Police response to children present at domestic violence incidents.

Swerin, D.D., Bostaph, L.G., King, L.L., & Gillespie, L.K.
Child Maltreatment, 23(4), 417 – 425
Type of Profession:

The present study identifies (1) how often children are present at DV incidents, (2) how often police officers speak directly with children who are present and what factors impact this decision, and (3) the impact of child presence on police response.


Police response to domestic violence (DV) has continued to change and expand over the past several decades. Although DV was originallyconsidered a private matter, it now represents one of the most common calls for service received by police agencies. Children are often present when police respond to domestic violence. Children are present at nearly half of all DV incidents (Burton, 2000; Edleson etal., 2007), most of whom are directly exposed to the violent altercation (Fantuzzo & Fusco, 2007; Hamby et al., 2011). Additionally, research has consistently noted a correlation between childhood exposure to DV and a wide array of physical, behavioral, social, psychological, emotional, developmental (e.g., negative influences on peer relationships, social skills, and decreased interest in extracurricular activities), and school-related problems (Cater et al., 2015; Holmes et al., 2015; Hornor, 2005; Huang et al., 2015). One of the most concerning effects is the increased risk of engaging in aggressive behaviors (Bauer et al., 2006; Holmes et al., 2015; Jourileset al., 1998; Lundy & Grossman, 2005). Huang, Vikse, Lu, and Yi (2015) noted a link between exposure to IPV and later participationin delinquent acts. Childhood exposure to DV may also increase the risk of perpetrating DV in adulthood, further contributing to the cycle of violence.

The present study examined 345 police reports from an agency in the Northwestern U.S. to explore police response to DV incidents when children are present. The results included the fact that although the police reports indicated that children were present in 47% of the cases examined, only 21% of incidents included the charge enhancement of domestic assault or battery in the presence of a child (a unique statute in this state). Child presence was a statistically significant predictor of victim-directed intervention and victim-directed follow-up. However, the presence of a child decreased the odds of arrest in this study. Findings further indicated that the frequency of police interaction with children present at DV incidents was minimal. The study results in recommendations for policy and practice for law enforcement.

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