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When should domestic violence be reported as child abuse or neglect?


Domestic violence is a pattern of assaultive or coercive behaviors, including physical, sexual and emotional abuses, as well as economic coercion that adults use against their intimate partners to gain power and control in that relationship.

Domestic violence is present in all cultures, socio-economic classes, communities of faith, etc. Domestic violence almost always increases in intensity, severity and/or frequency. The presence of domestic violence is a risk for children. However, not all situations of domestic violence require a report to DHS or law enforcement. DHS's authority to intervene with families is based on whether a child is being physically abused, sexually abused, neglected, suffering mental injury, or is being subjected to an activity or condition likely to result in substantial harm.

A report to DHS or law enforcement is necessary when there is reasonable cause to believe there is current domestic violence or the alleged abuser has a history of domestic violence and one of the following:

  • There is reason to believe the child will or is intervening in a violent situation, placing him at risk of "substantial harm."
  • The child is likely to be "harmed" during the violence (being held during violence, physically restrained from leaving, etc.).
  • The alleged abuser is not allowing the adult caregiver and child access to basic needs, impacting their health or safety.
  • The alleged abuser has killed, committed "substantial harm," or is making a believable threat to do so to anyone in the family, including extended family members and pets.
  • The child's ability to function on a daily basis is substantially impaired by being in a constant state of fear.
If you know a child is witnessing repeated or serious domestic violence and you are unsure of the impact on the child, call and consult a CPS screener.

How does Child Welfare respond to domestic violence cases?

Child welfare practice in domestic violence cases (PDF)
Within DHS, both adult protective services and child protective services may be needed in some instances of domestic violence. This document describes child welfare practice for those domestic violence cases.

Also see: Domestic Violence and Child Protective Services Collaboration

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