The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), in partnership with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), announces the selection of four courts to participate in the Family Court Enhancement Project (FCEP) to improve custody and visitation decision-making for families who have experienced domestic violence. The four courts selected are: Circuit Court of Cook County in Chicago, Ill.; Family Court of the State of Delaware; Hennepin County Family Justice Center in Minneapolis, Minn.; and Multnomah County Family Court in Portland, Ore.
“In order to maintain safety for the entire family, it is crucial that judges weigh the dynamics of domestic violence and its impact on both adults and children when making custody and visitation decisions,” said OVW Acting Director Bea Hanson. “Ensuring the safety of domestic violence victims and their children during and after court proceedings is an essential component of the FCEP. This project will provide guidance to courts around the country in implementing proven procedures and practices that keep victims and children safe.”
The FCEP, a collaborative project of NCJFCJ, OVW, the Battered Women’s Justice Project, and the National Institute for Justice, is designed to determine what family court procedures, practices and structures related to custody and visitation can help keep victims of domestic violence and their children safe from further violence and trauma. The four courts chosen for the FCEP applied to an open call for concept papers that was issued by NCJFCJ. OVW, NCJFCJ and BWJP reviewed the concept papers based on the criteria set forth in the call.
OVW experts have identified, from a series of roundtable discussions and extensive research, challenges that affect the safety of domestic violence victims and their children involved in custody proceedings. These challenges include: failure to identify and understand domestic violence in court and in third-party assessments; structural and procedural barriers; limited legal and advocacy resources; and the effects of race, class, and gender biases on outcomes.
Over the next two years, the FCEP and the selected courts will work closely with national domestic violence and court improvement experts to implement better approaches for keeping domestic violence victims and their children safe through and beyond court proceedings. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice will lead efforts on data collection and assisting each site in measuring the impacts of their systems change.
According to the CDC, women experience two million injuries from domestic violence each year and approximately one third of all incidents involving female victims take place in homes in which children ages twelve and under reside. More than 15 million American children are exposed to domestic violence each year. Many domestic violence victims and their children will come before a family court, and these courts make custody, visitation and other decisions that will have a significant long-term effect on these children and adults.
OVW, a component of the U.S. Department of Justice, provides leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to reduce violence against women through the implementation of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and subsequent legislation. Created in 1995, OVW administers financial and technical assistance to communities across the country that are developing programs, policies and practices aimed at ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. In addition to overseeing 22 federal grant programs, OVW often undertakes initiatives in response to special needs identified by communities facing acute challenges. More information is available at www.ovw.usdoj.gov.