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August/September 2002Vol. 3, No. 7Pilot Initiative in New York City to Better Support Families Affected by Domestic Violence

At the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators summer meeting July 20, 2002, William Bell, Commissioner of the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) in New York City, presented on New York City's response to a class action law suit filed in 2000. In the case Nicholson v. Williams, plaintiffs alleged that ACS, as a matter of policy, removes children from mothers who are victims of domestic violence and charges them with neglect solely because they are victims of domestic violence. The estimated number of removals in cases involving domestic violence during a 3-year period was 3,658. A State review of New York's ACS protective service cases investigated during 1999 found that 19 percent included a history of domestic violence. In New York City alone, ACS investigates 55,000 child abuse and neglect reports each year, which can involve 85,000-90,000 children. Many of the cases may stem from domestic violence.

As a result of this lawsuit, New York City has dramatically shifted its focus to better support families affected by domestic violence. Mr. Bell described the city's pilot initiatives to implement best practices in which child welfare and domestic violence advocates better collaborate to protect victims and children, and batterers are held accountable. Kathryn Conroy and Randy Magen of the Columbia University School of Social Work developed a 2-day screening curriculum. The training was provided to contract preventive service programs in the city and training was provided for all new child protective services caseworkers. Training emphasized the dynamics of domestic violence, routine assessment, and safety planning with the victim as the primary intervention. In addition to training, the pilot project includes:

  • Routine screening for domestic violence (routine assessment for domestic violence has doubled identification rates).
  • Case-by-case assessment of child and adult safety and risk.
  • Emphasis on safety planning with the victim.
  • Increasing emphasis on holding abusive partners accountable.
  • Safety interventions, including child removal, are made when necessary to ensure child safety.

Cross-systems strategic planning was also conducted with Office of Domestic Violence and Child Welfare. Twelve clinical teams that include domestic violence, mental health, and substance abuse specialists are now placed in field offices to provide consultation and training to staff. A domestic violence protocol has been developed that includes tools for interviewing the victim and abusive partner, which are required whenever domestic violence is reported or suspected.

More information on best practices in responding to domestic violence can be found in the following resources:

  • In Harm's Way: Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment on the website of the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information (note: this publication is no longer available).
  • Guidelines for Public Child Welfare Agencies Serving Children and Families Experience Domestic Violence from the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators, American Public Human Services Association. The PDF version can be found at; the Word format is at (Editor's note: this link is no longer available.)
  • Guidelines for Conducting Family Team Conferences When There is a History of Domestic Violence from the Family Violence Prevention Fund at
  • Domestic Violence: A National Curriculum for Children's Protective Services from the Family Violence Prevention Fund at
  • Effective Intervention In Domestic Violence & Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice (also know as the "Greenbook" Initiative) from the National Council of Juvenile & Family Court Judges, Family Violence Department at