Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 205–213 | Cite as

Legal and Policy Responses to Children Exposed to Domestic Violence: The Need to Evaluate Intended and Unintended Consequences

  • Peter G. JaffeEmail author
  • Claire V. Crooks
  • David A. Wolfe


Greater training and specialization in working with children exposed to domestic violence has resulted in new policies, interagency protocols, and legislation in many states. This paper examines court-related responses in criminal, child protection, and family court custody proceedings, which highlight legislative changes and resulting systemic change. Although this legislation originated with the best of intentions to assist and protect children, some of the most striking outcomes have been negative and unintended. Laws that mandate reporting of children exposed to domestic violence can clash with inadequate training and resources, or inadvertently revictimize abused women. Similarly, child custody legislation that raises a rebuttable presumption that a violent spouse will not receive custody or joint custody of children after parental separation has resulted in greater skepticism about abuse allegations. We propose that efforts at law reform can be enhanced by a more thoughtful analysis of potential intended and unintended consequences, and should be accompanied by a comprehensive evaluation plan to monitor implementation effects.

children domestic violence witnesses policy legislation 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bancroft, L., & Silverman, J. G. (2002). The batterer as parent. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. Brown, T. (2000). Charging and prosecution policies in cases of spousal assault: A synthesis of research, academic, and judicial responses (Final Report). Ottawa, Canada: Department of Justice Canada, Research and Statistics Division.Google Scholar
  3. Edleson, J. L. (2001). Studying the co-occurrence of child maltreatment and domestic violence in families. In S. Graham-Bermann & J. Edleson (Eds.), Domestic violence in the lives of children: The future of research, intervention, and social policy (pp. 92–110). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  4. Edleson, J. L., & Beeman, S. B. (1999). Final report: Responding to the co-occurrence of child maltreatment and adult domestic violence in Hennepin County. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota. Retrieved from Scholar
  5. Family Violence Prevention Fund. (2001, December 21). Draft injunction favors battered women in New York City lawsuit. Speaking Up, 7, 1–4.Google Scholar
  6. Frederick, L., & Tilley, J. (2001). Effective interventions in domestic violence cases: Context is everything. Unpublished manuscript, Battered Women's Justice Project, Minneapolis.Google Scholar
  7. Future of Children. (2000). Domestic violence and children: Executive summary. Los Altos, CA: David and Lucile Packard Foundation.Google Scholar
  8. Garner, J. H., & Maxwell, C. D. (2000). What are the lessons of the police arrest studies? Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma, 4, 83–114.Google Scholar
  9. Gondolf, E. (1999a). Characteristics of court-mandated batterers in four cities: Diversity and dichotomies. Violence Against Women, 5, 1277–1293.Google Scholar
  10. Gondolf, E. (1999b). A comparison of re-assault rates in four batterer programs: Do court referral, program length and services matter? Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14, 41–61.Google Scholar
  11. Graham-Berman, S., & Edleson, J. (Eds.). (2001). Domestic violence in the lives of children. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  12. Healey, K., Smith, C., & O'Sullivan, C. (1998). Batterer intervention: Program approaches and criminal justice strategies. National Institute of Justice Issues and Practices in Criminal Justice Series. Washington, DC: National sInstitute of Justice.Google Scholar
  13. Hughes, H. M., Graham-Bermann, S. A., & Gruber, G. (2001). Resilience in children exposed to domestic violence. In S. Graham-Bermann & J. Edleson (Eds.), Domestic violence in the lives of children: The future of research, intervention, and social policy (pp. 67–90). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  14. Jaffe, P. G., Hastings, E., Reitzel, D., & Austin, G. W. (1993). The impact of police laying charges in cases of wife assault. In N. Z. Hilton (Ed.), Legal responses to wife assault: Current trends and evaluation (pp. 62–95). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  15. Jaffe, P. G., Lemon, N. K. D., & Poisson, S. E. (2003). Child custody and domestic violence: A call for safety and accountability. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  16. Jaffe, P. G., Wolfe, D. A., & Wilson, S. (1990). Children of battered women. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  17. Leigh, A., Read, T., & Tilley, N. (1996). Problem-oriented policing. Crime Detection and Prevention Series, Paper 75. London, England: Home Office.Google Scholar
  18. Mears, D. P., Carlson, M. J., Holden, G. W., & Harris, S. D. (2001). Reducing domestic violence revictimization: The effects of individual and contextual factors and type of legal intervention. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 16, 1260–1283.Google Scholar
  19. Morton, T. D. (2002). Failure to protect? Child Welfare Commentary. Duluth, GA: Child Welfare Institute.Google Scholar
  20. National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. (1998). Family violence: Emerging programs for battered mothers and their children. Reno, NV: Author.Google Scholar
  21. National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. (1999). Effective intervention in domestic violence and child maltreatment: Guidelines for policy and practice. Reno, NV: Author. Nicholson v. Williams, 203 F. Supp. 2d 153, 256 (E.D.N.T. 2002).Google Scholar
  22. National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. (2000). A national judicial institute on domestic violence: Enhancing judicial skill in domestic violence cases. Reno, NV: Author.Google Scholar
  23. National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. (2001). Family violence legislative update. Reno, NV: Author.Google Scholar
  24. Nicholson v. Williams et al., United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, 00–CV-2229 (2002).Google Scholar
  25. Prochaska, J. M. (2000). A transtheoretical model for assessing organizational change: A study of family service agencies' movement to time limited therapy. Families in Society, 81, 76–84.Google Scholar
  26. Prochaska, J. M., Prochaska, J. O., & Levesque, D. A. (2001). A transtheoretical approach to changing organizations. Administration and Policy in Mental Health, 28, 247–261.Google Scholar
  27. Sas, L. (1999). I'm trying to do my job in court. Are you? Questions for the criminal justice system. London, ON: Child Witness Network.Google Scholar
  28. Sheeran, M., & Hampton, S. (1999). Supervised visitation in cases of domestic violence. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 50, 13–25.Google Scholar
  29. Sherman, L. W. (1992). Policing domestic violence. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  30. Sherman, L. W., & Berk, R. A. (1984). The specific deterrent effects of arrest for domestic assault. American Sociological Review, 49, 261–272.Google Scholar
  31. Sontag, S. (2002, November 17). Fierce entanglements. New York Times, p. 1.Google Scholar
  32. Stone, A. E., & Fialk, R. J. (1997). Criminalizing the exposure of children to family violence: Breaking the cycle of abuse. Harvard Women's Law Journal 20, 205–228.Google Scholar
  33. Websdale, N., Town, M., & Johnson, B. (1999). Domestic violence fatality reviews: From a culture of blame to a culture of responsibility. Juvenile and Family Court Journal 50, 61–74.Google Scholar
  34. Weithorn, L. A. (2001). Protecting children from exposure to domestic violence: The use and abuse of child maltreatment statutes. Hastings Law Journal, 53(1), 1–156.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter G. Jaffe
    • 1
    Email author
  • Claire V. Crooks
    • 2
  • David A. Wolfe
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System of the London Family Court ClinicCanada
  2. 2.Centre for Research on Violence Against Women, and ChildrenUniversity of Western OntarioOntarioCanada

Personalised recommendations