Summit Focuses on Protecting Children in Domestic Violence Cases
By Anne Yeager | March 26, 2018
A consortium of state agencies gathered at a local conference aimed at helping end the cycle of domestic abuse for Ohio children.
It's called Calling All Heroes, to discuss what happens to children in court systems when they are abused within the family and the family goes through a divorce.
"When I first started, I would argue, she's a battered woman, the children witnessed it, and the courts would say he didn't abuse the kids did he?" said Alexandria Ruden, a legal aid attorney. "And of course they (the courts) meant physically abused the kids and no he didn't physically abuse them so he had no problem getting anything he asked for."
By getting what he asked for, she's talking about the perpetrator receiving parenting time with the children with no court-ordered limitations or restrictions and possibly putting children in harm's way at the hands of the perpetrator.
The key is ensuring judicial officers consider in criminal (i.e., child abuse) and custody cases the broad range impact abuse has on children to make more informed decisions on placement, parenting time, and to protect children from further mistreatment from an abusive parent.
"The conference is trying to see the problem as a whole and the effects on children, the effects on adults and their lives," said Anne Murray, a Columbus prosecutor. "If we treat it separately, we aren't doing a good job protecting our children and unfortunately we are creating more batterers in the future."
Defense attorney Thomas Goodwin says it can be an uphill battle.
"The fight for me is to try to get children services to understand that they are punishing the mom and the kids by taking the kids away from the mom for something she's not responsible for," said Goodwin.
One of the conference's recommendations is to use case analysis when there are allegations of abuse so children can be better protected.
The Ohio Supreme Court's Children and Family Services Section is also working on building capacity among guardians ad litem, custody evaluators, and other professionals to provide richer and more robust information to courts. This fall it will launch an online course based on the Safe and Together¿ model widely disseminated among Ohio child welfare agencies.
It will teach about recognizing the harms and safety threats to children when there is abuse within the home.
Its focus is on giving key court informants a construct to describe ways non-offending parents and perpetrators create or hinder nurturing environments for children's safety and well-being.