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Family Abuse and Crime - Interventions And Policy

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Protecting children. All fifty states enacted mandatory reporting laws for child abuse and neglect by the late 1960s. These laws require certain professionals (or in some states, all adults) to report cases of suspected maltreatment. When a report is made, protective service workers investigate to determine if the child is in need of protection, and whether the family is in need of assistance. Although a wide array of options are available to child-protection workers, they typically have two basic ways to protect a victim of child abuse: (1) Removing the child and placing him or her in a foster home or institution; or (2) providing the family with social support, such as counseling, food stamps, day care services, and so on.

Neither solution is ideal. There are risks in both. Children who are removed from abusive homes may well be protected from physical damage, but still suffer emotional harm. The emotional harm arises from the fact that abused children still love and have strong feelings for their parents and do not understand why they have been removed from their parents and homes. Often, abused children feel that they are responsible for their own abuse. Abused children frequently require special medical and/or psychological care and it is difficult to find a suitable placement for them. They could well become a burden for foster parents or institutions that have to care for them. Therefore, the risk of abuse might even be greater in a foster home or institution than in the home of the natural parents.

Leaving children in an abusive home and providing social services involves another type of risk. Most protective service workers are overworked, undertrained, and underpaid. Family services such as crisis daycare, financial assistance, suitable housing, and transportation services are often limited. This can lead to cases in which children, reported as abused, and investigated and supervised by state agencies, are killed during the period the family was supposedly being monitored. Half of all children who are killed by caretakers are killed after they have been reported to child welfare agencies (Gelles).

The most effective intervention for preventing child maltreatment is home health visitation. Among children of poor, unmarried teenage mothers who were provided with the full complement of home visits by a nurse during the mother's pregnancy and for the first two years after birth, confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect were reported to the state child protection agency in 4 percent of the cases. Subsequent follow-ups of the home health visiting intervention demonstrated its long-term effectiveness. However, the effectiveness varied depending on the populations receiving the service, the community context, and who made the visits (nurses or others) (Olds et al.).

Other evaluations of interventions for child maltreatment have found that the more services a family received, the worse the family got and the more likely children were to be maltreated. Lay counseling, group counseling, and parent education classes resulted in more positive treatment outcomes. The optimal treatment period appeared to be between seven and eighteen months. The projects that were successful in reducing abuse accomplished this by separating children from abusive parents, either by placing the children in foster homes or requiring the maltreating adult to move out of the house.

Protecting women. There are a number of options available to women who either want to escape or be protected from partner violence. One option is to call the police. Evaluations of mandatory arrest policies find that, overall, arrest alone does not prevent future occurrences of domestic violence. Men who were employed or married when arrested for domestic violence were less likely to reabuse their partners. However, men who were unemployed when they were arrested were actually more likely to be violent after they were arrested compared to unemployed men who were not arrested.

A second possibility is for the woman to go to a shelter or safe house. Researchers find that the effects of shelters seem to depend on the attributes of the victims. When a victim is actively engaged in taking control of her life, a shelter stay can dramatically reduce the likelihood of new violence.

Researchers have also evaluated group programs developed for violent men. They determined that the programs were ineffective in reducing men's violence, regardless of the length or type of program (Levesque).

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