This policy guide provides guidance on how to assess allegations of domestic violence (aka intimate partner abuse) and provides instructions on observing, gathering, and assessing evidence during the course of the emergency response investigation.
Table of Contents
- Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Abuse
- Domestic Violence/Safety Assessment
- Restraining Orders
- Assessing a Child’s Exposure to Domestic Violence
- Assessing a Parent/Caregiver Who is Being Abused
- Assessment of the Person Who is Abusive
This policy guide was updated from the 07/01/14 version, to provide additional guidance to staff on how to communicate and engage clients when there is alleged, suspected or confirmed domestic violence/intimate partner abuse. Additionally, language was revised to reflect more current day terminology.
Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Abuse
Domestic violence and intimate partner abuse are often used interchangeably in research, communications,etc. Throughout this policy, the use of the term "domestic violence" is used and shall be considered reflective of both domestic violence and intimate partner abuse terminology.
Domestic violence refers to abuse committed against an adult or minor who is:
- A spouse or former spouse
- A cohabitant or former cohabitant
- A person with whom the suspect has had a child
- A person with whom the suspect is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship
Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship. Multiple forms of abuse are usually present at the same time and may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Physical abuse
- Verbal abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse
- Religious/spiritual abuse
CSWs must assess all parents/caregivers and all children in the home when domestic violence is suspected.
It is important to be mindful of how to address the individuals involved during the assessment. Individuals who have experienced or continued to experience domestic violence may prefer the term “survivor” or “person who is being abused/has been abused” rather than being referred to as a “victim”. The “batterer” or “abuser” or “perpetrator” may be referred to as “the person who has abused” or other similar term that doesn’t specifically label the individual in a negative manner. Note: All of these terms are used interchangeably throughout this policy.
When a CSW is investigating allegations of domestic violence, there are certain circumstances that the CSW should be aware of while conducting their investigation:
- It is important for the social worker to try to identify if anyone in the home has disability. The presence of a disability for a parent or child can significantly impact the assessment of protective capacity and child vulnerability.
- The immigration status of the family can play a significant role. It is important toexplore if the family has any fears regarding deportation and provide the familywith resources to legal services and other relevant supportive services. It is also important to use culturally sensitive language and resources to help identifycultural or language barriers that can impact the assessment of violence in thefamily home. Be mindful that while exploring a client’s concerns, legal advice isnot to be given, rather CSWs are to consult with County Counsel prior to providing legalservice resources to a client.
- There are instances in which the person reportedly being abused identifies as male, non-binary or as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. It is important to recognize that some individuals may deny that domestic violence has occurred/or is occurring as they may be ashamed to disclose due to societal expectations of gender roles associated with family violence.
- The same gender role expectations that leads to denial and/or shame also contributes to underreporting of violence perpetrated by a female on a male victim.
- Domestic violence occurs in teen relationships. It is important to recognize the red flags and educate parents to do the same.
- Domestic violence is cyclical, thus there may not be a recent incident of domestic violence, but rather, the parents may be in what is commonly referred to as the “honeymoon phase” (i.e., period of calm).
- There are three (3) phases in the cycle of violence: (1) Tension-Building Phase, (2) Acute or Crisis Phase, and (3) Calm or Honeymoon Phase.Without intervention, the frequency and severity of the abuse tends to increase over time.
Domestic Violence/Safety Assessment
The most dangerous time in a relationship involving domestic violence may be when an individual who is being abused is thinking about leaving the relationship or just after they leave the relationship. For this reason, when assessing a situation involving allegations that domestic violence is occurring/has occurred, CSWs are reminded to complete a thorough assessment of the household at the initial contact and each contact thereafter.When assessing circumstances where there is alleged, suspected or confirmed domestic violence, suggested questions to consider when assessing a household may include, but are not limited to the following:
- Has the person who is abusive ever used a weapon against the person who isbeing abused, or have they made threats of using a weapon?
- Has the person who is abusive threatened to kill the person who is being abused or their children?
- Does the person who is abusive have a gun or have easy access to one?
- Has the person who is abusive ever tried to choke the person who is beingabused?
- Is the person who is abusive violently or constantly jealous or do they controlmost of the daily activities of the person who is being abused daily?
- Has the person who is abused ever left/attempted to leave the relationship?
When determining safety and risk, it is imperative that the assessment including inquiries regarding restraining orders (aka protective orders) as well as whether or not the involved parties are in possession of, or have access to, firearms and ammunition.
Pursuant to Senate Bill (SB) 320:
- The Court is required to order a restrained person to relinquish firearms and ammunition, and how they are to be relinquished.
- The Court is required to consider information presented at a noticed hearing that a restrained person has a firearm or ammunition and make a determination regarding that fact. For families who already have an open dependency court case, this determination may be made at a review hearing set by the juvenile court within 10 days of the information being presented.
- A finding that the restrained person is in possession of a firearm or ammunition is a factor the Court may consider when granting sole or joint physical or legal custody at the time the case closes.
- There are some legal issues that the CSW should be aware of when workingwith domestic violence. In regards to restraining orders, it is important torecognize the difference between an emergency protective order, family law domestic violence restraining order, and criminal protective order as each one has different implications. If a family indicates there is a restraining order in place, it is important to obtain a certified copy to be fully informed of the issuing court, expiration date and conditions of the order.
- A restraining order can assist in keeping the family safe, but does not replace asafety plan and a thorough household assessment at every contact with the family. A clear, thought-out and specific safety plan is needed, regardless of whether a restraining order is sought. Safety plans should be developed based on a family’s unique circumstances.
- DCFS should never require a parent to obtain a restraining order, and a parent’s choice or inability to obtain a restraining order should not be considered as a factor in determining whether a parent acted appropriately to protect a child from exposure to domestic violence. DCFS should support a parent’s efforts by providing available resources, and connecting to legal services organizations, if possible, so the parent can make a fully informed choice about whether a restraining order is appropriate in their specific case.
- If filing a petition in Dependency Court is necessary to keep the children and at risk parent safe, DCFS can, after consulting with County Counsel, complete an Application for a Temporary Restraining Order requesting that the hearing officer at the detention hearing consider a restraining order for further protection.
Assessing a Child’s Exposure to Domestic Violence
When interviewing the children, it is important to remember that children who witness or are exposed to domestic violence are not only at risk of physical abuse and general neglect but it can also produce a range of emotional, psychological, and behavioral problems for children. Thus, children in domestic violence households should be assessed for all forms of abuse, including but not limited to, , , and and/or neglect as well as traumatic stress.
When assessing a child’s exposure to domestic violence, consider the following:
- The importance of keeping the child with the parent who is being abused. A child who is exposed to and/or is the victim of domestic violence may exhibit symptoms of depression, dissociation, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), including behaving more impulsively and aggressively and/or being more withdrawn and anxious. These can be indicators of toxic levels of stress thus, it is important to consider parental protective factors when assessing safe ways to maintain a child with a parent who is being abused.
- This assessment of children is important in determining if their exposure meets any of the WIC subdivisions.
- Determine if the ER referral may be closed with confirmed links to appropriate resources; or
- File a petition: non-detained allowing the children to remain in the home of the parent who is being abused and detained from the abuser.
- The age of the child when making an assessment may impact both the types of harm the child may have experienced and how this harm presents:
- Children 0-5 years old are more vulnerable to accidental injury during domestic violence incidents of battery. They may exhibit sleep disturbances nightmares, loss of skills including self-care and enuresis, separation anxiety, failure to thrive, and/or tantrums.
- Children 6-12 years old may exhibit eating disturbances, seductive or manipulative behavior, and fear of abandonment or loss of control, depression, anxiety, shame and/or may attempt to protect the victim.
- Adolescents may feel separated from the family, run away, engage in suicidal or homicidal thoughts, act out sexually, use/abuse drugs/alcohol, perform poorly in school, and/or experience violent dating relationships (i.e., intimate partner abuse).
- Children with disabilities are more vulnerable to all forms of abuse and neglect. If it is determined that a child has a disability or is hard of hearing, the following should be specifically assessed for it is determined that a child has a disability or is hard of hearing:
- Greater dependence on others for care
- Limited contact with others outside the home
- Inability to understand what is happening to them or their parent/caregiver
- Limited ability to communicate
- Expressions of their exposure to abuse/neglect or violence in the home by:
- Sudden changes in behavior, such as increased agitation or distress
- Loss of appetite
- Sexualized behavior
Assessing a Parent/Caregiver Who is Being Abused
When assessing the ability of a parent/caregiver who is being abused to safely care for a child, it is important to start the assessment from a strengths-based approach focusing on resiliency and protective factors. The assessor should conduct the assessment through a lens of cultural humility and cultural competence. The assessment can provide useful information to gauge the severity of the abuse.
The following should be considered and discussed when assessing a parent/caregiver who is being abused:
- The child’s bond with the parent/caregiver who is being abused.
- All steps the parent/caregiver who is being abused has taken to protect thechild from abuse or neglect, including exposure to domestic violence and any barriers the they experienced in trying to take these steps.
- The person who perpetuates abuse/violence and whether they were able to meet the child’s emotional, medical, social and physical needs.
- Whether the parent/caregiver who is being abused is abusingalcohol/drugs/over-the-counter medication and its impact on the safety and risk of their child
- Explore the ability of parent/caregiver who is being abused to leave the person who is abusive and assist in making an appropriate safety plan for the family. It is important for the CSW to remember that a person who is abused is particularly vulnerable during the separation period and remain at high risk at the end of the relationship.
- If the parent/caregiver who is being abused is hesitant to leave the person whois abusive, it is important for the CSW to explore the reasons for their reluctance to leave and/or desire to return to their abuser.
- There are many reasons for a parent/caregiver who is being abused is reluctant to leave and/or desire to return to a partner who is abusive, which may include:
- Fear of greater abuse or death and/or desire to protect the child from abuse
- Fear that the abuser will kidnap or gain custody of the child
- Economic dependence on the abuser
- Immigration status of the abuser
- The parent/caregiverwho is being abused may be unaware of their options should they be undocumented and thus, remain with or return to their partner who is abusive, particularly if their partner is documented/a legal citizen (e.g., They may have fears of deportation).
- Intimidation and threats from the abuser
- promise of change on the part of the abuser
- Feelings of failure
- Love for the abuser
- Cultural/religious belief systems
- Lack of resources and support systems
- Unsatisfactory or challenging experiences with the service delivery system, including law enforcement, courts, child protection agencies, shelter placements.
Many of these reasons (above) are grounded in the lived experiences of the parent/caregiver who is being abused. It is important to validate and discuss these reasons and not be dismissive of their reasons for staying in, or returning to, a relationship where domestic violence has occurred.
Assessing Domestic Violence in Cases of Undocumented or Recent Immigrant Parents/Caregivers
The following should be considered when assessing domestic violence in households involving a parent/caregiver who is an undocumented and/or recent immigrant:
- The parent/caregiver’s fear and concerns of deportation to their country of origin.
- The allows abused immigrant spouses a two (2) year period after divorce to petition for permanent residence. A parent/caregiver who is being/was abused may also qualify for a “U” visa or asylum. NOTE: Prior to taking action, CSWs are to consult with County Counsel on such matters as DCFS can sign a certification to support “U” visa applications in some instances.
- Unfamiliarity with U.S. laws and rights.
- Language barriers that inhibit communication and the ability to access resources.
- Fear of involving law enforcement, courts, child protective agencies and others in authority.
- The role of the woman in other cultures.
- Taboos towards discussing domestic violence and private family matters.
Culturally sensitive and language-appropriate resources should be used.
Assessing Domestic Violence Toward Male Parents/Caregivers
All occurrences of domestic violence involving a male parent/caregiver who is abused by their female partner should be assessed and reported. The CSW should assess for an imbalance of power and control. Since an abused male is contrary to societal expectations, also assess for:
- Feelings of denial and shame.
- Discrimination in how the incident(s) is/are reported and responded to (e.g., by law enforcement, court, extended family, and/or friends).
- Reluctance of a victim to disclose.
Domestic violence experts may be consulted to clarify any of these issues. All individuals who are abused should be provided with appropriate resource (e.g., shelters, counseling), as needed.
Assessing Domestic Violence in Teen Relationships
When an incident of domestic violence involving a teen relationship is suspected, assess for the following:
- A teen’s societal and familial exposure to domestic violence
- Misinterpretation of attention, jealousy, or possessiveness by the person who is abusive as positive
- A skewed understanding of what constitutes a “healthy relationship”.
Teenage girls who experience violent relationships are at high risk for attempted suicide, eating disorders, substance use/abuse and/or pregnancy. Parents and their teenage children should be educated and referred to appropriate resources. This also applies to youth in out-of-home care (OHC) and their caregivers. For those youth in OHC, ensure they have a copy of their civil rights.
Be mindful that teenage boys may also be the victims of domestic violence and that domestic violence may occur in any relationship, including LGBTQ+ relationships.
Assessing Domestic Violence Parents/Caregivers Who Have a Disability
When an incident of domestic violence involves an at-risk parent/caregiver who is disabled or deaf, assess for the following:
- Limitations in communicating, as this increases their vulnerability to domestic violence.
- Dependence on the person who is abusive to meet their financial, medical, and/or physical needs or for assistance with activities of daily life
- Fear that the loss of the person who is abusive will leave them without a caregiver or place to live
- Low self-esteem and/or a feeling of powerlessness
- Belief that they are “damaged goods” and/or valued only by the person who is abusive
- Fear that their child will be taken away if the abuse is reported due to the their disability
- Ability to execute an escape or domestic violence safety plan
- Access to services and resources that accommodate their special needs
Assessment of the Person Who is Abusive
The current and historical patterns of behavior of the person who is abusive should be assessed to assist the parent/caregiver who is being abused in taking appropriate steps to protect themselves, and their children. The following should be considered and assessed for the person who is abusive:
- Intimidation of or threats to the parent/caregiver who is being abused, other family members or pets
- Isolation of the parent/caregiver who is being abused and/or the children from family, friends, or work
- This may increase the victim’s dependence on the person who is abusive
- Manipulation of the parent/caregiver who is being abused by promising to change following a violence episode
- Blaming the parent/caregiver who is being abused for the abuse rather than taking responsibility
- Rationalization, justification, or minimization of the abuse
- Mental health history
- Stresses that may influence the behavior of the person who is abusive
- Potential substance use/abuse, which may increase the chance for violence
- Possession of weapons, use of weapons against the victim, or threat of the use of weapons on the parent/caregiver who is being abused
- Falsification of the suspected abusive situation by:
- Calling in false police/child abuse reports
- Injuring themselves to deflect the focus of the situation
- Harassing/stalking the parent/caregiver who is being abused
- Current mental state and the degree of risk to the parent/caregiver, including:
- Acute depression
- Homicide/suicide or homicidal fantasies directed at family members when the person who is abusive sees no other way out
- Perception that the parent/caregiver who is abused is “owned” by the person who is abusive
- Idolization of the parent/caregiver who is being abused
- Isolation of the person who is being abused from the community
- Total dependency on the person who is being abused, particularly when the parent/caregiver who is being abused leaves or threatens to leave the relationship
- The presence of stressors in the family, including but not limited to:
- Unemployment, eviction, or financial difficulties
- Severe health problems or disabilities
- Behavioral changes in either the parent/caregiver or child as the child moves into a new developmental stage
- Separation, divorce
The following list of resources is not all-inclusive. Staff are encouraged to review these resources, each of which offers an array of services to families experiencing domestic violence.
- California has enacted a Family Violence Option which permits persons receiving CalWORKS to be exempt from certain program requirements like work requirements or time limits.
- Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART): A coordinated effort between domestic violence service providers and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). The DART promotes coordinated responses to address domestic violence victims’ and their children’s needs for crisis intervention, safety and wraparound support.
- California’s Safe at Home Program provides confidentiality protections, omitting any record of home, school or work addresses in public records that are maintained by state and local agencies. To qualify, applicants must enroll and provide specific information regarding being a victim of domestic abuse or stalking.
- Staff may refer to the Community-Based Resources policy for access to services such as victims of crime, family-centered services, family preservation, etc.
- Access to resources such as legal services, shelters/hotlines and support groups may be provided.
- The Social Security Administration (SSA) assists domestic violence survivors/victims who choose to establish a new identity to elude their abuser. New social security numbers can be provided for the survivor/victim as well as their child(ren) by providing the SSA with documented evidence that domestic violence has occurred.
- Informed Immigrant
- L.A. County Office of Immigrant Affairs
Investigating a Referral Involving Domestic Violence
The CSW must consider their own safety when working in these situations as well as the safety of the family they are assisting/assessing. When responding to high risk incidents of domestic violence, the CSW should consider involvement of law enforcement, as needed. If the situation is too dangerous to complete a full assessment, request an office interview.
- Prior to the face-to-face contact:
- Enter the home with consent, exigent circumstances, or a .
- When responding a family home where domestic violence is alleged, the CSW is to interview the parent/caregiver who is being abused, all of the children, and the person who is abusive, separately and privately. During the interview emphasize the need for safety for both the parent/caregiver who is being abused and the child(ren). The CSW should identify themselves as a resource for support.
- Be mindful that, when the parent/caregiver who is being abused remains with the person who is abusive, not to place blame, assume there is a failure to protect, or judge.
- If the person who is abusive is present and/or the situation appears hostile and/or dangerous, immediately leave to contact the parent/caregiver who is being abused in a safe manner
- If appropriate, contact law enforcement.
- Consider making a referral for a Family Preservation Assessment .
- For each interview, document in the CWS/CMS Delivered Service Log if it occurred separately and privately, and if not, state the reasons.
- During the home visit, conduct a domestic violence/intimate partner violence assessment. Refer to the indicators of domestic violence and domestic violence assessment discussed earlier in this policy for guidance.
- When conducting a of a child follow the procedures set forth in the policy on Visual Inspection of Children.
- Determine if anyone in the home has a disability, including disabilities that may not be immediately visible.
- When interviewing the parent/caregiver who is being abused, the CSW should assess their ability to provide for and ensure the child(ren)’s safety and well-being. The CSW should also further assess their ability to meet the child(ren)’s emotional, medical, physical, and social needs.
- To the extent possible, the CSW is to gather the following information form the parent/caregiver who is being abused:
- The history of the person who is abusive
- Presence of weapons in the house or the batterer’s access to weapons by the person who is abusive
- Prior arrest, probation, and parole history of the person who is abusive
- How both the person who is abusive and parent/caregiver who is being abused discipline the child
- Any diagnosed mental disorder for the person who is abusive or the parent/caregiver who is being abused and whether prescribed medication is or is not being used
- Substance use and/or abuse by any individual in the household and its impact on the ability to parent
- Patterns of isolation by the person who is abusive
- Whether the batterer acknowledges that he/she has a problem with abuse/violence
- Whether the person who is abusive is willing to stay away from the family and obtain required treatment
- Interview the child, using age appropriate questions. Ask about the following:
- General life experiences (e.g., eating, sleeping patterns, school attendance/performance, friends, relatives, activities, etc.)
- How the parents express anger toward each other and toward the child
- Whether the child has ever been hurt when the parents/caregivers are fighting
- What the child does when the parents/caregivers fight
- How the child is disciplined
- If the child(ren) or parent/caregiver who is being abused appear to be in imminent danger, proceed as follows:
- Determine whether the parent/caregiver who is being abused has a safe relative/friend’s home to stay.
- Assist with .
- Verify that the relative/friend/shelter has accepted the parent/caregiver who is being abused and child(ren).
- Verify the plan to transport the parent/caregiver who is being abused and/or child(ren) to the relative/friend/shelter.
- Explore the option of an emergency protective order from law enforcement.
- Develop a domestic violence with the parent/caregiver who is being abused and child(ren):
- Make every effort to keep the parent/caregiver who is being abused and child together with interventions that maximize the safety of both.
- Link the parent/caregiver who is being abused with a domestic violence service in their area.
- Identify a list of needs, services, or resources that is needed to keep the parent/caregiver who is being abused and child safe.
- Ascertain social supports that are inaccessible to the person who is abusive.
- Advise the parent/caregiver who is being abused to keep a set of car keys, extra money, clothes, and important legal documents with a relative or friend.
- Advise the parent/caregiver who is being abused to memorize important telephone numbers
- Advise the parent/caregiver who is being abused to formulate and rehearse an escape plan with the child(ren).
- Complete the Structured Decision Making Safety Assessment and Family Risk Assessment tools. Be mindful that domestic violence comes in various forms. Take this into account as SDM definitions vary from item to item. There are items related to violence, threats, harassment and intimidation (risk assessment) as well incidents of household violence that “created danger of serious physical injury to the child and there is reason to believe that this may occur again” (safety assessment/safety threat). For example*:
- Child was in the arms of one person during a violent episode
- A gun, knife, or other implement was involved
- Child attempted to intervene or was near enough to the violent altercation that he/she was in harm's way; or child was previously injured in a domestic/family violence incident (e.g., fractures, bruising, cuts, or burns) and there is violence occurring now
- *The questions under the section above titled “Domestic Violence/Safety Assessment” may be helpful in directing the interview.
- Refer the family for . For lower risk cases a contract and involvement in the Family Preservation Program may be appropriate after the parent/caregiver who is being abused, the child(ren), and the person who is abusive have been thoroughly assessed.
- Consult with and obtain approval from the SCSW on whether protective custody is necessary and/or County Counsel, based on the following circumstances:
- The child has been injured, physically abused or severely neglected by either parent.
- There is consistent evidence that domestic violence is so pervasive that it has profoundly affected the child’s ability to function and there are no interventions that would address the child’s trauma while maintaining the child in the custody of the parent/caregiver who is being/was abused or they have been provided with, and actively refused, interventions.
- All services provided to protect the child(ren) and the parent/caregiver who is being abused were ignored by the person who is abusive and/or were refused by the person and leaving the child(ren) with the parent/caregiver who is being abused poses a safety risk.
- The person who is abusive has continued access to the child(ren).
- The person who is abusive has exhibited high-risk, violent behavior and there is no intervention that could safely protect both the child and parent who is being abused.
- Refer the parent/caregiver who is being abused to a legal services organization so they can obtain information about the option of a , if appropriate.
- Document all observations and findings in the CWS/CMS Contact Notebook.
Referenced Policy Guides
0050-502.10, Child Protection Hotline (CPH)
0070-524.10, Assessment of Failure to Thrive
0070-528.10, Assessing Children with Special Needs in ER Investigations
0070-529.10, Assessing Allegations of Physical Abuse
0070-531.10, Visual Inspection of Children
0070-532.10, Assessing Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse
0070-534.10, Assessment of Emotional Abuse
0070-548.00, Community-Based Resources
0070-548.10, Disposition of Allegations and Closure of Emergency Response Referrals
0070-548.24, Structural Decision Making (SDM)
0070-548.25, Completing the Structured Decision Making (SDM) Safety Plan
0070-570.10, Obtaining Warrants and/or Removal Orders
0080-502.25, Family Maintenance Services for Both Court and Voluntary Cases
0100-510.61, Placement Responsibilities
0300-318.05, Obtaining Restraining Orders
1200-500.86, Immigration Options for Undocumented Children & Families
– States, in part, that whenever custody or visitation is granted to a parent where a restraining protective order is issued due to allegations of domestic violence, the court is encouraged not make a visitation plan inconsistent with the restraining custody order.
In re Heather A., 52 Cal App. 4th 183 (1996) – States, in part, that a child’s witness of and/or exposure to the occurrence of abuse affects the child and therefore qualifies as abuse to the child.
Penal Code Section 13700(b) – Provides a definition of domestic violence.
Public Law 104–193 (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) – Allows states to enforce a family violence option which exempts domestic violence victims from work requirements, time limits and other mandated activities and restrictions, including exemptions from cooperating with the child support enforcement provision.
Senate Bill (SB) 320 – Requires Courts to order perpetrators of domestic violence to relinquish firearms and ammunition, including the manner in which relinquishment shall occur. Further, the Court may consider the possession of firearms and ammunition by a perpetrator when determining physical and legal custody at the time jurisdiction is being terminated.
Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 300 (a) – Provides a description of physical abuse.