Chapter VI

Families First

Family Independence Agency, Michigan(1)


The population of Michigan is approximately 9,295,000. Over one-fourth of its residents are 17 years old or younger. Seventeen percent are African Americans, and 4 percent are American Indians, Asians, and Hispanics.

The state of Michigan is undergoing extensive reforms aimed at providing better services to children and families. These reforms cut across all human service agencies (public health, mental health, community services, and social services) and focus on the need for public and private agencies to work collaboratively to serve children and their families. State agency directors meet on a regular basis to discuss common issues.

In 1992, the governor of Michigan introduced 21 initiatives designed to support families and children in need. One new initiative reorganizes the way families interact with the public assistance system. Families will be assigned to a single case worker for all their needs--cash assistance, jobs, and family support rather than a different staff person for each. These workers will have a limited caseload of 65 families each and will make more home visits than in the past. The child welfare staff are quick to point out the close connection between child welfare and cash assistance programs. Wayne County (Detroit) estimates that 60 percent of its child welfare cases receive some form of cash assistance.

One of the initiatives directly related to child welfare, Strong Families/Safe Children, provides resources to establish community coordinating councils that provide enhanced services to families and children. Funds distributed through the councils are to be spent primarily on prevention efforts--prenatal care, delinquency prevention, immunizations, and child abuse and neglect prevention. The councils are expected to include law enforcement, mental health, social services, and domestic violence shelter representatives in addition to consumers of services and other community members. This initiative is being phased in gradually. Twenty-eight counties received funding in 1994, followed by 16 additional counties the following year. By October 1996, all 83 counties were expected to have received planning and implementation funds.

Brief Overview of Child Welfare Services

As part of the system reform, the Department of Social Services recently changed its name to the Family Independence Agency (FIA) in an effort to present a clearer statement of the agency's primary goal. This agency houses cash assistance programs such as food stamps, AFDC, Michigan's job assistance program (MOST), as well as child and adult welfare programs. The Bureau of Family and Children's Services within FIA oversees the Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, the Office of Native American Affairs, Adult Protective Services, and the Office of Children's Services, which includes Children's Protective Services, Children's Prevention Services, Foster Care Supervision, Juvenile Justice, and Family Preservation.

Children's Protective Services (CPS) is one of the largest divisions within FIA. CPS staff are responsible for screening referrals, opening cases for field investigation, and substantiating allegations of child abuse and neglect. In addition, they make referrals to prevention services and family preservation as well as other available appropriate services. Statewide, over 500 CPS workers received an estimated 124,000 child abuse or neglect complaints in 1995, conducted full field investigations on approximately 58,000 (or 47 percent) of these complaints, and substantiated child abuse claims in approximately 12,700 cases (10 percent of the complaints). Petitions for the removal of the child(ren) from the home were submitted to the juvenile court for about 8,000 cases in 1995.

CPS workers use a structured decision-making tool to assess risk to the child and to make referrals for services or petition for removal of the child from the home. The risk assessment tool includes eleven risk factors, one of which is domestic violence. There are four categories of risk: severe, high, moderate, and low. CPS workers are required to open substantiated cases with a severe or high rating, and may open substantiated cases rated as moderate or low, or refer these to other available services. The majority of CPS cases are referred to Children's Prevention Services.

Children's Prevention Services (PVS) provides in-home services on a voluntary basis. Approximately 70 percent of the PVS referrals are made by CPS (from both substantiated and unsubstantiated cases of child abuse and neglect). The remainder of cases are referred by the community, including the police.

The Foster Care Unit manages cases once a child is removed from his/her home and is made a ward of the probate court.(2)

Foster Care manages the placement of children, reporting back to the probate court about four times a year.

Families First provides intensive in-home intervention services as an alternative to removing a child from the home unnecessarily, or when reuniting a foster child with his/her family. Michigan's Families First program, which began in June 1988 and was available statewide (and through the Native American Intertribal Council as of December 1992) is the largest network of intensive family preservation programs in the country.(3)

Funding for the Families First program has grown from $5 million in 1988 to $21 million in 1996, of which $19 million pays for direct family services.(4) All Families First workers, supervisors, and trainers are paid through contracts given to private child welfare agencies or community mental health organizations. Families First is organized into teams of four or five workers with one supervisor, who assumes at least one family case per year. The state is divided into regions within which representatives of FIA meet regularly with Families First specialists. The state also has eight trainers who work with specific specialists and their regions to provide one-on-one consultations, technical assistance, and training for Families First staff.

CPS workers can refer families to Families First if at least one child is at imminent risk of removal or is about to return home. Approximately 40 percent of substantiated abuse and neglect cases are referred for Families First services. Some families may receive services more than once. Statewide, a second Families First intervention occurs in about 7 percent of all cases.

The program is designed to deal with families in crisis. Families First counselors work with only two families at a time for a four to six week period, and a home visit occurs within 24 hours of referral. Most interventions last about five weeks. Workers provide a minimum of eight to ten hours of direct face-to-face services in the home each week and are on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Services comprise a mixture of counseling and help with practical problems in order to reduce the risk to children and help families deal with stress contributing to abuse or neglect. Families First is a voluntary program and families may request services to end at any point. The program philosophy, based on the underlying premise of keeping children safe, focuses on family empowerment and building on family strengths. Staff work with families to choose which areas they themselves want to improve and to take the steps necessary to achieve identified goals.

It is important to note that CPS maintains an open case on each family referred to Families First. As the intervention nears conclusion, the Families First worker meets with the CPS worker and often with the family itself to determine next steps. Together a determination about any additional services is made. Families First workers visit families three, six, and twelve months after the completion of their services to determine whether the children have remained in the home and to assess family progress. Clients are asked to describe how they are doing in relation to the goals that were developed during the intervention.

Child Welfare Agency Approach to Domestic Violence

The linkage between child welfare and the domestic violence community began in 1993 at the state level as a dialogue between Families First and the Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment Board (DVPTB). Established in 1978 within FIA, the DVPTB is composed of individuals appointed by the Governor. The Board currently includes a circuit court judge, a law professor, a practicing attorney, a community activist, a prosecutor, and a sexual assault program coordinator. The DVPTB is charged with statewide coordination of efforts to end domestic violence. The Board also funds 45 domestic violence service providers covering all 83 counties in the state. Prior to 1993, little to no interaction occurred between the DVPTB board and CPS, even though the DVPTB board was housed in the same building as Child Protection Services and staffed by FIA.

The impetus for this dialogue was an evaluation of the Families First program which demonstrated that 37 percent of participating families identified domestic violence as a problem. As workers began to provide more intensive services in families' homes, they began to notice the presence of domestic violence much more often. Given the level of violence in the home, Families First counselors were concerned for their own safety as well as the need for training on how to work with these families to ensure children's safety.

The DVPTB, in turn, was interested in working with Families First for a number of reasons. The board was aware of the overlap between domestic violence and child abuse and at the same time knew that only a small proportion of women affected by domestic violence interact with the shelter system. Furthermore, working with Families First allowed the DVPTB to collaborate with an agency willing to learn about the problem of domestic violence and how to address it. Finally, the two groups could build on important commonalities. Family preservation and domestic violence programs share goals of empowering violence-free families and providing interventions such as crisis counseling. The two groups made a conscious decision, at least at the outset, to limit the collaboration between domestic violence and child welfare to the Families First program.

The FIA director and administrative staff have strongly supported the effort. Collaboration has resulted in the development and delivery of a training curriculum for all Families First workers and the establishment of a demonstration project between Families First and domestic violence shelters in five sites serving nine domestic violence programs (14 counties) across the state. This demonstration delivers Families First services directly through shelter referrals. In 1996, the program expanded to 6 new sites and 14 new counties. In addition, efforts are underway to expand the collaboration to all of CPS through training and policy development.


Training has always been a primary focus for the domestic violence community. Prior to 1993, the emphasis of the DVPTB was to work with the criminal justice system by designing training for police, judges, and prosecutors and by improving legislation to enable the criminal justice system to respond to domestic violence. The DVPTB and the Michigan Law Enforcement Officers Training Council expanded the training program for new police officers in the state expanded from 4 to 14 hours (4 hours on domestic violence issues, 8 hours on law enforcement response, and 2 hours on the law).

After DVPTB's first in-service training seminar for Families First staff, the two groups became convinced that a more intensive and comprehensive curriculum was needed. Families First and the DVPTB became cosponsors (with HomeBuilders) of a national domestic violence curriculum being developed for family preservation workers by the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) in San Francisco. The three-day curriculum that was developed in 1993 addresses how to identify domestic violence, how to interview parents in homes where it exists, how to interview the child, and behavior problems of children exposed to domestic violence. It also addresses the development of safety plans for children and battered women.

Training for the Families First workers on the first two days of the FVPF curriculum began in spring 1995 and now occurs every two months. Supervisors received training first. Training sessions targeted 20 to 40 line workers at a time. The third day of the training was introduced as a separate component in April 1996. This session addresses Michigan law (four hours) and batterer issues (four hours). Currently, both new and existing Families First staff are being trained gradually because of limited space. Eventually, the entire training program will be institutionalized so that all new Families First workers receive the training during their six month of employment.

While not all workers have been trained yet, several workers who had received the training felt it was very helpful and provided them with many tools to work with families. In at least one county, the one worker who received the training directly from the state has helped train her fellow workers who have not yet been able to attend. Training is conducted jointly by a Families First staff person and domestic violence workers; state staff and Families First counselors emphasized the importance of having both perspectives represented.

Experience of the statewide domestic violence coalition indicates that similar training is needed for shelter workers. Although domestic violence shelter staff have been invited to attend the Families First training, the training is not geared toward their needs and they have not attended in large numbers. The maximum number of shelter staff attending any one session has been four. Understandably, feedback from these shelter workers has not been as positive as that from Families First workers. The DVPTB is currently working on providing training more specific to the needs of shelter workers.

At the request of the Children's Protective Services offices in the southeast section of the state (Wayne, Macomb, Washington, Washtenaw, and Oakland counties), CPS workers also received training. Currently, Michigan CPS, Families First, and the DVPTB are working with FVPF to develop a curriculum specifically geared toward CPS workers. This training was pilot tested in March 1996. State administrators plan to train CPS supervisors and key decision-makers and then all current workers. Domestic violence people will be cross-trained in CPS systems, laws, and policies. State administrators feel strongly that all workers should have some level of competence in working with domestic violence.

Families First/Domestic Violence Demonstration Project

The dialogue between Families First and the DVPTB also resulted in a unique demonstration project through which designated Families First teams could receive direct referrals from domestic violence service providers. The pilot began in five sites: Ann Arbor (which also serves metropolitan Detroit), Battle Creek, Traverse City, Grand Rapids, and Marquette (in the Upper Peninsula). This report focuses primarily on the collaboration in Ann Arbor, Traverse City, Grand Rapids, and Detroit.

Designated shelters can refer to Families First, families at risk of homelessness and those living in abusive or neglectful environments that pose potential danger to a child. However, abuse or neglect of children that meets mandatory reporting laws must be referred to CPS. In families active to CPS or foster care, a referral for Families First by the shelter can be made only in consultation with (and with the approval of) the assigned CPS or foster care worker. At that point, the referral can be made to the shelter's Families First team or to a traditional Families First team.

Shelters in each of the five sites received funding to hire special Families First staff to work with referred families. Nine shelters serving 14 counties can refer to these Families First teams. How the shelters choose to implement the program varies in each site. The chosen structure affects the level of interaction between the shelter Families First workers and their counterparts in the traditional Families First teams serving CPS. The autonomy of the domestic violence shelters in setting up the program and hiring staff was critical to obtaining their participation and support.

In Ann Arbor, the Domestic Violence Program houses an entire Families First team (one supervisor and four workers) which takes referrals from the five shelters in Washtenaw, Oakland, and Wayne Counties.(5) The supervisor of the shelter team meets with the other Families First supervisors in her cluster on a regular basis. However, her staff interact with other Families First staff only during training.

In Grand Rapids, the shelter contracted with the existing Families First team to provide one counselor to work out of the shelter operated by the YWCA. This counselor still attends regularly scheduled meetings with other Families First counselors in the county and, according to the Families First supervisor, interaction occurs almost daily.

In Traverse City, the shelter also contracted with the existing Families First team serving CPS and foster care workers in five area counties. This Families First team provides the shelter with the services of one full-time equivalent but rotates shelter referrals among the team members. The Families First workers in Traverse City are not housed at the shelter, but visit the referred family at their shelter or other residence. The shelter chose this structure for reasons of quality, expediency, and cost-effectiveness. Since July 1994, this site has served 20 families through the collaboration.

Most but not all families referred by the domestic violence programs reside in the shelter at the time of referral. Few families are referred if the woman has not made a decision to leave the batterer. Domestic violence programs generally referred families needing more time and help than could be provided by existing shelter counselors. These families typically had parenting and/or child behavior problems.

Families First usually works with these families as they begin to think about leaving the shelter--both to help them find housing and move into an independent living environment. In Grand Rapids, the Families First worker usually received a referral about halfway through the family's shelter stay. All counselors reported that housing was one of the most serious issues facing women in shelters and one that takes a great deal of time to resolve.

Families participating in the Families First/Domestic Violence Demonstration Project differ from families referred to Families First through CPS. Due to mandatory reporting requirements, direct shelter referrals involve only those families at risk of homelessness or at risk of abuse or neglect (due to the environment in which they live) but where the risk of removal is not imminent. CPS-referred Families First cases, by contrast, generally involve families where the child will otherwise be removed from the family. Shelter referrals tend to involve women and children living in the shelter, whereas CPS referrals often involve women and children who continue to live in a violent or potentially violent home. Often, CPS referrals come in as abuse or neglect cases and it is not until a Families First worker is working in the home that the domestic violence is uncovered. In one community, where the same Families First workers served families from both referral sources, the workers noted that cases involving CPS-referred families were more serious and dangerous than those involving shelter-referred families. Shelters in Detroit, by contrast, reported serving families whose living situations were as chaotic and troubled as those of families involved in CPS. One shelter that accepted clients with active substance abuse problems also observed similarities between families involved in CPS and other families.

Several Families First workers underscored the importance of training for its teams receiving referrals from CPS, as opposed to its workers receiving shelter referrals. Regardless of the referral source, however, CPS, Families First, and domestic violence program staff all agreed on one point. The intensive family preservation model is the most useful and least victimizing means of working with women in (or recovering from) battering relationships because of its focus on empowerment. An added strength is that Families First is premised on voluntary participation.

Developing a Children's Protection Services Policy

Another aspect of the collaboration among Families First, CPS, and the DVPTB is the development of a CPS policy to address the issue of domestic violence. This policy is aimed at CPS line workers to provide more direction on how to handle domestic violence cases. CPS staff stated that this was the first time that CPS policy was being developed in conjunction with an outside group.(6) The involvement of others has slowed the development somewhat, but all state-level participants responded that it has been a positive experience. Not surprisingly, one of the most difficult issues involved resolving differences in philosophies between the domestic violence and child protection communities. Several staff noted the difficulty in addressing issues such as holding the batterer accountable, not revictimizing the mother by charging her with a failure to protect, and understanding that family preservation means preserving safe and well-functioning families (not necessarily with two parents). At the state level, the policy is currently under discussion.

State-level staff on both the domestic violence and child welfare sides, are reluctant to conclude that the existence of domestic violence within a family points to child abuse. They have decided, at least tentatively, that not every domestic violence incident presents a serious risk to children. Therefore, not every domestic violence case requires CPS involvement. Instead, domestic violence and child welfare staff prefer to look at each family's situation and make a determination. Furthermore, substantiating emotional abuse is extremely difficult. It is certainly important to identify domestic violence among families in the existing caseload and to serve them safely and effectively. However, one administrator stated that it would be a strategic error to expand the caseload as an initial way of dealing with domestic violence; such expansion would create an additional caseload for whom appropriate services are not readily available.

The Families First/Domestic Violence Demonstration Project has been one way of targeting resources at families more appropriately than merely expanding the definition of child abuse. In general, state administrators in Michigan felt strongly that changes in service delivery can be made most effectively through changing policy and funding priorities at the agency level rather than through legislative changes.

State staff also recognize that coming to terms with these issues at the state level does not mean that this understanding has filtered down to line workers. This was evident in interviews with line staff in several counties, who continued to express a readiness to charge the nonabusing parent with a failure to protect because that parent's primary duty was to protect the child.

Perspectives of Other Community Service Agencies and Organizations

At the state level, CPS, Families First, and their parent agency (FIA) interact on a regular basis with other social service agencies to improve services for Michigan's families and children, including those affected by domestic violence. But the statewide response to domestic violence is primarily coordinated through the DVPTB. The DVPTB is mandated to "coordinate and monitor prevention and treatment services, develop standards for those services, develop training for professionals, and advise the Legislature and Governor on the problem of domestic violence and needs of victims." In recent years, the legislature has been very active on the issue of domestic violence. In 1994 alone, 22 bills were passed and signed into law. These laws expanded coverage of personal protection orders and the authority of police officers in making warrantless arrests, provided for new crimes of simple and aggravated domestic assault and enhanced penalties for subsequent violations, and mandated all police agencies to develop, adopt, and implement written policies for officers to follow when responding to domestic violence calls.

There is a great deal of variation at the community level in how these collaborations affect actual practice and the extent to which the Families First/Domestic Violence Demonstration Project carries over to CPS and other community service agencies. The five sites that received pilot program funding were chosen because of strong existing domestic violence programs and a progressive community response to the issue. In several cases, the Families First team also serves shelters in surrounding counties with much more varied levels of community coordination. While some localities had a relatively long history of communication between the domestic violence and child welfare communities (pre-dating state-level discussions), in others areas the two spheres remained relatively separate outside the limited confines of the demonstration program.

Overall Community Response to Domestic Violence

Several counties have county-wide task forces to address domestic violence. Grand Traverse County (Traverse City) and Kent County (Grand Rapids) have among the oldest councils in the state, both established in the mid-1980s. Each includes law enforcement representatives, judges, various social service agencies including FIA, and citizens. Wayne County's council, established more recently, spent the first several years developing a rapport among the various participants, but since then has been quite active and productive. CPS is not represented on the council, however.

Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor) does not have a formal task force or council. However, the executive director of the domestic violence program reports that conversations take place often between the domestic violence program staff and certain law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges. The community itself is also very supportive of the domestic violence program and recently voted to tax itself (through increased property taxes) to help pay for a new shelter and program building.

Domestic Violence Programs

The Families First/Domestic Violence Demonstration Project does not necessarily require new levels of communication or coordination between the domestic violence program and the local child protective services. Recall that, for the most part, families being served by the shelter's Families First team are not involved with CPS. In some communities, however, existing relationships were quite strong and positive, and in others understanding on the part of the shelter about CPS and Families First has certainly increased.

In Grand Rapids, a long-standing relationship existed between CPS and the YWCA, which has operated a 26-bed shelter since 1977. The shelter handles 580 to 700 women and children per year. The YWCA also operates a constellation of programs that interface with CPS beyond the shelter programs. These programs include an assailant treatment program, established in 1978; a non-residential program for battered women, providing services to approximately 200 women annually; parenting classes; custody evaluations, primarily for divorce cases; and training programs for Friends of the Court.

The YWCA also cosponsors with other community agencies, including the police department and the prosecutor's office, an assessment center for children suspected of being sexually abused. The center is seen as a neutral, non-threatening environment that allows children to be interviewed on very sensitive issues. People in the community described the center as a model of collaboration that has helped to bridge the gap between CPS and domestic violence advocates.

This range of programs helped create a strong link between the YWCA and CPS long before the state-level collaboration and pilot program. Working directly with the shelter was a natural progression for CPS in this community. In 1994, the YWCA received a grant to develop and train CPS workers. The staff developed a three-hour program but the training was not mandatory and was only offered for a limited time. Furthermore, worker knowledge regarding resources available through the YWCA and the rest of the community allows Families First and CPS workers to make very specific counseling recommendations.

In other communities visited, the domestic violence programs were not run by large social service agencies but as separate entities providing shelter and related services to battered women and their children. These programs rarely interact with CPS except when a family already active to CPS comes to the shelter, or when a child is in imminent danger and reporting to CPS is required. All the domestic violence programs encourage the woman to call CPS herself, but do not hesitate to do so for her if she does not. In Ann Arbor, police contact the Domestic Violence Project immediately following a domestic violence arrest. An on-call team goes to the home of the survivor and offers information, shelter, counseling, support, referrals, and legal information. One person talks to the children. Advocates have been trained to ask questions regarding the children. If any evidence of abuse or neglect exists, the mother or the advocate contacts CPS.

Services to Children

Services to children affected by domestic violence are primarily provided only to children living in shelters. However, in addition to their wide range of services for shelter children (including a Head Start program), Ann Arbor's Domestic Violence Project offers a 10 week counseling and educational group for children ages 6 to 11 who are not in a shelter. Any child from a violent home is eligible to attend. Children in families active to CPS would certainly be eligible, but no formal relationship or outreach to CPS to refer families to the program occurs. The Grand Rapids' YWCA is currently seeking funds to establish a similar program for non-shelter children.

Batterer Intervention Services

All of the counties visited had at least one batterer intervention program available to take referrals from CPS, Families First, and/or the courts. Some of the domestic violence programs operated the program in their area, while others referred to programs run by other social service providers. State-level child welfare and domestic violence staff are concerned about the quality of available batterer intervention programs and the lack of information regarding the efficacy of different models. Several communities have developed or are developing standards for these programs. Another widespread problem has to do with ensuring that batterers actually attend counseling programs. A lack of accountability was seen across programs and court systems. For example, when a batterer is ordered to attend a treatment program as part of a sentence, there is no routine feedback to probation or the courts on the successful completion (or not) of the program. Failure to attend intervention programs is not generally considered a violation of probation.

In Families First cases where the woman chooses to remain in the relationship, it is often the Families First counselor who may need to begin the process of working with the perpetrator. The Families First training includes a three-hour session on batterers. One worker felt that the curriculum provided enough information for her to feel comfortable dealing with the batterer. The curriculum is not intended to teach workers how to treat batterers themselves, but to help workers understand the importance of appropriate treatment and where it can be found within the community in order to make referrals.

Law Enforcement

Most initial statewide or county-level efforts to address domestic violence targeted law enforcement--both through training and legislative changes. All new police recruits now receive 14 hours of domestic violence training. In Traverse City, all veteran police officers in the city police and sheriff's departments have also been trained with this curriculum. In Ann Arbor, an eight-hour in-service was offered to interested officers who assumed their posts before implementation of the new training.

The DVPTB has been very active in working to revise Michigan's laws on restraining orders. Personal protection orders (PPOs) are obtained from the circuit court in the county where the victim resides. These orders can be obtained without hiring counsel, are immediately entered into the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN), and are enforceable throughout the state. PPOs are an important mechanism for the management of child protection cases in domestic violence homes, because a PPO can remove the batterer from the home without the intervention of the juvenile court. In many communities the enforcement of PPOs has been strong, while in others the prosecution of violations has been more erratic.

In some counties, CPS workers have direct access to the LEIN system. This network contains all Michigan convictions, arrests, PPOs, and protective bond conditions. Wayne County's CPS agency has one LEIN terminal to service its four offices. Only two employees have access to the computer and that access is limited to information on convictions. Access was granted in the mid-1980s and has not expanded with the level of information on LEIN. While CPS workers can obtain some arrest and PPO histories secondhand through working relationships with various police agencies, administrators are in the process of expanding the legitimate access to LEIN as well. In other counties, all access to LEIN must be obtained through written, verbal, or in-person requests to the local police or sheriff's departments. In some places, workers must wait 24 hours for the background information.

In at least one community, Families First and CPS workers use law enforcement officers to help address the issue of domestic violence in their families. In Traverse City, all serious child abuse investigations are conducted jointly by both the child abuse police detective and CPS. In families where a woman remains in a violent relationship, CPS or Families First staff visit the family with a police officer to explain to the perpetrator the legal consequences of his criminal actions other than the removal of the child(ren). Traverse City also has community police officers working out of eight elementary schools in the city. Information flows freely among CPS, child abuse police officers, patrol officers responding to domestic violence calls, community police officers, and the schools to determine whether a child is living in a violent home and how that environment may be impacting the child.

Judicial System

The court system in Michigan comprises the circuit court, which handles felony cases, child custody, PPOs, and divorce cases; the district court, which handles misdemeanors and preliminary hearings for felony cases; and the probate court, which handles child abuse, neglect, and juvenile delinquency cases. In Detroit a recorder's court handles the felony trials for crimes committed in the city of Detroit.

Conflicts frequently occur among the visitation orders, personal protection orders, and custody orders issued by these courts. Parental visitation rights are granted based on the best interest of the child, and domestic violence is one factor that can be considered in making the determination. Unfortunately, families with multiple issues are often involved in several courts, and not all of the relevant information may be presented to each judge. One judge cited a serious physical abuse case affecting three children that involved four different judges. There is no single resource for judges to refer to that records orders from multiple courts, nor is there a formal mechanism for reporting orders to other courts. As a result, inter-court communication varies by county.

One of the factors facilitating communication appears to be the size of the county, with smaller counties reporting greater communication. A probate court judge in a small, urban county reported that judges routinely call one another to determine if actions are being taken in one court that may affect decisions in another. In other counties, however, conflicts regarding the hierarchy of judges and their orders were reported.

Domestic violence is included in an annual training conference for judges and court officers. Despite the mandatory status of this session, counties report different attendance rates. A Wayne County judge was concerned with the lack of information judges exhibited on domestic violence issues, while in Kent County a probate judge stated that the judges in that county were well-informed about the issue and routinely attended training sessions at both the state and county levels.

Efforts are currently underway in Michigan to begin thinking about how to restructure the court system to facilitate greater communication on cases involving the same family. Legislation was recently introduced to implement a unified family court system in the state, and pilot projects are currently being developed. Interestingly, in Ann Arbor (a pilot site for a new family court system), there was a great deal of disagreement over where within the court system domestic violence cases should be prosecuted. The domestic violence community felt strongly that the inclusion of domestic violence in the family court would diminish its significance as a crime.

Prosecutor's Office

In Wayne County, the Prosecutor's Office has a dedicated unit that handles both child abuse and neglect cases and domestic violence cases. Initially, six prosecutors handled only child abuse cases. In 1994 (almost simultaneous with the collaboration between Families First and the DVPTB), the unit added six more attorneys to handle domestic violence cases. The combined focus of this unit means that the attorneys frequently operate in all three court systems, which heightens the chances of discovering conflicting court orders. Prosecutors attempt to make sure that "no contact" orders are heard in the juvenile court. Victim-witness staff do most of the tracking of orders for the active cases in the office.

Substance Abuse Treatment

Alcoholism was identified by state administrators as the largest substance abuse problem in the child welfare caseload. In partnership with four other agencies, the Domestic Violence Project in Ann Arbor provides drug and alcohol treatment for survivors who are addicted to alcohol or other drugs. Women with substance abuse issues can move into the shelter, and information and assessments are provided for all clients of the Domestic Violence Project/Safe House. In addition, there is a general lack of batterers programs or substance abuse programs that work on both issues.

Outcome and Evaluation Issues

Although an evaluation of the collaboration between Families First and the DVPTB has not been conducted, discussions are underway. The exact design of the evaluation has not been determined. Currently, a more extensive follow up has been conducted for 25 Families First families who received services through the collaboration. All of the families reported feeling safer as a result of these services. Referrals to other community resources had been made. In one county, all of the 20 families served by the collaboration have remained intact, although it was not determined whether the women remained apart from their former batterers.

The goal of the Families First/Domestic Violence Demonstration Project is to empower women to make informed choices. An evaluation will need to translate that goal into measurable outcomes or indicators. Possible measures that Michigan is considering include an increase in the use of personal protection orders, the existence of safety plans, the level of depression of the women, whether social networks have increased, and whether women feel safer and feel that they have more options. These measures help show whether a family is better off, regardless of whether the woman chooses to remain with or return to the batterer. For example, some women choose to return to their batterer because it is the safest thing for them to do at the time. Effective interventions will help obtain the best outcome for a particular family. Michigan administrators would like to measure whether the collaboration has enabled families to meet their particular goal, rather than measure how many families have reached a specific outcome without taking into account whether that outcome is appropriate for their situation.

Another interesting question for an evaluation would be whether Families First and similar intensive family preservation models in other states are a more effective intervention for families affected by domestic violence than traditional child welfare services. The same question exists for the effectiveness of family preservation for all risk factors. But once training on domestic violence has been fully implemented, it may be that intensive in-home work is more or less effective in addressing the issue of domestic violence than other issues.


Michigan's efforts to address the overlap between domestic violence and child abuse began at the state level with strong support from top administrators. Explicit decisions were made to focus on the state's intensive family preservation model. Families First provided an ideal starting point to address domestic violence for several reasons. Families First counselors working intensively in the homes of their clients uncovered domestic violence in many families and recognized that without proper tools and knowledge they were placing themselves and the children they were meant to protect in greater danger. The domestic violence community was also more philosophically comfortable working with the child welfare system through the empowerment-based model of family preservation.

Administrators have taken the task of training very seriously. With the help of the Family Violence Prevention Fund they have developed an extensive curriculum for family preservation workers. Those workers who have received training report very favorably on its usefulness in the field. For family preservation workers spending 10 to 20 hours a week in a family's home, training in domestic violence is critical both for safety reasons and to be able to work effectively with the family on all of its protective issues.

The Families First model appears ideally suited to working with women and their children who are in or recovering from an abusive relationship. The model is voluntary, and even in CPS cases where the threat of a child's removal hovers, Families First workers separate themselves from that threat. The model focuses on strengths within the family and empowering the family to use those strengths to change.

The Families First/Domestic Violence Demonstration Project expands the pool of eligible families for this service to some who lie outside the child welfare system. Michigan has chosen to serve these families through this mechanism rather than by expanding the definition of child abuse in order to serve children affected by domestic violence. These families are in need of services and might otherwise end up in the system without any intervention. Other states and communities are also beginning to grapple with the question of how to reach these children before the violence escalates to the point of CPS involvement. Some of these places are beginning to use threat of harm or emotional abuse allegations to bring families into the child welfare system. Michigan's Families First demonstration project is one alternative for other states to consider as a means of reaching these families.

At the same time, the Families First collaboration has not fostered linkages between domestic violence programs and CPS in local communities. Families First counselors who work directly in the shelter do not tend to communicate regularly with traditional Families First or CPS workers. In other communities, positive and mutually beneficial relationships have developed between all Families First staff and the shelter, but CPS remains uninvolved.

Michigan recognizes that efforts to link domestic violence and child abuse through Families First represent only a beginning. Efforts to develop a training curriculum and to implement policy changes for CPS workers are underway. The strength of commitment to the issue is strong at all levels of the Family Independence Agency. The state stresses the importance of institutionalizing training and developing a substantive curriculum so that all staff can acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to work effectively with families facing domestic violence.


1. This site visit was conducted in April-May 1996. Frances Gragg of Westat is a co-author of this chapter.

2. The probate court is responsible for handling child abuse and neglect cases, as well as juvenile delinquency cases.

3. Families First is based on HomeBuilders, a model program of intensive family preservation services established in Tacoma, Washington in 1974.

4. The state funds over 50 percent of the Families First program.

5. The two Detroit shelters now refer families to a Families First program located in Detroit because of the expansion in 1996.

6. Although the DVPTB lies within the same agency (FIA) as CPS and Families First, many of its members are not state employees and bring to the table a variety of perspectives.

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