Reducing Domestic Violence Homicides and Enhancing Perpetrator Accountability in Child Welfare Cases
An article by Heather Shorten, MSW, LGSW
Often in child welfare cases where child abuse and domestic violence are occurring, the only solution given to the victim is to leave the perpetrator. This is often not her wish and may not be financially feasible. In addition separating from the perpetrator does not guarantee safety. Therefore we must ask ourselves how we can improve safety for the victim and her children while holding the perpetrator accountable while changing his violent behaviour.
Accountability in child welfare cases begin with the creation of an appropriate and meaningful case plan that includes services for the perpetrator. The plan needs to be individualized and may or may not anticipate reunification of the family, but by developing expectations for the perpetrator it becomes more possible to monitor families for safety. An emerging program in the US that is tackling this issue is fatherhood initiatives. Recent research suggests non-abusive men are more likely to develop empathy around children’s experiences rather than around the experiences of the women with whom they had a relationship. Fatherhood initiatives involve non-violent men as role models, teachers and coaches to young men, as well as perpetrators of domestic violence. These programs can be tailored to meet the needs of culturally diverse populations; these strategies can be incorporated into existing batterer’s intervention programs.
Accountability within the court system must include consequences for domestic violence and violation of protection orders that are swift, meaningful, consistent and clear. Communities in the US that have made an effort to arrest and prosecute greater numbers of perpetrators have reported a consistent reduction in domestic violence homicides (McCormick, 1999). Domestic violence exists on a continuum, therefore verbal abuse can become physical abuse, and the escalation of minor assault to murder can be interrupted by a prompt and effective response from law enforcement. Research suggests that cases which are resolved in less than 90 days result in decreased levels of violence. When cases drag on perpetrators have time to influence victim testimony, commit further acts of violence, and harass victims, which may cause the victim to be reluctant or refuse to testify. It should be the goal of child welfare agencies and the courts to ensure safety for families affected by domestic violence without blaming and shaming the victim or making her responsible for the perpetrator’s behavior. This goal can be achieved through swift and appropriate perpetrator accountability.
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