Published: January, 2015| Joyce Yedlosky, Edited by Stephanie Avalon

Domestic violence and child abuse are often co-occurring, putting child protection agencies and DV advocacy programs seemingly at odds.

West Virginia was no different prior to 1999, when West Virginia’s Domestic Violence/Child Victimization Study and Policy Workgroup began focusing efforts on cross-training and system change.

Parents who tried to or wanted to protect children, but needed support and assistance to do so, could not get this assistance without the stigma of “fault,” because the state could not intervene to assist with and assure the protection of children without accusing the adult victim of some form of “unfit” behavior, i.e., failure to protect. To address this problem, a number of systemic changes were introduced over the last fifteen years. DHHR policy now defines domestic violence in the context of power and control and provides supportive services to both child and adult victims of domestic violence. The focus is now on holding the batterer accountable for the harm to the child, not the adult victim.

After eliminating “failure to protect” language in CPS policy and computer-generated assessment and planning tools, in 2006 CPS policy was changed stating the state must assess if an adult victim of domestic violence took steps to protect the child that were reasonable considering the threat of harm to the adult victim. Non-offending adult victims of domestic violence have two choices in the child protection process. They can co-petition with the state against the abusing batterer and co-petitioners can keep legal and physical custody of children while the batterer proceeds through the child abuse/neglect process. Or, if the adult victim does not want to, or is afraid to co-petition with DHHR (co-petitioning is voluntary), the WV DHHR can file a petition with both parents as respondents, but ask for a no-fault battered parent adjudication for the adult victim; the person using battering behaviors would be adjudicated as abusing/neglecting. The battered parent and child are provided support services while the batterer proceeds through the abuse and neglect process for creating the harm to the child.

Once the systemic changes were made, monitoring of their usage and effectiveness is continuing through the Court Improvement Board and the WVCADV Domestic Violence/Child Victimization Study and Policy Workgroup, both of whom provide additional trainings. In September, 2008, a second in-service curriculum was developed by the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence and WV DHHR Division of Training to address when domestic violence rises to the level of child abuse, how trauma induced behaviors can appear to condone the child abuse, practical applications of co-petitioning and battered parent adjudication, making reasonable efforts in domestic violence cases, and working effectively with people who use battering behaviors.

The WVCADV Workgroup and the Court Improvement Project also monitor potential barriers to implementing these practices. One of the identified barriers has been the reluctance of prosecutors (who represent the state in child abuse and neglect proceedings in WV) to utilize the new concepts. Outreach and training is currently in process with prosecutors. Additionally, ongoing training on practical applications of these changes is needed for all disciplines. Finally, assessments and evaluations on the impact these systemic changes have had on individual families are being conducted through collaborations with WVCADV, The WV Court Improvement Project, the WV Department of Health and Human Resources and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Evidenced Based Project. While the intent of this system change was to better protect child and adult victims experiencing domestic violence and child abuse/neglect, surveys and discussions with families about how they experienced the new policy and practice is critical.

Learn more about considerations for filing a child abuse/neglect petitions for advocates or child protection workers.

For more information about the systemic changes in West Virginia, view the recorded webinar presentation by Joyce Yedlosky, Team Coordinator of the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, or contact her at: joyce@wvcadv.org.