Child Welfare System |
Child Protective Services

In the child welfare system, domestic violence is viewed as one problem in addition to others, such as parental drug use; or as the direct cause of the problem, particularly in the event of a child fatality caused by a mother ’s violent partner. Although the child welfare system focuses on the mother because she is generally the non-abusive, protective parent; when there is a batterer in the home, they see her as the non-abusive, non-protective parent, responsible for a ‘ failure to protect ’. When advocates argued for the recognition that witnessing domestic violence was harmful to children, they did not anticipate victim-blaming approaches that held battered mothers, rather than battering fathers, responsible for endangering their children ’s safety.

There are several ways to analyze why the child welfare system has failed battered mothers. Deeply entrenched gender bias covertly and overtly sets double standards for mothers and fathers on parenting – often holding mothers to impossible standards and fathers to the most minimal ones. Institutional racism compounds this gender bias, resulting in expectations of mothering that do not account for the experiences and cultural differences of women of color. Assessment procedures and case planning often incorporate these biases. With domestic violence in the home, child welfare workers have difficulty getting compliance from batterers; enforcing plans, e.g., to attend a batterers ’ intervention group; (and may even be manipulated by him into believing the batterer is the victim and the battered mother is the child abuser). Child welfare systems have been unable to de-link paternal violence from maternal compliance because they can influence how mothers will comply, but not how abusers will.

Service planning also focuses on the mother. She is expected to take care of the problem by getting her abuser out of the home, going to a shelter, getting a restraining order, or attending a support group. Her access to the services and resources the system has to offer are predicated on fulfilling such conditions based on the oversimplification that these measures all spell safety, all the time, for all battered mothers.

Battered Mothers Involved with Child Protective Services

Battered Mothers Involved with Child Protective Services reports the voices, views and recommendations of battered immigrant, refugee and indigenous women, derived from their experiences in the domestic violence and child protective services systems. They begin with powerful poems that speak of sorrows and humiliations, but celebrate integrity and cultural identities.

Based on information gathered from 9 focus groups of 30 women in Hawai'i and Massachusetts, 74 national surveys from advocates, and 22 key informants from Child Protective Services (CPS), domestic violence programs, attorneys, and others; this report:

  • Informs the development of policies, practices and interventions to address the physical, emotional and spiritual health of individuals, families and communities;
  • Demonstrates how CPS and domestic violence services can be more responsive to the needs of battered mothers, their children and families; and
  • Explores how community (family, friends, neighbors, churches, civic organizations) can be more responsive to partner abuse and child abuse or neglect, and provide support to survivors involved with CPS.

Battered Mothers Involved with Child Protective Services: Learning from Immigrant, Refugee and Indigenous Women's Experiences 2003, Revised 2010

By V. Pualani Enos

Resources: Information, Publications, Technical Assistance

Annie E. Casey Foundation, Child Welfare Strategy Group

Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF)

Connecting the Dots: Improving Neighborhood-Based Child Welfare Services for Asian Pacific American Families

Crossing the Divide: Asian American Families and the Child Welfare System

Family Violence Prevention Fund

Activist Dialogues: How Domestic Violence and Child Welfare Impact Women of Color and their Communities

Advocacy Matters: Helping Mothers and their Children involved with the Child Protection System

The Greenbook Initiative (a.k.a. Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice)

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges: Resource Center on Child Protection and Custody

“Provide support services if moms need help. Don’t take the kids away because mom needs help.”

Focus group participant, Hawai'i, 2003

Battered Mothers Involved with Child Protective Services: Learning from Immigrant, Refugee and Indigenous Women's Experiences

2003, Revised 2010. By V. Pualani Enos