Child Welfare System
Historically, service providers and policy makers have viewed domestic violence and child abuse as separate problems, resulting in a pronounced lack of coordination between the two service systems. This lack of coordination is exacerbated by the disparate approaches of the two systems, based in part on the legal and social status of the child versus adult victim of abuse. The child welfare system is authorized by the state to intervene on the child's behalf, and commits significant resources to its reporting and investigation systems. The domestic violence service system, on the other hand, responds to adult victims' need for safety by empowering them with information and support, and supporting their right to self-determination. (28)
Research suggesting that wife battering may be the single most important context for child abuse (29) necessitates improved coordination between the domestic violence and child abuse service systems in order to effectively promote the safety interests of all family members. According to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (formerly the NYS Department of Social Services), domestic violence is a factor in 45% of all foster care placements. In New York City, the Child Fatality Review panel reported that partner abuse was present in 70% of households in which a child homicide occurred. (30)
There is also considerable research documenting the serious threat that domestic violence poses to children. Men who batter their female partners are likely to also assault their children. In fact, research suggests that more than half of all men who are physically assaultive to their female partners are also physically assaultive to their children. (31) In addition, as many as 90% of children of abusers witness their fathers battering their mothers, or witness the aftermath of these assaults. (32) Both children who are direct targets of abuse and child witnesses to domestic violence often exhibit evidence of somatic, behavioral, or emotional problems. (33)
Separation from an abusive partner often does not end the abuse, nor does it necessarily mitigate the detrimental effects on children. Custody and visitation orders that are entered without adequate regard to the history of abuse can pose a serious threat to both the abused mother and to her children. In recognition of these dangers, Chapter 85 of the Laws of 1996 in New York State requires judges to consider the effects of adult domestic violence in assessing the best interests of a child, or children, when making custody and visitation determinations.
Further, more than half of the estimated 350,000 child abductions that occur annually, happen in the context of domestic violence. Forty percent of these abductions occur after the separation and divorce of the parents. Nearly one-third of these children suffer mild to severe emotional damage as a result of the abduction. (34)