Chapter V

Oregon Department of Human Services

State Office for Services to Children and Families(1)


Oregon's State Office for Services to Children and Families (SCF), its child welfare agency, lies within the Department of Human Resources (DHR). DHR also administers the Aid to Families with Dependent Children, alcohol and drug abuse, mental health, and vocational rehabilitation programs. Funding from a surcharge on marriage licenses that is designated for domestic violence shelters is distributed through SCF. Within the state office building, staff sit by function (such as programming, budget, etc.) rather than by division or office in order to encourage communication and collaboration within the larger department. SCF serves families throughout Oregon, which encompasses metropolitan areas such as Portland, Salem, and Eugene in the western portion of the state and large rural counties in the southern and eastern parts.

This site report focuses primarily on efforts to integrate domestic violence at the state level within SCF, and also looks at specific efforts in Marion, Lane, Multnomah, and Benton Counties. These counties lie within the Willamette River Valley on the western side of the state, home to the majority of the state's population. Although we mention some efforts in other counties, this report does not reflect all types of coordination occurring throughout Oregon. It does not cover efforts in large, rural counties in the eastern half of the state where there are unique service delivery challenges for both domestic violence and other basic service providers.

Child welfare services are delivered through four geographical regions. Multnomah County coincides with the Metro Region and is served by four branches covering Portland and its outlying communities.(2)

Multnomah County is the largest metropolitan area in Oregon and has a population of 583,887. Lane County lies in the Southern Region and includes Eugene which, with a population of 112,669, is the second largest city in Oregon and home of the University of Oregon. The Western Region includes both Marion and Benton counties. Salem, the state capitol, is located in Marion County, which has a population of 228,483. Many state institutions and prisons are located in Salem, and the county has a disproportionate number of residents with past criminal involvement. Benton County (population 70,811) is a relatively small but rural county north of Eugene. It includes the town of Corvallis and Oregon State University. Community response to domestic violence in Benton County is somewhat more advanced than it is in the adjacent, and larger, Linn County. The two counties share a branch manager and many services, including the domestic violence shelter, but have different court systems and prosecuting attorneys.

Brief Overview of Child Welfare Services

Oregon has a state-administered child welfare system, but there appears to be substantial room for variation among branches.(3) The size of county SCF staff varies across the state; those covered in this study range from seven full-time equivalent (FTE) staff in Benton County to nearly 200 FTEs in Multnomah County. Staff positions include screeners, workers, and supervisors in the areas of protective services, family foster care, other substitute care, in-home services, and adoption.

Similar to the situation in many states, SCF faces rising caseloads and a constrained budget. In order to ensure that Oregon's most needy families are served, the state formalized a priority system with seven levels of vulnerability. Over time, staff resources are being redistributed so that branches across the state can more consistently serve the three highest levels of need. Despite state efforts to achieve more uniformity across branches, important differences persist--especially between urban and rural counties--in the severity of maltreatment among cases served. Child abuse and neglect referrals that meet the criteria for investigation are assigned to Protective Services.

The state legislature meets biannually and in recent years has been leaning on SCF to strengthen its family preservation interventions. SCF uses a variety of intervention tools to preserve and reunite families including family unity meetings or family group conferences, where members of a family and its support system are convened to work together on shared goals.

Seven counties in the state have family support teams of service providers (drug and alcohol and public health professionals) who work with families involved in SCF to resolve various issues. An additional county has a "shelter team," which is an expanded version of the family support team that also includes housing, employment and training, parenting, and mental health specialists. If the legislature authorizes the necessary funding in its next session, SCF will transform all family support teams into shelter teams, double the number of communities receiving this service, and add a domestic violence specialist to the team.

Oregon requires SCF branches to contract a number of different services out to private providers, services that at one time had been delivered in house. These services include sexual abuse and other types of counseling and treatment, intensive in-home services and, in some cases, family unity meetings. Which services are contracted out and whether the service is delivered at all in the community varies substantially across branches.

In addition, the legislature recently established County Commissions on Children and Families to focus on the prevention side of the service spectrum. The commissions are not required to include either SCF or domestic violence representatives and are meant to be made up of lay people in the community. The commissions are charged with developing local plans, and are allocated funding to make grants within the community. In many of the counties we visited, however, the commissions appeared to be having difficulty developing focused prevention-oriented strategies.

Child Welfare Agency Approach to Domestic Violence

State SCF administrators became aware of the significance of domestic violence, in part, through a cohort study examining the prevalence of various family factors in SCF-involved families (Child Welfare Partnership, undated). The study found that 26 percent of families with children entering care between 1991 and 1993 were affected by domestic violence, without that factor being recognized by any formal assessment process. Domestic violence was one of the family factors that distinguished severe physical abuse cases from cases of moderate or mild abuse.(4)

Meanwhile, only 2 percent of all families were offered domestic violence treatment and only 25 percent of those families completed the services. In addition, a review of child fatalities in Oregon also documented a high level of domestic violence.

In 1994 the state SCF office, in collaboration with the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, applied for and received a federal Office of Community Services (OCS) grant to develop and complete training, hold meetings to encourage local-level collaboration, and implement a pilot program in a local SCF branch office (Marion County). A second, similar pilot in Benton County was funded by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. The pilots involved placing a domestic violence advocate (funded for 15 hours per week) in the SCF office to consult with workers and supervisors on specific cases and to provide support and services to the mothers and their children. These pilots began in August 1995 and ran until February 1996. Marion County has been able to continue the advocate position at a reduced level.(5)

The state SCF office has not set policy directives on how best to work with families affected by domestic violence. The pilot projects were meant to be the beginning of an on-going process to consider how best to address the issue at the state level (beyond providing training). A booklet explaining Oregon's Mandatory Reporting Law identifies domestic violence as a factor contributing to threat of harm or emotional abuse to the child.

Local-Level Initiatives

While the state office acknowledges the importance of efforts to integrate domestic violence into policy and systems change at the state level, it also is attempting to have a dialogue on this issue within SCF and with other organizations at all levels of the state in order to encourage changes in actual SCF practice. The OCS grant funded seven meetings around the state to encourage collaboration at the local level between SCF branch managers, SCF supervisors, and domestic violence program directors. The meetings included small group discussions on specific cases that involved domestic violence--what current casework practice is and how SCF might respond differently. In addition, the group identified various ways the localities could further collaborate, by holding joint staffings and joint training, and by developing support groups. SCF is encouraging its branches to sit on local domestic violence councils and to invite domestic violence participation on its multi-disciplinary teams (MDTs).(6)

Of the 15 branches contacted by the Child Welfare Partnership during a follow-up survey on the OCS-funded management meetings, all but one branch routinely consults by telephone with a local domestic violence organization regarding specific cases.(7)

Three branches jointly review specific cases at intake and five reported joint staffings of specific cases. A third of the branches reported that domestic violence representatives have attended family unity meetings. More than a third of the branches provided training for domestic violence staff and held their own training/practice forums for SCF workers.

Not all efforts at the local level derived from state-led initiatives. The Lane County SCF began to address directly the issue of domestic violence about three years ago, after a number of child fatalities occurred and the community observed that the only problem common to all the families was domestic violence. SCF had been involved with some but not all of the families. Because of this heightened awareness, SCF began to screen for domestic violence and petition for court jurisdiction based on emotional abuse in cases where domestic violence was the prevailing factor warranting intervention. The district attorney and the juvenile court judge were receptive to SCF involvement in these cases. In order to work with families for whom domestic violence is the primary allegation of abuse, however, the Lane County SCF branch has had to limit its provision (of all SCF services) to families with children under the age of 14. According to this supervisor, this shift has allowed SCF to give priority to families with greater needs.


The state used a portion of the Office of Community Services Grant to provide training to Protective Services staff on domestic violence. The OCS training for SCF workers was held in eight locations around the state. The training was optional and approximately 190 people participated from 30 of the state's 36 branch offices. Multnomah County, which received two training sessions funded by the OCS grant, also contracted for an additional two training sessions in collaboration with its local domestic violence shelter.

The state also conducts a six-week intensive core curriculum training for new protective services workers (and existing workers who were hired prior to the implementation of the core curriculum) that has generally included some basic training on domestic violence. The domestic violence trainer reviewed the core curriculum as a part of the OCS grant in order to integrate domestic violence issues more fully. The trainer will include more case examples involving domestic violence throughout the material, and will retain the issue as a separate component.

Domestic violence was also a primary focus of the three-day Western Regional Symposium on Child Abuse and Sexual Assault, sponsored by the Springfield Child Abuse Resource in November 1995. The symposium included experts in domestic violence and its effects on children, a batterer intervention service provider, and representatives from Michigan who presented portions of the recently developed Family Violence Prevention Fund curriculum for family preservation workers. This conference reached several hundred attendees, including law enforcement officers, therapists, MDT members, and SCF workers.

In addition, the state conducted training for domestic violence workers on issues related to SCF. This training focused primarily on explaining the role of SCF, the criteria that must be met in order to investigate a family and to intervene, and the boundaries of SCF's authority. Thirty-five representatives from 17 of the state's 31 domestic violence programs attended the training. Several shorter versions of this training were held around the state to accommodate domestic violence advocates unable to attend the initial training.

Some local domestic violence providers have conducted additional training for SCF workers in their areas. The Benton County domestic violence advocate conducted three training sessions for local SCF workers and one for an adjacent county. This joint training at the local level was helpful, in part because it allowed the two service communities to begin to develop relationships. According to an evaluation conducted by the Child Welfare Partnership, domestic violence workers at the other pilot site and at least five other counties in the state also participated in training for local SCF workers.

Intake and Assessment

The state SCF office is currently revising the assessment protocol to aid workers in identifying domestic violence and is also adding domestic violence to its risk assessment criteria. In addition, as part of an overall effort to update the management information system, computer screens are being developed to prompt intake workers to ask questions regarding domestic violence and to note the responses in their report. SCF offices continue to struggle in deciding which cases need to be investigated by protective services when domestic violence is identified, particularly when it is the primary risk factor. Emotional abuse is very difficult to prove, and the desire to become involved in these cases depends a great deal on the level of perceived cooperation from the local district attorney's office and the presiding judge(s).

Marion County intake workers have become very sensitized to domestic violence. They screen incoming police reports of domestic violence for involvement of children (particularly to determine if children were the initial reporters to 911) and to determine the chronicity and intensity of the domestic violence going on in the household. For child abuse and neglect reports, screeners attempt to talk to a number of people to obtain additional information, including questions to police and schools about ongoing domestic violence and behavior of children. Workers in Marion County try, but are not required, to talk to the mother separately if possible.

The Portland Metro Region/Multnomah County is currently developing a protocol to identify domestic violence in its caseload. The protocol is being developed by a monthly working group consisting of SCF staff and local domestic violence program advocates. The protocol will be specifically geared toward the Portland area. It will describe processes for working with other area agencies when responding to an intake report where domestic violence is identified or suspected. Currently, screeners do not probe for domestic violence or a history of violence in the family. The protocol is one effort to help staff begin to look at the frequency and severity of domestic violence and to help coordinate with the many other local public agencies around this issue. Although this protocol is available for use in draft form, most staff have not begun to use it.

With support from the OCS grant, the Benton County SCF office's domestic violence advocate arranged for the police department to refer to SCF all reports of domestic violence with children in the family. During the pilot period, she reviewed each report and consulted with SCF if she felt the incident warranted its involvement. In some cases, information on the law enforcement history, the use of weapons, and history of domestic violence in the home, coupled with the presence of young children, was enough to warrant a report being investigated even when no actual physical abuse to the child had occurred. If the case met SCF standards, the domestic violence advocate and the CPS worker would visit the family together. If the case did not meet the SCF standard for investigation, the advocate would visit each woman on her own. Unfortunately, the pilot ended just as the advocate began to see some of the same families being referred a second time.

Lane County has also been receiving domestic violence reports from law enforcement where children are in the family. Other community reporters have begun reporting families to SCF when domestic violence is the only indication of abuse in the family. Domestic violence workers in the community were concerned that domestic violence had become equated with child abuse. Many staff of community-based programs serving battered women are mandatory reporters of child maltreatment and must now report domestic violence incidents to SCF. This may make the women less likely to seek help from service providers in the community.

SCF screeners in Lane County probe the reporter about the presence of domestic violence. Unless the violence is particularly severe or chronic, domestic violence cases assigned for SCF investigation are primarily those involving infants and pre-school age children. The number of domestic violence cases has doubled since the branch decided to assign cases without any physical injury to the child. Investigation workers call all four police jurisdictions in the county as well as the district attorney's office to inquire about both past and present restraining orders. In addition, the workers ask indirect questions of family members to probe for the existence of domestic violence in the household.

On-site Domestic Violence Advocate

Through the pilot program, two counties were able to place a part-time domestic violence advocate in their local SCF office. These advocates also worked part-time for the local domestic violence shelter. At least one other county has a domestic violence worker on-site for case staffings once a week.

One benefit of having an on-site domestic violence expert has been the ability to educate workers one-on-one by discussing specific cases and having informal conversations about the issue. According to the domestic violence advocate in Marion County, worker awareness has become more consistent since she began. However, though she has helped to correct misinformation that was floating through the organization, she feels that it will take much longer than six months to change long-held beliefs.

One branch manager who oversaw two county offices--one that had an on-site advocate and one that did not--noted a dramatic difference in the ability of the respective SCF workers to integrate information from their training into their work style. The presence of an on-site advocate provided two major benefits. The advocate worked to promote understanding and awareness among the workers and helped to change the way certain cases were handles. In addition, the advocate spent a great deal of effort directly supporting and counseling women in abusive situations, an activity that CPS workers rarely had the time to do.

Having domestic violence advocates in-house has also allowed for questioning of some standard SCF practices. In Marion County, for example, the advocate and staff are trying to integrate their knowledge about domestic violence into family unity meetings. Screening for domestic violence is critical in order to determine whether all family members belong at the table in these meetings. If the mother or another family member expresses any concerns or fears about the meeting, the advocate conducts a prescreening to determine whether a family unity meeting is appropriate. If the meeting is held, the perpetrator may not be allowed to attend or the advocate may attend with the mother. In addition, if a restraining order is known to exist, the perpetrator is not allowed to attend--again, underscoring the need to screen and probe for the existence of protection orders. Family unity meetings without the batterer may be a useful mechanism for working with the mother and her support system to develop a safety plan. But some domestic violence workers remain concerned that relatives and friends to whom the woman still has ties may be more supportive of the batterer. Many domestic violence victims have been isolated by their batterer from those extended family members who once supported her.

In-house advocates have also stressed the importance of looking at the domestic violence dynamic before placing a child with other family members. The perpetrator's parents and other relatives must be screened with particular care because they may not support the mother and may be abusive themselves. Advocates have also worked with extended family members who are concerned about a mother's safety, particularly in instances where the mother remains with her partner. The advocate can counsel concerned relatives about what actions they can take to help the victim and her children.

Services to Battered Women

The Mid-Valley Women's Crisis Service in Marion County runs voluntary support groups for any past or present victim of domestic violence. These groups are open to referrals from SCF. In addition, through the pilot project the domestic violence advocate at SCF began a support group specifically for SCF clients. Originally, only voluntary referrals were made, and very few women came. Now, mandatory referrals are taken but the advocate reports to SCF only the dates of attendance, not information that women disclose during the group session. According to both SCF workers and the advocate, hearing peers talk about domestic violence has been critical for many of these women in motivating change and providing credibility to the message conveyed by professionals.

Another SCF branch also mandated victims of domestic violence into support groups. This branch previously had provided support groups in house but a year prior began contracting with an existing service provider to hold the support groups. The domestic violence program in the area refused to contract with SCF because it did not want to be obligated to report to caseworkers on the attendance, statements, or behaviors of the women in its groups.

Children's Support Groups

Most services for children exposed to domestic violence are provided through community domestic violence programs. Generally these services are only available for children who are or have been in a battered women's shelter. SCF offices in the pilot projects collaborated with their domestic violence programs to develop therapeutic support groups for SCF children exposed to violence.

Both pilot counties found establishing children's groups to be quite difficult. Referrals were much lower than expected, in part because the group in one county was run during school hours, and SCF workers may have been reluctant to use or may not have known about the new service. Coordinating transportation for children in foster care who are geographically dispersed and not always in a stable placement is extremely challenging. In addition, one specialist felt that these children needed individual therapy before they could benefit from group therapy. Many children in SCF-involved families faced problems other than domestic violence (e.g., physical or sexual abuse) and all of the children were living in unstable situations, either because they were in temporary foster care or because they remained with the mother in a volatile situation.

Working with the Batterer

SCF is required to work with both the victim and the batterer if he is the father of one of the children in the household or resides in the children's household. Even when parents have separated, most agencies provide service plans for both parents. Often both parents have issues to work through, and the possibility remains that the children will be returned to either parent. Past violent behavior does not permanently negate a father's right or responsibility to care for or visit his children.

Few SCF workers had received any training on the manipulative behavior patterns of batterers and they did not have the necessary tools for working with perpetrators. According to several domestic violence workers, some SCF staff are still in denial about the level of harm and danger batterers can inflict--a situation somewhat similar to how SCF used to regard sex offenders before receiving extensive training in this area. In one county, several domestic violence workers said they observed case managers unwittingly controlled and manipulated by batterers.

Only a few branches had access to a batterer intervention program. A new 24-week program in Marion County had recently started and was well received by both the SCF and the domestic violence community. In Lane County, SCF began to contract with a local service provider to begin a batterer intervention program because none existed in the community. Since then, the court has also mandated offenders into the program. Multnomah County is also investigating the possibility of contracting out for batterer intervention services when its biannual contracts come up for renewal. Several other counties lamented the absence of batterer treatment in their communities but had not attempted to cultivate a program through their own service mechanisms.

Perspectives of Other Community Service Agencies and Organizations

Linkages between SCF and outside groups to address the overlap between domestic violence and child abuse can be found at a number of levels within the state of Oregon, but vary from one community to another. It is clear that SCF's ability to work effectively with victims of domestic violence and their children largely depends on the broader community's response to domestic violence. In one county where the community's response to domestic violence was poor, the branch manager noted that it is often the legal system and other societal institutions that give a batterer the right to stay in "his" home, forcing SCF to remove children or ask the mother to leave. SCF can help a woman obtain a restraining order and encourage her to call the police, but if law enforcement does not enforce the order when she calls for help, the helplessness of the victim is reinforced.

Efforts to increase communication and collaboration, both formally and informally, were first steps toward addressing the needs of both victims and children. About two years ago the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence obtained a grant from the State Justice Institute to support the formation of a state-wide domestic violence council whose purpose was to develop protocols for various parts of the criminal justice system. Membership on the council included representatives from virtually every relevant justice, victim, and other service sector. Now nearing the end of its two-year grant the Council's several committees have drafted protocols in the areas of law enforcement, prosecution, probation, batterer intervention, and victim services, among others. Unfortunately, the committees responsible for developing these protocols were formed with membership almost exclusively within their own agency type (e.g., most members of the law enforcement protocol development committee were from law enforcement), so the protocols did not benefit from the council's multi-agency makeup. Domestic violence advocates, in particular, did not see some of these protocols until they were in final draft form.

Again, it is through collaborative efforts at the local level that changes in practice are expected. A number of counties have placed domestic violence advocates on their multi-disciplinary teams (MDT). The children's program coordinator from the Marion County domestic violence program was invited to sit on the state child fatality review team several years ago. At the same time, she joined the county MDT that reviews both child fatalities and particularly complicated or severe child abuse cases. Because of the relationship that developed between the Benton County supervisor and the domestic violence advocate during the pilot period, the county's MDT has finally consented to include a domestic violence representative.

Many local counties also have a domestic violence council chaired by the county's prosecuting attorney. In many counties, SCF staff are encouraged to (and do) participate on the councils. One SCF council representative felt that her presence had made an impact by expanding the focus of domestic violence to its effects on children.

Members of the Willamette Criminal Justice Council are working with more than two-thirds of the state's district attorneys to develop an integrated criminal justice data system that will cover the courts, law enforcement, parole, probation, and the Department of Human Resources.

Domestic Violence Programs

Partial funding for domestic violence programs and shelters is administered through SCF. Thirty-one domestic violence programs provide crisis lines, emergency shelter, and related services. Nineteen programs have shelters with approximately 340 beds for both adults and children statewide. Eleven additional programs are safe home networks. During the first half of 1995, 1,297 women (752 with children) received shelter. During this time there were 7,146 requests for shelter for adult victims (and 7,193 children) that could not be met due to lack of space.(8)

Positive working relationships are being developed between SCF staff and domestic violence workers, but these efforts are hampered by high turnover on both sides. Strong relationships are the result of several years of building trust, communicating openly, and working together to serve the needs of particular families. Domestic violence advocates working in SCF offices facilitated the process of relationship building. In Marion County, a domestic violence service provider recalled that prior to the initiation of the pilot project, their relationship with SCF had been very problematic and it was difficult to get anything done. Now, both the domestic violence program staff and SCF workers are more likely to call each other about particular families and issues.

In Lane County, the SCF branch contracted with a private provider to attend case staffings once a week and to consult with workers. The SCF workers clearly desired and took advantage of this service, and were slowly beginning to understand how to work more effectively with families affected by domestic violence. Because the private provider was not the long-standing domestic violence program in the county, however, the education process did not flow back to the domestic violence community (as happened in the pilot counties). The domestic violence workers were very concerned about SCF's role in these families' lives, in part because they did not feel that SCF always worked with women appropriately, but also because they did not fully understand how SCF worked with the families.

Law Enforcement/Judicial

The strength of the law enforcement, prosecution, and judicial response to domestic violence is critical to efforts on SCF's part to hold a batterer accountable, particularly in cases where the batterer may not be the father of the children in question or, even if he is the father, does not have a stake in whether the children are removed from the home. In Marion County, Salem City police were making stronger efforts to go beyond responding to domestic violence reports and to pursue a batterer who had left the scene in order to make an arrest. In other counties, officers work under a mandatory arrest policy, but are unlikely to follow up on an incident if the perpetrator leaves the scene.

Several SCF counties or branches had started to arrange for the local police department to refer reports of domestic violence incidents involving families with children to SCF. Some police departments are encouraging officers to include in the report the specific location and involvement of the children during the incident. However, working relationships differ between individual workers, officers, and SCF branches.

In one county's police department, the designated child abuse detective conducts a criminal history check on all child abuse cases that come to him. According to him, both he and SCF share information frequently. In addition, he often runs a check to determine how many times the police have been out to a particular address for domestic violence, even when no arrests were made. Any knowledge regarding the existence of domestic violence is used to assess further potential harm to the children. He sees a direct correlation between child abuse and domestic violence, and reports that the majority of his cases have both going on and that many of the same problems affect families with either type of abuse.

Once a batterer has been convicted, enforcement of parole or probation terms is another hook which SCF can sometimes use. In one county, SCF works closely with probation or parole to ensure that the batterer follows through on treatment. For example, a batterer may fail to comply with treatment requirements under his SCF service plan in the juvenile court, despite the fact that SCF pays for the treatment. Once convicted in criminal court, however, he will be required to go into treatment again, this time at his own expense. Probation officers and SCF communicate openly on these cases. In another county, SCF workers conduct joint home visits with probation officers in order to benefit from the latter's ability to make unannounced visits. This relationship, however, is limited by the extremely large caseloads probation officers carry (300 to 1,000 clients each).

The structure of the judicial system and the courts' involvement in the lives of families also vary. In some counties a variation of a unified family court system exists whereby the same judge can see the same family regardless of whether the case involves a civil, criminal, or juvenile justice matter. The Multnomah County court has a family law department which handles all cases involving restraining orders and other family law matters. The court has six full-time judges and several rotating juvenile court referees who hear family violence cases. The extent to which this authority has resulted in greater communication and fewer conflicting orders was not directly evident.

In Benton County, two circuit court judges preside over all proceedings including probate, criminal, divorce, restraining orders, and juvenile cases. The restraining order application asks whether children were present at the time of the incident. When an order comes in, a clerk usually pulls existing files and the judge tries to coordinate orders. The judge also probes about custody and visitation issues, but he rarely refers a family to SCF unless an incident is egregious. In this county, both the judge and the district attorney's office would like to see SCF more involved in families where domestic violence may be the only presenting issue. At this point, however, they understand that SCF is unable to get involved because of limited resources.

Drug and Alcohol Treatment Services

Drug addiction, particularly to methamphetamine, is a major problem among SCF-involved families. Workers in Lane County estimate that 80 percent of their families are drug involved. Ninety-five to 98 percent of Marion County SCF cases involve drugs or alcohol abuse. Crystal methamphetamine has become an increasing problem, particularly in abuse cases because it heightens any existing predisposition to violence.

Unfortunately, affordable drug and alcohol treatment for mothers with children is a major service gap in many communities. Oregon has allocated funding to provide treatment to women on AFDC, and in at least one county, SCF staff worked closely with public assistance personnel to access this resource when needed.

Shelter for domestic violence victims with drug or alcohol addictions is also difficult to obtain. Many domestic violence programs believe women need to deal with substance abuse issues before they can benefit from shelter services. Many shelters work with women who are not actively using drugs or alcohol and have at least begun the process of treating their addiction. A lack of residential drug and alcohol treatment, in particular, means there are few places for SCF and their families to turn to when substance abuse is a major issue.

Outcome and Evaluation Issues

SCF contracted with the Child Welfare Partnership at Portland State University to develop a profile of SCF-involved families experiencing domestic violence and to evaluate the activities undertaken with OCS grant funds. The evaluation was limited by the resources provided and by the nature of the grant efforts.

Using case information collected for their cohort study on families entering foster care between 1991 and 1993, researchers assessed the type and severity of abuse and neglect in families presenting domestic violence, the existence of other parent or child issues, and services provided. According to the Child Welfare Partnership, domestic violence was present in 34 percent of cases where the primary reason for removal was physical abuse, 31 percent of neglect cases, 22 percent of sexual abuse cases, 36 percent of threat of harm cases, and 36 percent of mental abuse cases. Drug and alcohol were much more likely to be involved in cases affected by domestic violence (73 percent) than those unaffected by domestic violence (47 percent). A number of other factors including poor parenting skills, unemployment, abusiveness to children, criminal involvement, and chronic neglect were also seen at higher rates in families where domestic violence was identified. Children were returned home in 43 percent of families with domestic violence compared to an overall return rate of 52 percent.

The evaluation also conducted a client history survey of participants in the pilot counties, a telephone survey of 15 SCF branches and 10 domestic violence organizations to follow up on the management meetings, and focus groups of workers in five branches on the training and the impact of domestic violence in case practice. These efforts helped to determine the extent to which collaboration is currently taking place in many localities, and workers' needs in regard to dealing more effectively with domestic violence.


Oregon is beginning to change case practice around domestic violence. The state is engaged in a two-pronged effort to support system change at the state level while encouraging collaboration and changes in practice at the local level. Despite variations between the two levels and across counties in terms of the level and progress of efforts being made, a number of consistent themes emerged from our study.

Although statewide training did not reach all CPS workers, it was designed to raise staff awareness and educate them on many aspects of domestic violence and local resources. Such an awareness is critical to help identify the problems among families being served, to provide more options to women without further victimizing them, and to assess the appropriateness of various interventions for a particular family.

At the same time, awareness alone is not sufficient to change how SCF works with these families. Differences between counties with pilot programs and other counties demonstrated workers' needs for tools and resources to support and protect victims. The on-site advocates were able to work with caseworkers to change how cases were being handled. By working on a case-by-case basis, the advocates could translate the training into changes in practice. Furthermore, the ability of advocates to spend time with women was a resource other counties did not have.

Both the training of domestic violence providers and the placement of an in-house advocate from the local domestic violence program served to educate the domestic violence community as well. Domestic violence program staff in the pilot counties better understood the issues facing SCF. When a family was involved with SCF, the domestic violence provider could address rather than support the woman's anger at and fear of SCF.

Families involved in SCF often differ from those traditionally seen by domestic violence programs. According to collaborating SCF and domestic violence program workers in the two pilot counties, women in SCF families are less likely to be ready to leave their batterer, and their families are more likely to face multiple issues. In the families with whom SCF intervenes, battered women have not sought assistance from the domestic violence program voluntarily, and children have been harmed either emotionally or physically. The level of harm (or risk of harm) that must occur before a case is assigned in these counties is quite high. Furthermore, drug or alcohol use is very prevalent in SCF families. Women in domestic violence shelters have at least begun the process of leaving an abusive partner and are less likely to be actively using drugs or alcohol.

Domestic violence workers in one county that did not collaborate with the SCF office still held fairly antagonistic views toward the child protection agency. For example, workers in the domestic violence program believed that SCF workers still placed the blame on the adult victim and that women were often mandated to go to a shelter. Because this county's law enforcement response did not appear to be holding batterers accountable in general, it may be that the SCF workers had no choice but to mandate women to shelter for the sake of their children. If the domestic violence program worked more closely with SCF, SCF could perhaps learn to respond to the women more positively. At the same time, the domestic violence program would better understand the limitations placed on SCF when community response is not consistent.

Concern for safety of workers and families is also evident in communities where an awareness of domestic violence existed without adequate means to address it. According to several sources, domestic violence cases involve higher levels of stress and potential danger for SCF workers. One investigation worker noted that death threats were unique to domestic violence cases, making workers reluctant to accept domestic violence cases assigned for investigation. Domestic violence workers also expressed concern that SCF staff needed additional training in order to serve these families well and that SCF was placing themselves and the families at risk.

Community collaboration at the local level in addressing both domestic violence and its impact on children is also critical to SCF efforts to address domestic violence in its caseload. Again, the ability to hold the batterer accountable primarily depends on law enforcement and the criminal justice system's response to domestic violence as a crime. Uniformity of response to the victim, the batterer, and the children in a domestic violence situation is another benefit of collaboration. The pilot projects generated a more consistent message to victims from their SCF workers, the domestic violence programs, and the advocate and peers within the support groups.

The advisory group for the OCS grant is continuing to deliberate about further needs. It is clear from discussions with local staff and domestic violence advocates that some workers still need basic education on domestic violence. Other workers need and want training on specific language to use with victims, questions to ask, and tools to use to ensure greater safety for the children, mother, and the worker. Specifically, they seek information on how to work with families with multiple issues, particularly those in which the woman wants to remain in the abusive relationship. Another gap in training that came up several times is the lack of information on how to work with batterers--how to interview them, how to avoid being conned, how to motivate them, and what to expect from batterer treatment. SCF intends to use a second OCS grant to develop additional training to address these issues and reinstate and expand the pilot projects.


1. This site visit was conducted in April 1996.

2. In other parts of the state, SCF branches support one or two counties.

3. The degree of flexibility perceived by branches, however, also varied significantly.

4. Other factors associated with severe physical abuse include the presence of a new baby in the household, a history of criminal involvement, and unemployment.

5. SCF recently received continuation funding of its federal grant to maintain and expand these pilot efforts.

6. These multi-disciplinary teams are required in each county and are convened by the District Attorney's office to review SCF cases involving criminal prosecution and child fatalities. Some counties also use their MDTs to discuss how to serve other families in crisis in the community, both in and outside of SCF. A core set of individuals is mandated to participate in each community, but the DA is free to include additional parties.

7. SCF contracted with the Child Welfare Partnership at Portland State University to evaluate activities supported by the OCS grant.

8. This is probably an overestimate of the number of victims, because they may have requested shelter from more than one program.

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