Assessment of Domestic Violence

0070-537.10 | Revision Date: 07/01/14


This policy guide provides guidance on how to assess allegations of domestic violence and provides instructions on observing, gathering, and assessing evidence during the course of the emergency response investigation.



Domestic Violence

Assessing a Child’s Exposure to Domestic Violence

Assessing a Battered or At-Risk Parent/Caregiver

Undocumented and/or Recent Immigrant Parents/Caregivers

Male Parents/Caregivers

Teen Relationships

Disabled Victims

Assessment of the Batterer


Restraining Orders


Investigating a Referral Involving Domestic Violence

CSW Responsibilities


Helpful Links

Referenced Policy Guides


Version Summary

This policy guide was updated from the 08/09/10 version, as part of the Policy Redesign, in accordance with the DCFS Strategic Plan.


Domestic Violence

Domestic violence refers to abuse committed against an adult or minor who is:


Domestic violence includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse and sexual assault.


CSWs must assess parents/caregivers and the child when domestic violence is suspected. CSWs should, in consultation with the SCSW, consider referring the victim and/or batterer for Up-Front Assessments (UFAs), which can provide the social worker with valuable information on the parent/caregiver and assist the CSW in making informed decisions in the best interest of the child.

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Assessing a Child’s Exposure to Domestic Violence

Children in domestic violence households should be assessed for physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and/or neglect. When assessing a child’s exposure to domestic violence, consider the following:


  1. A child who is exposed to and/or is the victim of domestic violence may exhibit symptoms of depression, dissociation, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, including behaving more impulsively and aggressively and/or being more withdrawn and anxious.


  1. The age of the child when making an assessment:


  1. Children with disabilities are more vulnerable to all forms of abuse. The following should be specifically assessed for it is determined that a child has a disability or is hard of hearing:

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Assessing a Battered or At-Risk Parent/Caregiver

The following should be considered and discussed when assessing a battered or at-risk parent/caregiver:

Assessing Domestic Violence in Cases of Undocumented or Recent Immigrant Parents/Caregivers

The following should be considered when assessing domestic violence in households involving a parent/caregiver who is an undocumented and/or recent immigrant:


Culturally sensitive and language-appropriate resources should be used.

Assessing Domestic Violence Toward Male Parents/Caregivers

All occurrences of domestic violence involving a male parent/caregiver who is battered by their female partner should be assessed and reported. The CSW should assess for an imbalance of power and control. Since a battered male is contrary to societal expectations, also assess for:


Domestic violence experts should be consulted to clarify any of these issues. Men should be provided with appropriate resource (shelters, counseling), as needed.

Assessing Domestic Violence in Teen Relationships

When an incident of domestic violence involving a teen relationship is suspected, assess for the following:


Teenage girls who experience violent relationships are at high risk for attempted suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse and/or pregnancy. Parents and their teenage children should be educated and referred to appropriate resources.

Assessing Domestic Violence Toward Disabled Victims

When an incident of domestic violence involves an at-risk parent/caregiver who is disabled or deaf, assess for the following:

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Assessment of the Batterer

The batterer’s current and historical patterns of behavior should be assessed to assist the victim in taking appropriate steps to protect himself/herself, and their children.  The following should be considered and assessed for in the batterer:

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States are allowed to enforce the federal family violence option, which exempts domestic violence victims from work requirements, time limits and other mandated activities and restrictions for those receiving welfare assistance.


California’s Safe at Home Program provides confidentiality protections, omitting any record of home, school or work addresses in public records that are maintained by state and local agencies. To qualify, applicants must enroll and provide specific information regarding being a victim of domestic abuse or stalking.


The Social Security Administration assists domestic violence victims who choose to establish a new identity to elude their abuser. New social security numbers can be provided for the victim as well as his/her children by providing the Social Security Administration with documented evidence that domestic violence has occurred.

Restraining Orders

A restraining order can assist in keeping the family safe.  It can only afford protection in cases where the victim of violence requests or desires the protection afforded by the restraining order. A restraining order will not protect a child when the battered or at-risk parent/caregiver does not desire one, is reluctant to obtain one, or is pressured into seeking one.


Before asking the parent/caregiver to get a restraining order from Family Law Court, remember that it is difficult to obtain if they are not committed to getting one. DCFS will not, or may not, be informed as to what happens at the civil Family Law Court hearing and will have to depend on the parent for information.  


If filing a petition in Dependency Court is necessary to keep the children and at risk parent safe, DCFS can recommend that the hearing officer at the detention hearing consider a restraining order for further protection.

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If there appears to be an immediate medical emergency, or if the child and/or victim is in imminent physical danger during the Child Protection Hotline (CPH) call, the CPH CSW should advise the caller to call 911 or call 911 him or herself.

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Investigating a Referral Involving Domestic Violence

CSW Responsibilities

The CSW must consider his/her own safety when working in these situations. When responding to high risk incidents of domestic violence, the CSW should involve law enforcement, as needed. If the situation is too dangerous to complete a full assessment, request an office interview.


  1. Prior to the face-to-face contact:
  1. Access CWS/CMS to determine if there were any prior referrals for neglect, physical/sexual abuse or domestic violence.
  1. Review all Clearances on file for all involved adults to determine if there were any convictions for domestic violence, weapons, drugs and/or alcohol.


  1. Enter the home with consent, exigent circumstances, or a court order.


  1. Interview victim, child, and batterer separately. During the interview emphasize the need for safety for both the at-risk parent/caregiver and the child. CSW should identify him/herself as a resource for support.


  1. While on the home visit, note potential indicators of domestic violence.


  1. When conducting a visual examination of the child, another adult must always be present. Ask the parent/caregiver for assistance or if the child is in school at the time of the interview, ask a school employee for help.


  1. Determine if anyone in the home has a disability, including ones that may not be immediately visible.


  1. If batterer is present and/or the situation appears hostile and/or dangerous, leave the home and immediately obtain assistance from law enforcement prior to resuming the interview.


  1. Obtain the following information from the victim:


  1. Interview the child, using age appropriate questions. Ask about the following:


  1. In the child or parent/caregiver appear to be in imminent danger, proceed as follows:
  1. Determine whether the victim has a safe relative/friend’s home to stay.
  1. Assist with referrals to shelters and/or disability support services.
  1. Verify that the relative/friend/shelter has accepted the victim and child.
  1. Verify the plan to transport the victim and/or child to the relative/friend/shelter.


  1. Develop a domestic violence safety plan with the victim and child:
  1. Make every effort to keep the non-offending parent and child together with interventions that maximize the safety of both.
  1. Link the victim with a domestic violence service in their area.
  1. Identify a list of needs, services, or resources that is needed to keep the victim and child safe.
  1. Ascertain social supports that are inaccessible to the batterer.
  1. Advise the victim to keep a set of car keys, extra money, clothes, and important legal documents with a relative or friend.
  1. Advise the victim to memorize important telephone numbers
  1. Advise the victim to formulate and rehearse an escape plan with the child.


  1. Complete the Structured Decision Making Safety Assessment and Family Risk Assessment forms.


  1. Refer the family for long-term support and treatment. For lower risk cases a Voluntary Family Maintenance contract and involvement in the Family Preservation Program may be appropriate after the victim, child, and batterer have been thoroughly assessed.


  1. Consult with and obtain approval from the SCSW on whether protective custody is necessary, based on the following circumstances:
  1. The child has been injured, physically abused or severely neglected by either parent.
  1. There is consistent evidence that domestic violence is so pervasive that it has profoundly affected the child’s ability to function.
  1. All services provided to protect the at-risk parent/caregiver and child(ren) were ignored by the batterer and/or were refused by the parent/caregiver.
  1. No reasonable effort was made by the victim to prevent the batterer from continuing the abusive behavior towards the victim.
  1. The batterer has continued access to the victim/child.
  1. The batterer has exhibited high-risk, violent behavior


  1. Educate the victim about the option of a restraining order, if appropriate.


  1. Document all observations and findings in the Contact Notebook.

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Referenced Policy Guides

0050-502.10, Child Protection Hotline (CPH)

0070-524.10, Assessment of Failure to Thrive

0070-528.10, Assessing Children with Special Needs in ER Investigations

0070-529.10, Assessing Allegations of Physical Abuse

0070-531.10, Visual Inspection of Children

0070-532.10, Assessing Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse

0070-534.10, Assessment of Emotional Abuse

0070-548.00, Community Response Services, Alternative Response Services and Up-Front Assessments

0070-548.10, Disposition of Allegations and Closure of Emergency Response Referrals

0070-548.24, Structural Decision Making (SDM)

0070-548.25, Completing the Structured Decision Making (SDM) Safety Plan

0070-559.10, Clearance

0070-570.10, Obtaining Warrants and/or Removal Orders

0080-502.25, Family Maintenance Services for Both Court and Voluntary Cases

0300-318.05, Obtaining Restraining Orders

1200-500.86, Immigration Options for Undocumented Children & Families


Family Code Section 3031(a-c) – States, in part, that whenever custody or visitation is granted to a parent where an emergency protective order is issued due to allegations of domestic violence, the court must not make a visitation plan inconsistent with the protective custody order.


In re Heather A., 52 Cal App. 4th 183 (1996) – States, in part, that a child’s witness of and/or exposure to the occurrence of abuse affects the child and therefore qualifies as abuse to the child.


Penal Code Section 13700(b) – Provides a definition of domestic violence.


Public Law 104–193 (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) –  Allows states to enforce a family violence option which exempts domestic violence victims from work requirements, time limits and other mandated activities and restrictions, including exemptions from cooperating with the child support enforcement provision.


Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 300 (a) – Provides a description of physical abuse.

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