A Judge’s Role in Intervening with Adult and Child Victims of Domestic Violence

Hon. Rebecca Orf, Senior Circuit Court Judge, Jackson, County, OR

Summary: As judges, we must continue to seek out best practices and to advocate for adequate services within our communities to best meet the needs of families where domestic violence exists.

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Domestic violence is a major factor affecting the children and families who become involved in the child welfare system. However, the existence of domestic violence within a family is often overlooked in the midst of addressing the sometimes more obvious reasons for intervention, such as drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness. Even when domestic violence is recognized, far too often efforts focus on the responsibility of the victim—rather than on the perpetrator—to end the abuse.

Intervention will better protect children when service providers support and provide safety for both children and adults while holding batterers accountable and responsible for stopping the domestic violence within a household. As judges, we must continue to seek out best practices and to advocate for adequate services within our communities to best meet the needs of families where domestic violence exists.

Judges can help to ensure that agencies prevent unnecessary removals and facilitate reunification by requiring agencies to prove that they have made reasonable efforts and by being willing to make a no reasonable efforts finding when such findings are warranted. To do this, judges, CASA volunteers, child welfare workers, probation officers, attorneys, foster care review boards and service providers must understand the impact they can have in supporting victims and their children; the barriers faced by victims must be understood and removed.

Ongoing research about the effects on children who witness and are exposed to domestic violence needs to be understood and taken into account in our interventions. For example, evidence suggests that a positive relationship with a non-abusive adult victim increases resiliency in a child who has been exposed to or has experienced family violence.[1] Therefore, it is crucial that all stakeholders in the child welfare system continually receive training and education, not only on the basics of domestic violence, but also on how to best intervene and protect victims and their children.[2]

We must do better in striking the delicate balance between protecting children versus subjecting them to the trauma of removal and placement in foster care. To create safety and stability for families, service providers must assess risk carefully and have the capacity to make differential responses tailored to meet the needs of the individuals in the family. We must persist in collaborating and working together so that all sectors of the child welfare and justice systems communicate with one another and coordinate our efforts. 


[1] Herrenkohl et al., Intersection of Child Abuse and Children’s Exposure to Domestic Violence, 9 Trauma, Viol. & Abuse, 84, 90 (2008).

[2] The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judge’s 2008 publication Reasonable Efforts Checklist for Dependency Cases Involving Domestic Violence is an excellent resource and can be found at: http://www.ncjfcj.org/images/stories/dept/fvd/pdf/reasonable%20efforts%20checklist_web2010.pdf

 

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