not fully determined how or whether cases referred for domestic violence exposure differ from traditional cases of maltreatment. If appropriate policies and interventions are to be developed and implemented for these cases, clearer information is needed to explicate how these cases are currently being processed in the child welfare system, and what their unique features are compared to cases involving other forms of abuse and neglect.

Using baseline data from the second National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being II, a nationally representative longitudinal child welfare survey, this study uses a retrospective case comparison design to produce descriptive findings on cases referred to child welfare agencies for domestic violence. This analysis compares three groups of cases: those in which domestic violence was the sole maltreatment allegation reported to child welfare, those in which domestic violence was alleged concurrently with other types of maltreatment, those in which only other maltreatment was reported. Using bivariate analyses and multivariate logistic regression analyses, this study addresses two research questions: 1) What are the differential demographics, risk factors, and outcomes of CPS cases reported for domestic violence (alone or with other allegations) compared to cases reported for other maltreatment types? and 2) Is the presence of domestic violence as a maltreatment allegation an independent predictor of key child welfare outcomes after controlling for demographic and risk variables?

Results of this analysis indicate that child welfare cases alleging domestic violence as a maltreatment allegation have unique profiles of risk, demographics, and outcomes that distinguish them from cases alleging other maltreatment types. In the aggregate, cases reported for domestic violence have higher likelihood of substantiation than other cases, but despite higher substantiation rates, they are no more likely to receive child welfare services, and they are much less likely to result in out-of-home placement. These findings suggest that for many cases that come to the attention of child welfare agencies due to child domestic violence exposure, substantiated findings of maltreatment do not result in more intensive CPS interventions. In addition, these data show that, though cases alleging only domestic violence do not represent a substantial portion of the national child welfare caseload, they involve much lower levels of risk yet a much higher rate of substantiation than cases reported for other maltreatment. In sum, the findings from this study suggest that some lower-risk cases reported to child welfare agencies for domestic violence exposure could be appropriately targeted for alternative, non-investigative service approaches.

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