Child Protective Services and Domestic Violence

Last updated August 2012

A frequent consequence of children’s involvement in domestic violence, as either victims or witnesses, is an investigation by child protective services (CPS). Instead of taking action to remove perpetrators from the home and hold them accountable, CPS often alleges neglect by the victim and removes the children from their custody.[i] If victims do not take action to remove the perpetrator from the home, it is often used as evidence against them in child protection proceedings.[ii] However, victims are also blamed when perpetrators are present in the home despite their efforts to have them removed.[iii] Victims of domestic violence may even have conflicting orders from family court and child protection regarding the presence of a violent parent in the home. When victims draw attention to domestic violence by seeking help, the result may be an investigation by CPS that can lead to losing custody of their children.[iv]

  •  “Failure to protect” statutes should not be used to blame victims of domestic violence or to unjustly remove children from the custody of non-violent parents.[v]

[i] See Nicholson v. Williams, 181 F. Supp. 2d 182 (E.D.N.Y. 2002), supplemented by 203 F. Supp. 2d 153 (E.D.N.Y. 2002), and supplemented and modified by 294 F. Supp. 2d 369 (E.D.N.Y. 2003), and 2004 WL 1304055 (E.D.N.Y. June 14, 2004); Stark, E., “The Battered Mother in the Child Protective Service Caseload: Developing an Appropriate Response,” Women’s Rights L. Rep., Vol. 23, (Spring 2002), cited in Violence Against Women in the United States at p. 60, para. 74.
[ii] See Fugate, J. A., “Who’s Failing Whom? A Critical Look at Failure-to-ProtectLaws”, N.Y.U. L. Rev., Vol. 76, (2001), p. 272; Kutty, R. , “WATCH’s Monitoring of Open CHIPS Cases in Hennepin County Juvenile Court” (May 23, 2001), cited in Violence Against Women in the United States at p. 60, para. 76.
[iii] Kutty, ibid.
[iv] See Anderson, M. , S. Coulter & D. McNamara, “Reasonable Efforts or Unrealistic Expectations: A Look At Hennepin County Child Protection Cases” (May 4, 2010),, cited in Violence Against Women in the United States, p. 60, para. 77.
[v] Violence Against Women in the United States at p. 63, para. 95.