Tag Archives: Domestic Violence

Domestic violence survivors in the case load

Black and white head shot of woman, thoughtful,October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We know that domestic violence is an every month concern for child support agencies, but October provides an extra reminder of the critical role safe access to child support services plays for survivors and their families. In the September 2015 Child Support Report, we feature a number of articles addressing the need for domestic violence safeguards and resources for parents receiving child support services.

In talking with child support professionals over the past year about the connection between child support and domestic violence, I’ve consistently heard the following theme: “We know domestic violence is a huge issue for families in our caseload and we want to do more to enhance safe access to child support, but we’re not really sure where to start.” Just like one size doesn’t fit all parents when it comes to delivering child support services, there’s not one approach to developing a comprehensive response to domestic violence. With that in mind, OCSE has developed new resources for child support agencies to use as a roadmap for starting the process of enhancing safe access to child support. These resources draw on the experiences of your peers in other states and jurisdictions.

Recent research data highlighted in OCSE’s upcoming resource “Safe Access to Child Support Services for Survivors of Domestic Violence:  Scope of the Issue” are sobering. The data should prompt all of us in the child support profession to renew our efforts to enhance our program’s response to domestic violence:

  • More than 4 out of 10 custodial mothers who don’t have a formal child support order and aren’t getting any informal support report domestic violence by the other parent,
  • Underreporting of domestic violence by parents receiving child support services is substantial. Custodial parents surveyed by researchers at the University of Texas reported domestic violence at more than 4 times the rate disclosed to the child support program, and
  • Nearly 1 in 10 unmarried mothers completing a voluntary paternity acknowledgment at the hospital report being injured by the father during pregnancy.

Behind those numbers are real people.  Michelle, a domestic violence survivor, was able to get out of an abusive relationship because her child support agency staff was domestic violence-smart and responded to her with skill and compassion. Read her moving reminder of the importance of our jobs in the September CSR.

The good news  from our Parenting Time Opportunities for Children (PTOC) pilot grants is that child support agencies can play a vital role in identifying and referring parents to those services. A PTOC grantee in San Diego described one parent’s experience this way, “The process was not intimidating and the positives that came from getting a safe visitation order really benefited her family.”

Learn about more domestic violence resources in the September 2015 edition of the Child Support Report.

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Helping Domestic Violence Survivors Pursue Child Support Safely and Confidentially

boy at windowEconomic dependence is one of the main reasons that women remain with or return to an abusive partner. The research says that more than 90 percent of custodial mothers who face the risk of domestic violence want and need to pursue child support if they can do so safely and confidentially. Nonetheless, a parent may hesitate to seek child support services if she is afraid for her safety, and especially if she is worried about the safety of her child. What can we, as child support professionals, do to help domestic violence survivors in this situation?

Our opportunities to help parents who experience domestic violence have been expanding over the past few years. More than ever before, the child support program is committed to collaboration with other agencies that can help, and connecting vulnerable families to organizations that provide domestic violence services, including safety planning.

Why now? We are taking a greater role in collaboration with other government agencies and national and community organizations as we provide services to both parents—custodial and noncustodial. And because the child support program is in a unique position to offer services to both parents (and is making more efforts to engage fathers in the lives of their children), we also have a responsibility to reduce the risk of domestic violence and help domestic violence survivors pursue child support in safety.

Two points in a relationship are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence—around the birth of a child, and when a couple separates. Those are precisely the points when a custodial parent may initiate a child support case. How we do our work in the center of the Bubble Chart—our core mission of establishing and enforcing support—can mean the difference between economic independence and heightened risk for survivors of domestic violence.

For example, consultation with parents who face a known risk of domestic violence, tailoring enforcement strategies, and confidentiality safeguards are essential for safely collecting support. The Federal Parent Locator Service assists domestic violence survivors by protecting their information through use of the Family Violence Indicator. 

And, the first rule is to do no harm. There are situations when it may not be safe to collect child support. Defer to the custodial parent’s judgment about whether child support services may be too dangerous to pursue. A series of studies conducted by the Center for Policy Research identified a number of factors to help predict whether a domestic violence survivor receiving TANF cash assistance wanted to claim good cause from child support cooperation. The best predictor is whether the father threatened to harm the children. Additional factors include whether the father threatened to harm the mother; tried to isolate her; hit or beat her up; monitored her telephone calls; prevented her from working; abused her within the past six months; or caused her to call the police.

As part of our commitment to safely enforcing child support, OCSE has dedicated one of the domains (or “bubbles”) in the Bubble Chart to Family Violence Collaboration. Take a look at our fact sheet that corresponds with that domain. It highlights opportunities for collaboration with other agencies, including your state’s or county’s TANF program, that address domestic violence.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, several articles in the October Child Support Report newsletter specify ways your child support agency can help parents with cases that involve vulnerable families. The articles mention websites and phone numbers for organizations where you can learn more, as well as OCSE resources such as the Intergovernmental Referral Guide that lists contact persons who handle domestic violence issues in each state.

Do you, or the child support agency where you work, offer services for one or both parents who may be involved in a domestic violence situation?  Do you collaborate with other agencies in any of the Bubble Chart domains that can help to address domestic violence? Please let me know by submitting a comment on this blog.

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