Abstract: Impact of Children's Presence during Police Responses to Domestic Violence Calls (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Impact of Children's Presence during Police Responses to Domestic Violence Calls

Friday, January 13, 2023
Encanto A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Angela Hovey, PhD, Associate Professor, Lakehead University, Orillia, ON, Canada
Bj Rye, Associate Professor, St. Jerome's University at University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada
Susan Scott, Associate Professor, Lakehead University, Orillia, ON, Canada
Lori Chambers, Professor, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, ON
Background and Purpose: Previous research has established that children who are exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV) in the home are more likely to be at risk for maltreatment; thus, domestic violence (DV) call incidents with children present are treated seriously by police and service providers. Because of the differential nature or treatment by police, child welfare, and other social services, these DV situations likely have different features related to the presence or absence of children. Past research has tended to focus on DV police calls where charges are laid or based on arrest incidents. The aim of this study was to explore the differences between IPV situations investigated by police when children were present versus when children were not present, both when charges are laid and when they are not laid.
Methods: We analyzed data from a sample of 2,709 supplementary DV forms completed over a three-year period by police when responding to DV calls. Information collected for each call included: identifying the presence of children; if charges were laid, the precise charges; genders and roles of involved persons; an emotional state checklist; alcohol and/or drug use by involved persons identified at the time of the call; risk factor questions; and, victim support offerings. Most variables were nominal and dichotomous. Whether children were present or not at a DV call was a critical variable in each statistical analysis. Chi-square tests were used to assess the significance of relationships between presence of children and other key variables (e.g., substance use, risk factor presence), while the phi statistic was calculated to determine the strength of the relationship. Odds ratios and risk ratios were also calculated.
Results: The results demonstrated that when children were present for DV occurrences, there was a 14.3% decrease in the likelihood of a charge being laid. When charges were laid, there were no significant differences between the number of charges or the rated seriousness of the charges based on children’s presence. The likelihood of substance use by either involved person at the time of the police response was significantly decreased when children were present. However, the likelihoods of the accused being identified as calm (versus other emotional states), endorsements of risk factors, and offers to contact victim services significantly increased with children’s presence.
Conclusions and Implications: Police appeared to take children’s presence into consideration when determining whether or not to lay charges, but once the decision to lay charges was made, children’s presence did not impact the seriousness or number of charges laid. The data also suggested that the involved adults and/or parents may be observed to behave more protectively in these disputes when children are present, such as limiting their substance use and emotionality. Understanding how police respond to DV situations and their observations about the involved adults when children are present is integral to future social work interventions that focus on strengths and resiliency with children and families. Further research is needed to better understand police interactions with children during DV situations.