Resource Letter:
For Judges and Attorneys Handling Child Protective Services Cases
October 30, 2020
The Intersection of Domestic Violence and Child Welfare
The Children’s Commission is fortunate to partner with the Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV), including working together to observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month and develop this communique. For more information on TCFV, please visit the TCFV website.

Domestic violence is defined as an act or pattern of coercive and controlling behavior that is used to manipulate, harm, or demean an intimate partner using tactics such as physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and/or economic abuse. It can also take the form of related threats, intimidation, and/or humiliation. In relationships involving children, the person using violence may also use the children as a tool for control. The accumulation of these acts or threats of such behaviors can have a chilling effect on those experiencing domestic violence and their children who may witness it.

Domestic violence is present in every community and affects all people regardless of age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality. Many children from homes where domestic violence is present are also victims of abuse themselves. In addition, domestic violence constitutes the single greatest precursor of child maltreatment fatalities.

During COVID-19 restrictions, some conditions exist that might exacerbate difficulties for those experiencing domestic violence and their children with obtaining assistance to safely remove themselves from the partner choosing to engage in violence. These additional barriers may include increased financial limitations; greater social isolation due to stay at home and quarantine orders; less available shelter resources due to local health department social distancing guidelines; and lack of internet access and/or the privacy to be able to safely reach out for help.

Experiencing or observing domestic violence incidents can have long-lasting negative effects on children's physical and emotional well-being, as well as on their social and academic functioning. Children who are removed from their home as a result of domestic violence also then experience the trauma of being separated from the parent who has experienced domestic violence (also referred to as the survivor parent).

Judges and attorneys may consider taking the following steps to have a positive impact on the safety and stability of families experiencing domestic violence in the home:
  • Keep the children’s safety in mind: Services, planning, and hearings should be conducted with the safety and well-being of the children top of mind and in the context of domestic violence dynamics, especially because their safety and well-being is closely connected to that of the survivor parent.
  • Address the trauma of removing children from the survivor parent: Considerations may include placing the children with family or fictive kin, limiting and/or supervising the access of the parent who is causing the harm, providing for access and visitation with the children for the survivor parent, providing the children with therapy from a professional who has domestic violence training, and requiring parties to discuss a plan for reunification between the survivor parent and children, preferably with the input of local domestic violence program experts.
  • Recognize the danger of separation: Separation from an abusive partner increases the risk of lethality when domestic violence is a dynamic in the relationship, as can pursuing legal options such as protective orders, divorce, custody, and mediation. Additionally, because the perpetrator’s actions often directly involve, target, and impact the children in the family, fear of being harmed might impact the information that the survivor parent and their children share with caseworkers or other individuals.
  • Address acts of domestic violence: Judges and attorneys should consider orders that require the person using violence to participate in a Batterers Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) and orders implementing safety precautions that are individualized to meet the needs of the survivor parent and the child (even if the child is not currently placed with the survivor parent). Attorneys for the survivor parent should discuss with their client whether seeking additional orders for protection is pertinent to their and their children’s safety.
  • Create a Service Plan based on survivor’s experiences and strengths: Attorneys and judges can encourage a culture where survivors’ experiences are heard, valued, and considered in safety planning, and where the survivors’ supports, strengths, and protective factors are identified and bolstered.
  • Consider confidentiality issues: Due to the nature of domestic violence, the intervention by the child welfare system can increase the danger and safety risk to the survivor parent and child. Safety measures around privacy and confidentiality must be carefully considered and implemented. For example, judges and attorneys might consider holding separate hearing times to discuss each parent’s individual portion of the case if there are concerns about continued use of intimidation, threats, manipulation, or retaliation by the person choosing to use violence.
  • Recognize the potential for ongoing domestic violence during the CPS case, even if the parents are separated: A person using violence can continue to intimidate, manipulate, and harm a survivor parent even during a CPS case. Some examples include using the children to garner information about the survivor parent, making false reports to CPS or to law enforcement and/or filing for a Protective Order under false allegations as a means to control the survivor parent, taking away access to transportation or funds, tracking phone calls and the location of the survivor parent, and violating stay-away orders.
  • Consider how to maintain safety in mediation: Judges and attorneys might consider selecting a mediator in cases involving domestic violence who has undergone specialized training. The Texas Council on Family Violence created a three module online training series for mediators that meets the requirement for child custody mediation professionals to have family violence dynamics training. In addition, judges and attorneys should solicit feedback from the survivor parent about what precautions should be implemented and consider orders to ensure the safety of all parties participating in mediation.

Please see the following tools and resources provided by TCFV for additional helpful information. Additionally, judges and attorneys are encouraged to contact their local Domestic Violence Program to access opportunities for education and training.
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For a complete list of Resource Letters, please visit the Children's Commission web page. Information provided by the Children’s Commission should not be read as a commentary by the Supreme Court of Texas or any other court. The Children’s Commission website is not equipped to facilitate dialogue or conversation about matters related to the information in this communique. For more information about the Children’s Commission, please visit our website.