Abstract: To Report or Not to Report?: Domestic Violence Advocates' Decision Making When Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

167P To Report or Not to Report?: Domestic Violence Advocates' Decision Making When Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Melanie Carlson, MSW, Research Assistant, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Carrie Moylan, PhD, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Erik Wittrup, MSW, Doctoral Student, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Daniel Velez Ortiz, PhD, Associate Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Background: This study seeks to fill a gap in understanding what factors lead to a domestic violence (DV) advocate deciding to report child abuse and neglect (CAN). The prevalence of children exposed to DV has been estimated to be 16%-18% throughout childhood. A child’s exposure to DV has frequently been included in child protection policies as a subtype CAN. Therefore, DV advocates and child protective services (CPS) often have mutual clients. Historically, many DV advocates have viewed CPS as problematic and were reticent to closely collaborate at the interprofessional level. DV advocates’ work is often grounded in feminist frameworks with voluntary clients, while CPS workers have a legal mandate to protect children’s safety with often mandated clients. There have been few studies that have explored the relationship between DV advocates, their role as mandatory reporters, and the ethical decision-making process when reporting.

Methods: A web-based anonymous survey was sent to all domestic violence shelter programs in a mid-western state. The inclusion criteria were current DV advocates who were employed full or part-time within shelter settings, resulting in 142 participant responses in the analysis. The survey questions utilized Likert scales to assess what factors domestic violence advocates consider when deciding to report to CPS. The survey included questions concerning the DV advocates’ holistic consideration of a family’s circumstances (e. g. potential impact of reporting, family’s context) and the DV agency’s perceived relationship with CPS. Also included were 10 case scenarios of a child’s exposure to DV with varying severity and the advocate’s likelihood of reporting in each scenario. Finally, the survey asked about demographics of the survey respondents, including: Race, years of experience, level of education, supervisor status.

Results: A multivariate regression was used to determine the relationship between how internal decision-making factors and the agency's relationship with CPS affect the overall likelihood of reporting, while controlling for survey respondent demographics. The regression model was significant (R2=.14, F=3.61, df=6, p<.01). The higher a DVA rated on the internal decision-making scale the less likely they were to report CAN in the case scenarios (β=-.253, p<.01). Having a better organizational relationship with CPS was associated with an increased likelihood of reporting (β=.252, p<.01).

Implications: These findings suggest that DV advocates are less likely to report a child’s exposure to DV when they consider the holistic impact of reporting CAN on the family. Yet, DV advocates are more likely to report if they perceive a good working relationship with CPS. Therefore, further collaboration with CPS when serving vulnerable families may play a key factor in the ethical decision-making for reporting CAN in DV cases. Maintaining trust and fostering collaboration between DV advocacy services and CPS may increase the likelihood of reporting CAN, which in turn can help keep children safe. This may be achieved by advocating policies that can be ethically congruent across practice domains, participating in cross training on an ongoing basis and continued research on best practices when addressing the co-occurrence of DV and CAN.