Abstract: Civil Legal Aid Participation Improves Income and Decreases Poverty Among Women Experiencing Intimate Partner Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Civil Legal Aid Participation Improves Income and Decreases Poverty Among Women Experiencing Intimate Partner Violence

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
James Teufel, PhD, Assistant Professor, Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA
Lynette M. Renner, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St Paul, MN
Michael Gallo, BA, Student, Moravian College, PA
Carolyn Hartley, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
Background: One in three women in the United States experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime, and two out of three of lower-income households that have experiences of IPV report higher numbers of civil legal needs. Among lower-income women, experiencing IPV reduces employment security and thereby, income security in the short-term and chronic exposure to DV/IPV harms health in the long-term. Emerging research has supported that women who experience IPV and receive legal aid services improve their personal income and decrease use of public benefits. 

Methods: Data were taken from a multi-wave study of women who received civil legal services in one Midwestern state in the United States. All women in the sample experienced IPV and received legal services for a civil protective order or a family law matter (e.g., divorce, custody). We compared the economic status of 82 women who experienced IPV over three time points (Wave 1: at the initial receipt of legal aid services, and Waves 2 and 3: after receiving legal aid services at ~6 months and ~12 months, respectively). We examined changes in the types of personal income, types of public benefit income, and poverty status across time, using parametric and nonparametric repeated measures statistical procedures and pair-wise contrasts. The social return on investment (SROI)—income benefits relative to costs of the provision of legal services—was also estimated. 

Results: Women’s personal income from wages increased from Wave 1 to Wave 2 and from Wave 2 to Wave 3. Women’s personal income from child support increased between Wave 1 and Wave 2. Women’s reduction in public benefit income was primarily linked to decreased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits that occurred between Waves 2 and 3. The average net annual income increase, which accounted for personal income increases and public benefits decreases, was $5,287. Based on discordant odds ratios, the odds of women being in poverty one year after receipt of civil legal services were less than before receiving legal services (OR=0.28, p=.003). The SROI for total annual income increases relative to legal aid case costs was >100%, meaning that women’s overall income increased >$2 for every $1 expended on legal aid services. Moreover, the value of access to civil justice through legal aid relative to private counsel added an additional ~$1 of benefit per $1 expended on services.  

Conclusions: Our findings indicate that legal aid services improve the economic position of women experiencing IPV and the monetized social benefits (net income increases and access to justice efficiencies) significantly exceeded the costs of service provision.