Co-Reporting of Child Maltreatment and Intimate Partner Violence: The Likelihood of Substantiations and Foster Care Placements

Rebbe, R., Eastman, A.L., Adhia, A., Foust, R., & Putnam-Hornstein, E. (2021).
Child Maltreatment, 1-10.
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Expanded Abstract: 

Research makes clear that intimate partner violence (IPV) (physical, sexual, and psychological or emotional harm between current or former intimate partners), negatively affects children as well as adults. Although IPV-related reports frequently come to the attention of child protective services (CPS), there is no nationally agreed upon legal standard or practice guidance for child protection responses to maltreatment reports, nor sufficient research documenting that reaction. The current study used a review of case records to assess how CPS responds to reported allegations of IPV, with and without physical abuse and/or neglect allegations. Best estimates would suggest that approximately one fifth to one quarter of CPS investigations are related to IPV (Alaggia et al., 2015; Victor et al., 2019).

An estimated 8 to 15 million children in the US are exposed to adult IPV each year, with 7 million estimated to live in families where severe violence occurs (Hamby et al., 2010; McDonald et al., 2006). Nationally representative survey data suggest that 15.8% of US children witness a parent assault another caregiver in their lifetime (Finkelhor et al., 2015). Beyond exposure to adult violence, children living in homes with IPV also have an increased risk of experiencing abuse themselves (Victor et al., 2019). Parents who experience IPV (either as the perpetrator or the victim) are more likely to maltreat their own children compared to those who do not experience IPV (Chiesa et al., 2018; Maliken & Fainsilber Katz, 2013). One review estimated the occurrence of physical child abuse in families with IPV at between 18% and 67% (Jouriles et al., 2008).

Results of the case review revealed that a higher percentage of IPV-identified reports also had a physical abuse allegation than reports where IPV was not identified. Of reports where IPV was identified, 22% also had an allegation for physical abuse and 54% had an allegation for neglect. Further, nearly half (45.5%) of IPV-identified reports were reported by law enforcement, suggesting that the referral likely originated with a high-conflict, potentially violent event. As such, the results highlight the complexity of these cases; not only must CPS workers attend to the multifaceted and potentially urgent needs of these families, they must also collaborate and share information with law enforcement—a feat that can be challenging (Olszowy et al., 2020). Among IPV-alleged reports with a child under the age of five, those that co-reported with neglect (without the presence of a physical abuse allegation) were at the greatest risk for out-of- home placement.

(The expanded abstract is excerpted and adapted from the article cited above)