Abstract: Child Protection Workers' Attitudes about Domestic Violence: The Impact of Education and Personal Experience (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Child Protection Workers' Attitudes about Domestic Violence: The Impact of Education and Personal Experience

Thursday, January 17, 2019: 4:45 PM
Union Square 15 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Kristina Nikolova, PhD, Postdoctoral Associate, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Catherine Buttner, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Iris Cardenas, MSW, Doctoral Student, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Rupa Khetarpal, MSW, Assistant Professor of Teaching, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Cassandra Simmel, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Judy Postmus, PhD, Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Background: Ensuring child safety in the context of co-occurring domestic violence (DV) and child abuse can be challenging to social workers due to the complexity of violence that is beset by stereotypes. Survivors of DV rarely meet the characteristics of the ‘ideal victim’ and are often blamed for not ending the abuse sooner.  How workers view DV survivors could influence service provision to survivors and impact client outcomes. The Domestic Violence Liaison (DVL) program is a partnership between child protection services (CPS) and domestic violence organizations (DVO) aimed at improving the outcomes for families experiencing a co-occurrence of child abuse and DV. This paper assesses how workers from these two types of organizations perceive victims of DV and what factors impact their attitudes about DV.

Methods: In 2016, workers involved with the DVL program were surveyed (analytical sample = 846).  Information was collected on workers’ place of employment (CPS or DVO) and their socio-demographic characteristics: gender, race/ethnicity, DV training, and education.  Workers were asked about their personal experience with DV and their attitudes and beliefs about DV, measured using a standardized scale. Multiple linear regression was used to examine the relationship between workers’ attitudes and workers’ socio-demographic variables and experiences with DV as predictors. 

The majority of workers were female (87.1%), White (58.5%), and employed at CPS (74.9%).  Over a quarter of workers (26.6%) identified as Black/African-American and one fifth (20.3%) identified as Hispanic/Latino. On average, workers have been employed at their current agency for 8.68 years (SD=7.10). 

Results: The regression model is moderately effective at predicting workers’ attitudes and beliefs about DV, explaining 22.2% of the variance.  The workers’ place of employment was a strong predictor of DV attitudes and beliefs. Workers employed at DVOs held fewer negative attitudes about DV victims than workers employed at CPS agencies (b=-5.01, t=-11.45, p<.001).  Workers who feel their lives are impacted by DV hold fewer negative attitudes about victims of DV than workers who feel their lives have not been impacted by DV (b=-0.74, t=-1.97, p<.05).

Workers with at least 15 hours of DV training held fewer negative attitudes on average than workers with less training (b=-1.83, t=-4.40, p<.001).  Workers’ level of education was not a significant predictor of worker attitudes; however, workers with a social work degree (MSW or BSW) held significantly fewer negative attitudes towards DV victims than workers with a non-social work degree (b=-0.96, t=-2.46, p<.05). No other personal experience, demographic, or employment variables were statistically significant.

Conclusions: Workers’ misconceptions about DV are decreased when they recognize that DV has had an impact in their personal lives, regardless of whether they are a survivor of DV. While training can also help reduce these misconceptions, this training must be extensive to help workers recognize the pervasive nature of DV and decrease reliance on the 'ideal victim' stereotype. These findings inform agencies’ training and capacity building efforts to help develop an effective social work response in cases of co-occurring DV and child abuse.