Rutgers University’s Center on Violence Against Women and Children Trains Social Workers with a Focus on Domestic Violence

by Catie Buttner

The Center on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) has a clear mission: to eliminate all forms of violence against women and children and to address the power imbalances that permit them. This challenging goal requires multiple approaches. VAWC, which celebrated their tenth year in 2017 as a research and education center within the Rutgers University School of Social Work, conducts research projects, incorporates educational outreach, and offers training on many platforms—and, in doing so, has reached thousands of individuals, making that goal more attainable.

Over the last seven years, VAWC has worked to understand and address the co-occurrence between instances of domestic violence and child maltreatment. In one nationally representative study, more than 60 percent of children were exposed to family violence in the preceding year (Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner, & Hamby, 2005). Such exposure includes watching or hearing violent events; being directly involved in abuse; and/or experiencing the aftermath of the occurrence, such as watching a father being arrested (Carlson, 1984; Fantuzzo & Mohr, 1999; Jaffe, Wolfe, & Wilson, 1990).

Exposure also can mean being manipulated by the batterer to gain further control over his or her partner (Faller, 2003). Given the high prevalence of domestic violence within families involved in child welfare, it is essential that there is coordination between child welfare and domestic violence agencies.

Unfortunately, professionals still grapple with how best to keep families safe. The different and sometimes conflicting levels of experience and education can make it difficult to agree on a single strategy, frustrating families who need help. Many states have included screening and services for children exposed to domestic violence as part of their child welfare systems. In general, most of these efforts involve collaborating with other agencies and/or training for child welfare workers to screen and intervene with families experiencing domestic violence; however, the evaluation of such programs is scarce and methodologically weak.

Adequate training, support, and resources are the most immediately implementable and offer tangible methods for change. Though agencies may wish to work together on issues of domestic violence, they may lack the resources needed, such as cross-training, access to information, opportunities for positive team-building, and/or agency polices that allow for greater collaboration and a stronger network overall.

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Catie Buttner is the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Center on Violence Against Women & Children at Rutgers University.