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New Connecticut Department of Children and Families Commissioner outlines her position on domestic violence

On March 21, 2011,  Connecticut’s new Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz sent out an all staff memo regarding the agency’s approach to domestic violence. In the memo the  former Connecticut Supreme Court Justice, outlined her support for the work of the Department’s domestic violence consultants, the Safe and Together™ model, the importance of partnering with domestic violence survivors and collaborating with community partners. She also announced the  ground breaking step of requesting a special review of a case involving the alleged homicide of a parent by another parent where no children were physically harmed. By requesting this review, she made explicit the importance of the connection between violence perpetrated against parents and the needs of children, even in situations where the children have not been physically harmed.  The full text of the memo is below:

MEMORANDUM

To: All Staff

From:Joette Katz, Commissioner

Date:Monday, March 21, 2011

Subject:Domestic Violence

As the Department continues to evolve, it is important to validate and

build upon our existing strengths and partnerships.   Almost five years

ago, in response to its deepening understanding of the devastating and

pervasive impact of domestic violence on children and families, the

Department reached out for assistance from Connecticut domestic violence

experts. In partnership with these individuals and agencies, we launched

the Domestic Violence Consultation Initiative with the purpose of

improving our capacity to identify and respond to domestic violence.  Over

the past five years through the efforts of our staff and our community

domestic violence consultants, we have achieved significant positive

changes in our domestic violence practice. These changes reflect the

values and efforts that I will continue to support and expand upon as we

move forward.

The principles of this Initiative approach are consistent with a focus on

child well being, family centered practice and differential response.

Whenever possible, we should be attempting to keep children safe and

together with the non-offending parent in families experiencing domestic

violence. Partnership with domestic violence survivors should be our

default approach in these cases because these partnerships are the most

efficient and effective means to meet the safety and well being needs of

children. The vast majority of domestic violence survivors are devoting

tremendous energy towards the safety, stability and nurturance of their

children. We need to validate, support and build on these efforts,

wrapping our arms around domestic violence survivors on our caseloads, not

passing judgment on them.

We also need to use every tool at our disposal to intervene with domestic

violence perpetrators to reduce the harm they inflict on children and

families.  This means actively engaging perpetrators, developing

meaningful plans that address their behaviors, making referrals to

services that are aimed at addressing domestic violence, and coordinating

with criminal court and law enforcement.   Staffing cases at your local

multi-disciplinary team, attending a criminal court domestic violence

docket meeting, providing service providers with the specific information

we have gathered about the perpetrator and filing neglect petitions

focused primarily on domestic violence perpetrators are all steps we can

take, when appropriate.

As DRS and the Practice Model roll out, I am committed to maintaining the

progress the Department has already made in the area of universal

screening and assessment for domestic violence in all our cases regardless

of the presenting issue.   I am especially interested in focusing on our

adolescent cases, where it is so important for us to be screening for

dating violence victimization and perpetration. I also will be looking to

our partners in the community-law enforcement, the Judicial Branch,

battered women’s advocates, mental health providers, batterer intervention

programs, and others to continue to enhance our abilities to reduce the

harm created by domestic violence perpetrators.

Lastly, I want us to consider the impact of domestic violence on children

from a holistic perspective.  We need to expand beyond an incident based,

safety focus to include the chronic behavior patterns of perpetrators like

undermining a partner’s parenting and interfering with the normal routine

of children.  A domestic violence assessment focused on a range of tactics

that impact both safety and well being over time is often central to a

meaningful understanding of the behavioral health, substance abuse and

mental health needs of our families.

As part of this holistic approach, we also need to strengthen our

understanding that the well-being of children in homes is closely tied to

the well being of the parent who is a victim, usually their mother.   To

demonstrate my commitment to this perspective I have ordered the first

special review of a recent case involving the murder of a mother by a

father where the children were neither physically harmed nor direct

witnesses of the homicide.  There is no way to deny the devastating, life

shattering impact of this event on these children.  We need to learn from

this tragedy how best to respond to families where children have not been

physically harmed but there is severe violence directed at one of their

parents by a caretaker or partner.

The Department has already taken strong strides in the area of domestic

violence. It is now viewed as a national leader in the area of child

welfare and domestic violence. I want to commend all our staff and our

domestic violence consultants and promise continued support for their

efforts.

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