For the youngest victims, domestic abuse can have lifelong impacts. How do agencies like child protective services identify potential abuse, and what do they do to help?
Domestic Violence and Its Impact on Children
Domestic violence isn’t just an adult problem. One study found that some 15.5 million American children and teens have witnessed domestic violence. And witnessing domestic violence early in life can have lifelong consequences.
Even adults who think they are shielding their children from the abuse are mistaken. One study found that 80-90% of children who live in abusive households can provide detailed accounts of the violence, even if they were not in the proximity of the abuse. That is, abuse victims who believe their children don’t notice the violence are wrong: children are perceptive. They know what is happening in their households.
Children who grew up in abusive homes (whether they witnessed or experienced the violence) are more likely to experience intimate partner violence later in life. These children might have trouble in school, present lower cognitive functioning, experience physical and/or emotional effects, and act out toward others.
Because childhood trauma significantly impacts a person’s entire life, child protective services (CPS) takes domestic violence accusations very seriously. In cases where domestic abuse and domestic violence are severe, CPS might even decide to remove children from the home.
The Agencies Protecting Children
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services takes a multi-disciplinary approach to abuse prevention, intervention, and assessment. There are several agencies operating under the DHHS to address the complexities involved in domestic abuse.
The agencies involved are working tirelessly to educate professionals and the general public about the signs and dangers of abuse and the resources available for survivors. Child protective services play a key role in identifying and protecting children who experience and witness abuse in the home.
Because research shows a strong correlation between intimate partner violence and child abuse, CPS works closely with law enforcement agencies to identify children at the greatest risk. CPS also relies on educators, medical and mental health professionals, and members of the general public to report suspected abuse.
In an effort to protect these children, many professionals are “mandated reporters” who are obligated by law to report suspected child abuse and domestic violence to the proper authorities. In these cases, CPS often steps in to investigate the reports, and if abuse is occurring, CPS will act to protect the children through whatever means necessary.
What Does Child Protective Services Do When Abuse is Present?
Because domestic abuse is such a complex problem, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In most cases, says the Department of Health and Human Services:
“The removal of the child from the home is usually unnecessary. While children’s safety is the primary and mandated responsibility of CPS caseworkers, removal of children should only be contemplated when all other means of safety have been considered and offered; when the children are at imminent risk; or the victim is unable to protect the children or accept services.”
Instead, most CPS programs use case workers to help both adult and child victims find solutions. For the adult victims, care workers might suggest safety plans, discuss exit strategies, or give information about various resources available in the local area. Parenting classes, anger management, and other strategies will also be addressed to help prevent future abuse and create stronger, safer family bonds when appropriate.
The case workers will then work with the children to provide support services, counseling, and other resources to help children cope with past trauma. Case workers will also closely monitor children for signs of ongoing abuse and often work collaboratively with educators and healthcare professionals to determine the best course of action for each child. Removal from the home is usually a last resort, but it may be necessary in some instances.
How to Report Suspected Abuse
In most cases, children who live in abusive homes will not self-report. They rely on conscientious people in their lives to step up and protect their wellbeing.
If you suspect a child in your life is being abused or witnessing abuse, do not wait. Contact your local law enforcement authorities. You can also contact your local DHHS or CPS agency. For more information about reporting suspected abuse, click here.
If a child is in immediate danger, call 911.