DCF, community combat domestic violence together
~ New efforts and partnerships aim to strengthen community’s response to family violence. ~
Domestic Violence accounts for more child abuse every month in Palm Beach County than any other maltreatment. During Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October – and throughout the year – the Department of Children and Families joins law enforcement, advocates for victims, shelter providers and the entire child welfare system in encouraging the community to report abuse and help protect victims of domestic violence.
DCF Secretary David Wilkins will host a Webcast on Domestic Violence on Oct. 10 at 3 p.m. He will be joined by experts to discuss innovative programs in use by child protective investigators and the Department's community partners throughout Florida. Check the Department's Web site, www.dcf.state.fl.us, for details about the Webcast, including the link for the public to view.
The Department of Children and Families, working with the community, has taken a number of steps toward addressing the serious problem of family violence in Palm Beach County. The urgency of a strong community wide response to domestic violence was heightened by the tragic deaths in September 2010 of the Whyte-Dell family in Riviera Beach. Some recent actions include:
- Specialized training: The whole community – child protective investigators, dependency case managers, law enforcement, judges, advocates, providers – has teamed to confront domestic violence in a new way. In February 2011, DCF contracted with David Mandel and Associates, LLC, to provide intensive training on a new way of thinking about domestic violence. Training on this new approach, the “Safe and Together Model,” began in 2011 and will continue into 2012. It enables the entire community to collaborate, with “subject matter experts” in domestic violence helping their colleagues identify the impact of the family violence on the children and developing plans that intervene with the domestic violence perpetrator. This approach focuses on creating the most effective partnership possible with the protective parent, meeting the needs of the children in the home and being sensitive to the role of mental health issues, substance abuse and culture. After the extensive training early in the year, another, condensed, three-day version of this training was offered in May to about 60 community stakeholders involved with domestic violence cases, including additional child protective investigators, dependency case managers, Children’s Legal Services attorneys, Legal Aid Society, shelter providers and some law enforcement officials. Specialized training on the “Safe and Together Model” will continue.
- Palm Beach County Child Protective Investigations Domestic Violence Protocol: In July 2011, DCF implemented the Domestic Violence Protocol. This new model for approaching domestic violence emphasizes strong collaboration among child protective investigators, dependency case managers and victim advocates in Palm Beach County, and offers new tools and techniques for conducting child protective investigations when domestic violence is alleged. With guidelines for interviewing survivors, children and alleged perpetrators, the protocol helps guide safety planning for the family.
- DCF Partnership with the Clerk of Courts
- Review of protective petitions filed by parents: The Department began exploring this initiative in the wake of the Whyte-Dell tragedy in Riviera Beach in September 2010. Thirty-six-year-old Natasha Whyte-Dell and four of her children were killed by her estranged husband, who subsequently committed suicide. Ms. Whyte-Dell was granted a restraining order in May 2010. This was not reported to the Florida Abuse Hotline to initiative a child protective investigation. This initiative enables DCF to review petitions for injunction filed to protect someone with children. DCF can then assess the families for potential harm to children. Through this initiative, in just the first three months, for 22 families who were not subjects of a DCF investigation, a review of the petition showed concerns for the safety of the children.
- Access to electronic records: In September, DCF’s Children’s Legal Services attorneys gained direct access to electronically view original documents in the files of the Clerk of Courts in the 15th Circuit. The ability to view these documents on demand is a tremendous gain for the attorneys who present petitions to shelter children who are victims of abuse or neglect.
- Additional home visits by law enforcement: Beginning in 2009, DCF signed a Memorandum of Agreement with police departments in Greenacres, West Palm Beach, Lantana and Delray Beach. Under these agreements, for certain families with protective injunctions, law enforcement conducts additional home visits to reduce the incidence of an alleged perpetrator having access to an adult or child victim of domestic violence.
- Law Enforcement Guidelines for Domestic Violence Investigations: Law enforcement agencies, the State Attorney’s Office, DCF and the social service Domestic Violence providers in Palm Beach County worked together to create guidelines that were finalized and distributed near the end of the year in 2010. The guidelines outline the best practices for investigating incidents of Domestic Violence.
Many of the initiatives listed above were a result of concerns identified during a DCF review in 2009 of domestic violence cases. DCF and its lead child welfare organization, Child and Family Connections, Inc., teamed with more than 20 community groups to conduct a major review of investigations and dependency cases. It was the first-ever collaborative look at Palm Beach County’s response to children exposed to domestic violence, and the goal was improving the way we respond to domestic violence.
That five-month review identified opportunities to better empower and protect survivors of domestic violence. A Domestic Violence Steering Council was formed to develop guidelines for consistent and thorough investigations of domestic violence. The steering council also created wallet-sized cards that refer domestic violence survivors to community resources. The cards are distributed by DCF child protective investigators, dependency case managers and law enforcement officers.
DCF investigated 14,768 of allegations of child abuse or neglect in Palm Beach County from July 2010-June 2011. From January through June 2011, domestic violence and substance abuse were the leading allegations (6,163 reports alleged domestic violence, and 4,452 alleged substance misuse). Of those, 1,421 reports of domestic violence were verified, and 627 reports of substance misuse were verified.
In households where Domestic Violence has been alleged, substance abuse is often an issue. From July 2010-June 2011, there were 466 children sheltered from unsafe homes in Palm Beach County. Of those:
- 32 percent of the children sheltered were because of substance misuse.
- 12 percent of the children sheltered were because of family violence.