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March 2018Vol. 19, No. 2Intimate Partner Violence in Child Welfare

Approximately one-third of all families who become involved with child protective services experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in the year preceding their involvement with the child welfare system. Because of this significant co-occurrence, it is important for child welfare workers to have the knowledge and skills to gauge children's exposure to IPV and implement practice considerations to mitigate the negative consequences of exposure to violence, including the potential for child maltreatment.

A recent issue of Practice Notes, a product of the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, discusses how exposure to IPV manifests in children of various ages. For infants, IPV exposure has been associated with eating and sleeping problems, lack of physical responses, and loss of previously acquired developmental skills. Preschool-aged children may show increased behavioral problems, such as irritability, regressed behavior, and even posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. Children in school may exhibit aggression and disobedience, depression, fear and anxiety, and interpersonal conflict with peers. Adolescents exposed to IPV are at risk of emotional problems related to depression, increased aggression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

The brief provides the following six key practice considerations for social workers and supervisors based on UNICEF recommendations:

  • Children need a safe home environment without violence. It is important to provide families experiencing IPV with domestic violence resources and services geared toward parents and children.
  • Children need trusted and supportive adults who will listen to them and keep them safe. Child welfare workers should check in with children and ask them how they feel about their safety in their homes or foster homes and respond with empathy, care, and support.
  • Children need a sense of normalcy and routine, especially if they have been removed from their homes.
  • Children need support services that address the impact domestic violence has on children, such as therapeutic and family-centered interventions.
  • Children need to learn that domestic violence is never acceptable and that there are nonviolent ways to solve problems. It is important to have age-appropriate conversations about healthy relationships and share concerns about things happening at home, school, and the community. 
  • Children need adults to not only advocate for their best interests but also raise awareness about the impact IPV has on children.

The brief also provides a case example; reflection questions, such as "How do you assess for children's exposure to IPV in your day-to-day practice?"; and additional resources.

Intimate Partner Violence in Child Welfare is available at