The following information and resources can be used to assess risk to children and determine whether Child Protective Services should be involved in intimate partner violence cases.

For more information on working with children, please visit our page on Children and Relationship Abuse.

Mandatory Reporting

Under California law a mandated reporter must report, among other things, willful child endangerment or the willful infliction of unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child. See Penal Code § 11165.3. In the context of domestic violence, a mandated reporter must consider whether there is a risk of physical or emotional harm to the child.

The fact that a child’s parent or guardian has been the victim of domestic violence is not in and of itself a sufficient basis for reporting suspected child abuse or neglect. Further, a child’s exposure to a domestic violence incident in and of itself is not a sufficient basis for reporting suspected abuse or neglect. Other factors must exist which lead the mandated reporter to reasonably suspect that the child’s physical or emotional health is endangered as the result of domestic violence. Mandated reporters in Santa Clara County may consult with a screener at the CPS Hotline at 408-299- 2071 to determine whether a report is required.

L. Michael Clark, Lead Deputy County Counsel, Santa Clara County

Please visit our Mandatory Reporting page or view the corresponding PDF file for more information.

Child Abuse and Domestic Violence

There is a high co-incidence of domestic violence in child abuse and neglect cases. Appropriate safety and service plans in those cases rely on ongoing assessment of domestic violence and its impact on both children and parents. Not all families experiencing domestic violence should be referred to child protective services nor will child protective services respond to all reports of domestic violence. Child protective services intervention is warranted when the risk factors present a safety threat to the child.

One of the dilemmas of domestic violence and child abuse cases is how to keep children safe without penalizing the non-offending parent. The goal should be to view the child and non-offending parent as a unit. Often, what is in the best interest of the mother is actually what is in the best interest of the child. Although there are times when child protective services must file petitions in juvenile court or place children away from their mother/non-offending parent, the following actions may penalize the adult victim of intimate partner violence without increasing the safety of the children:

  • Labeling the adult victim as the perpetrator (those who choose to do harm) through “failure to protect”;
  • Telling the victim the children will be removed if the violence happens again;
  • Placing children away from their mother/non-offending parent;
  • Mandating restraining orders;
  • Mandating services that could be voluntary; and/or
  • Filing petitions in juvenile court.

When addressing instances of domestic violence and child abuse, provided the child is not in immediate danger, the following practices are recommended to ensure the wellbeing of the non-offending parent and child(ren):

  • Accurately assess (impact of exposure, domestic violence offender interference in non-offending parent parenting, etc.) and provide appropriate services and treatment modalities.
  • Routinely provide resources, services, and support relative to the violence.
  • Confirm self-reports of progress by the domestic violence offender toward non-violence.
  • Actively include children and non-offending partner in planning interventions with the domestic violence offender in a safe and appropriate way.
  • Increasing access to resources, expand networks of support, and promote resiliency.
  • Provide children counseling, recreational opportunities, and opportunities to feel accomplished.
  • Refer domestic violence offenders to the appropriate services and monitor their progress. Case management strategies are tied to the domestic violence offender’s demonstrated follow-through and changed behavior.
  • Specifically and safely evaluate children with academic performance problems and learning disabilities for exposure to violence in the home.

When possible, the goal of child protective services should be to keep children in their own homes with the non-offending parent.

Adapted from:

Criteria to Consider in Determining High Risk to Children

In determining high risk and the need for immediate response, advocates should consider the following as additional risk factors where domestic violence is present.

  • Domestic violence related injuries to an adult or child.
  • Severe or frequent domestic violence assaults or escalation of severity and
  • Display or use of weapons during domestic violence assault.
  • Perpetrator’s (those who choose to do harm) threats to kill or seriously harm himself or others.
  • Perpetrator stalking of adult victim and/or children.
  • Menacing conduct of domestic violence perpetrator and risk to child of being
    assaulted or snatched.
  • Substance abuse problem in the family.
  • Non-abusive parent forced to flee and leave children with perpetrator. Or non-abusing parent and children have fled, without a place to go.
  • Adult victim unable to care for child due to the trauma of a recent assault or to the
    trauma from a series of multiple incidents.
  • Risk increases when the perpetrator has ongoing access to adult victim and/or

If you Make a Call

Make sure to hold the correct person accountable. If a woman discloses abuse, do not use terms like “the alleged abuser.” Show that you believe what she is saying and give her an opportunity to talk about how it feels to know that her children have been harmed. Make sure to validate her parenting and do not blame her for abuse if someone else has abused her children. When you call the hotline, make sure you identify who the abuser is and specifically state who should be held accountable for the abuse. This will be documented in her case file and may help her the in the future.

Creating a Safety Plan for Parents Involved with CPS

The following section is adapted from Advocacy Matters: Helping Mothers and Their Children Involved With Child Protection (Lonna Davis)

* This article was written for mothers already involved in CPS at the time that you begin your work with her. However, you can also adapt these strategies when working with women who will become involved with CPS as a result of a hotline call that you make.

Creating a Safety Plan: Mothers involved with CPS have complex safety needs that require attention. Increased or decreased risk depends on multiple factors including, but not limited to, the abuser’s agenda, how dangerous the abuser is and the level of safe practice by other providers. It’s critical to understand the current level of involvement the abuser has with CPS. It’s also crucial to know whether the woman thinks his involvement is helpful or hurtful to her and her children. Questions you should ask include:

  • Does your abuser know CPS is involved? How has he reacted?
  • Has anything made you more afraid? If yes, what?
  • Are you worried your abuser will find out what you’ve told your CPS caseworker?
  • How would you like CPS to work with you? Your abuser? Your children? Why?

Pay careful attention to the following when safety planning with women about the CPS response:

  • If the mother is in a shelter or in hiding, is her address written anywhere in the case record? How will the system protect it?
  • Is it necessary to have separate CPS service plans so the abuser does not see the woman’s plan?
  • If the abuser is engaging in services to change his violent behavior, how does the mother feel about this?
  • Will the children tell the abuser information that may increase risk for the woman and her children?
  • Does it increase risk to have mail sent from CPS or other systems to her house?
  • What interventions/services are in the service plans? Do they fit the woman’s safety needs? Are they culturally appropriate?

Each woman’s situation is different and by collaborating with women and making careful assessments you can more effectively advocate for appropriate interventions.

Adapted from the Family Violence Prevention Fund’s publication Domestic Violence: A National Curriculum for Child Protective Services, 1996, written by Anne L. Ganley, Ph.D. and Susan Schechter, M.S.W.

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