The following section describes the considerations made regarding domestic violence and family conferencing protocols.
Domestic Violence Policy and Practice
Domestic violence is a serious, familial problem that has had a significant impact on the functioning of families, especially the safety of children. DSS reported that domestic violence was involved in approximately 30 percent of cases referred for investigation. Recognizing the frequency of this problem in the community, DSS decided to implement a consistent approach to identifying domestic violence as a contributing factor to child maltreatment and incorporated strategies to correct family problems related to, or resulting from, domestic violence. This policy was based on the primary function of DSS — to assure the safety of children either by reducing the risk of harm or by identifying and implementing alternative solutions. The department intervenes in the life of a family only following the determination of harm to a child.
DSS incorporated a domestic violence protocol into the CPS process that was developed by Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. The Catawba County Response to Domestic Violence Task Force, an external workgroup, including such community organizations as First Step (a domestic violence agency), local government and businesses, and law enforcement, was established. An internal work group at DSS — comprised of investigators, clinical specialists, foster care workers, and supervisors — ensures that department policies and practices are consistent with the task force recommendations.
The internal workgroup developed a protocol that requires:
- An action meeting taking place early in the case that includes law enforcement and staff from First Step;
- The victim and perpetrator being treated as two separate cases; and
- Petitions being filed on any perpetrator who does not make progress within 6 months.
It was the view of DSS that domestic violence victims must be protected and provided with services while perpetrators are held responsible.
Family group conferencing was developed from a Maori tradition in New Zealand. The process was adapted by police in Australia, and then introduced to the United States where police agencies, juvenile courts, and probation departments were among the first to use the process. The process has since been adopted by child welfare agencies.
Family conferencing in Catawba County began as part of the Families for Kids (FFK) project, funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), during 1996 when it was used with families to facilitate decisionmaking with the adoption process.