Friday, December 22, 2006

Children who witness domestic violence

READERS' FORUM; Court treatment of children of domestic violence
Louisville Courier-Journal, May 8, 2006, pg. A8.

Inadvertent consequences
On behalf of the Louisville Metro Domestic Violence Prevention Coordinating Council's Children Who Witness Domestic Violence subcommittee, we commend The Courier-Journal for bringing attention to the issue of the often forgotten victims of domestic violence the children.

The Children Who Witness Domestic Violence committee consists of professionals from many different entities who work together on issues of prevention, training, funding and quality of services

Studies suggest that between 3.3 million and 10 million American children witness domestic violence each year.

Children who are exposed to domestic violence are more likely to exhibit behavioral and physical health problems, including depression, anxiety and violence towards peers.

They are also more likely to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away from home and engage in risky sexual behaviors.

These startling facts may lead to the conclusion that the best course is to remove the children from both the abusing parent and the non-abusing parent.

In actuality, the consequences of such a policy can inadvertently perpetuate domestic violence by discouraging victims from seeking help and shelter.

No parent should ever have to decide between their safety and the possibility of the state removing their child.

A domestic violence shelter is not the optimal place for a child to live. Nor is it for an adult. The shelter is a transitional respite between violence and a future free from violence.

A parent, traumatized by domestic violence, may not make the best and safest choices for themselves and their families. That is why in addition to shelter, there is a critical need for counseling and other services to enable that victim to parent once again.

Louisville Metro has a strong network of service providers, such as the Center for Women and Families and Families and Children First, to advocate, shelter and counsel victims and their families.

There was a time in our community when domestic violence was a "family matter" to be dealt with solely within the frameworks of that family. Now this community recognizes domestic violence as a law enforcement and criminal justice issue, as well as a social problem. Batterers need to be held accountable for their actions by police, courts and society.

For more information on the Domestic Violence Prevention Coordinating Council, call the Louisville Metro Criminal Justice Commission at 574- 5088.

Co-chairs of Children Who Witness Domestic Violence subcommittee

'Slander on courts'

In his April 30 column ("Juvenile courtrooms remain closed ..."), David Hawpe would have us believe that the entire Kentucky family court system is rotten to the core, with judges having become adoption brokers. This slander on the courts and the dedicated people who try to salvage troubled families is unworthy of The Courier-Journal.

Hawpe claims that family court judges "cavalierly take away the rights of biological parents" in order to make more children available for adoption and that parental rights of the poor are routinely terminated without benefit of counsel. This is sheer nonsense.

In abuse and neglect cases, out of which termination proceedings arise, every indigent adult contesting custody of children is provided with counsel at state expense. All children are provided with counsel, called guardians ad litem.

Termination of parental rights is a lengthy process that takes place only after a finding of abuse or neglect by a family court judge and after the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has made numerous unsuccessful attempts to help the family rectify serious problems or if there are no relatives who can be made guardians of the children.

Termination of rights is not undertaken lightly. Judges cannot arbitrarily and unilaterally decide that rights should be terminated and children placed for adoption. Everyone involved judges, prosecutors, guardians ad litem, parents' attorneys and social workers are painfully aware of the high cost to each member of a family if rights are terminated

The actual termination process is governed by detailed statute in which parents' rights are carefully preserved. The court must make specific findings as to the history of the case, including findings in a lower court of egregious conduct committed on the children. Then the court must find that it is in the children's best interest that rights be terminated. Only then are the children available for adoption.

Having worked for several years as a court-appointed parents' attorney, I have seen first hand the sincere efforts made by officers of the court to balance the interests of the parents and the children while working to keep families together.... The system doesn't always work perfectly what in the world does? but neither is it the callous instrument of family destruction Hawpe makes it out to be.

Louisville 40205


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