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December/January 2023Vol. 23, No. 10Study on Survivor-Centered Approach to Help Families Experiencing Domestic Violence

Addressing the interconnected experiences and needs of adult survivors of domestic violence (DV) and their children improves safety and permanency outcomes for children. The Quality Improvement Center on Domestic Violence in Child Welfare (QIC-DVCW) at Futures Without Violence was funded by the Children’s Bureau to conduct a research study and implement an adult and child survivor-centered approach to helping child welfare-involved families experiencing DV. The approach was designed based on more than 30 years of work with survivors involved with child welfare as well as research about the impacts of systems and trauma on families and communities that have been marginalized. The project included collaborations at three project sites (Illinois, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania) that involved child welfare agencies, DV programs serving survivors and people using violence, judges and other dependency court personnel, and community-based organizations.


The approach encompasses six principles and two strategies for practice. The principles include collaboration, connectedness of safety and well-being of adult and child survivors, planning with survivors, responding to unique circumstances of families, advancing racial and gender equity, and promoting healing and well-being.


The following are the two practice strategies of the approach:

  • Building five protective factors that reduce the negative impacts of DV and advance the well-being of all survivors (safer and more stable conditions; social, cultural, and spiritual connections; resilience and a growth mindset; nurturing parent-child interactions; and social and emotional abilities)
  • Utilizing the power of relationships, as well as the authority of systems, to establish accountability for the person using violence and coercion and to provide meaningful support for them to change

Information and practice tools for utilizing these strategies can be found on the QIC-DVCW website.

The following are findings from the study:

  • Improved child safety and permanency
    • Child maltreatment recurrence rates were lower where the approach was utilized.
    • For families experiencing co-occurring child maltreatment and DV, there was a 38 percent higher likelihood of maltreatment recurrence in comparison sites than in implementation sites.
    • Reunification rates of children with parents rose from 0.6 percent to 6.8 percent at implementation sites.
  • More favorable perception of adult survivors
    • Caseworkers who utilized the approach rated adult survivors more highly in (1) identifying strategies to counter the negative impact of DV on their children, (2) expressing confidence that they can achieve positive goals, (3) recognizing tough or bad situations as temporary, and (4) persevering even when they encounter challenges.
  • Improved communication and collaboration
    • Communication and collaboration improved within implementation teams and made a difference for families (e.g., children were not removed where they would have been previously).
  • Improved child welfare and community partner practices
    • Practice changes included the adoption of approach language, increased use of protective factors practice behaviors among caseworkers and community partners, and improvements in child welfare planning and decision-making.
    • Child welfare staff reported improvements in accountability practices.
    • Intervention sites felt well-prepared to actively engage in equity practice, and there was an upward trend in equity practice behaviors.

For more information, visit the QIC-DVCW website.