damaging aspects of domestic violence, its effect on the children who witness it, is also one of least studied. Most children whose parents are involved in domestic violence witness that violence. Furthermore, these children experience behavioral and emotional problems as a result of this exposure. Despite these facts, the development of intervention programs aimed at helping children who have witnessed domestic violence is fairly recent. One of the issues surrounding intervention is whether children's intervention programs should include the non-offending parent. The existing literature does little to answer that question, because some studies have found that conjoint intervention is helpful, while other studies have failed to support those findings. To resolve the issue, Sullivan, Egan, and Gooch (2004) studied the effect of conjoint interventions on adult and child victims of domestic violence.
In order to study the effect of conjoint interventions, Sullivan, et al. (2004) followed a nine-week group intervention program, which was designed to address the needs of female domestic violence victims and their children who have witnessed violence. The intervention had several goals: increasing parenting skills, providing coping skills to the mothers and children, safety planning for mothers and children, and decreasing post-violence stress (Sullivan, et al., 2004).
One of the troubling aspects about the study was that it only concentrated on female victims of domestic violence. Although statistics vary widely, it is now widely accepted that females can be abusers as well as victims. In addition, many households are non-traditional, and may feature both an abusing father and a victim father. Therefore, the results of the study are only valid for adult female victims of domestic violence and their children. There may be some gender differences in intervention that would change the results if applied to male victims and their children.
Another troubling aspect of the study is that the intervention programs did not appear to address abuse by the mother. Secondary abuse by a parent in a domestic violence situation is getting increasing attention in the field, and an intervention program's failure to address secondary abuse appears suspect. Sullivan et al. (2004) make it clear that the intervention program came from a feminist perspective, and did not include any victim blaming. However, advocates for children may have concerns that an intervention program that fails to address a child's feelings at having a parent fail to protect them from a domestic violence situation can not be effective. In addition, practitioners that are worried about giving children age-appropriate intervention may be concerned with an emphasis on safety planning and coping skills, rather than on making sure that children do not have to live in an environment where safety planning or advanced coping skills are necessary. There is conflict between the child advocacy and domestic violence groups because of this position, and it is clear that Sullivan et al. approached the issue from the point-of-view of the adult victims, rather than the children.
The study followed members of a nine-week intervention program aimed at helping adult and child victims of domestic violence. Subjects for the study were selected only if the children and their mothers completed the entire nine-week program. Those who completed the study included 79 children and 46 mothers. In addition, Sullivan et. al analyzed the sample of subjects who completed the study as compared to those who began, but did not complete, the intervention program; there were no significant differences in race, gender, or age (2004). However, there were significant differences in the mother's pretest parental stress scores and the children's trauma symptom checklists (Sullivan et al., 2004). However, because the children, presumably, had no control over whether or not they completed the intervention program, the meaning behind those differences is difficult to discern. Either way, the results of the study should not be generalized to populations that do not have the similar pre-test results. In addition, the results of the study may be skewed because those test results may be due to the fact that the completing mothers are more likely to help their children than parents who fail to complete the intervention.
Mothers and children both completed two types of measurements, aimed at studying the effectiveness of the intervention at helping the children. All of the measurements had "known validity and reliability coefficients as well as norm distributions and clinical cut off scores" (Sullivan et al., 2004). The children were measured using the CBCL, which was completed by the parents and aimed at measuring behavioral problem areas in three areas: activities, social, and school. In addition, there were two domains: internalizing and externalizing. Sullivan et al. chose a clinical cutoff score of 67 to separate normal and clinically symptomatic groups (2004). In addition, the children were measured by the TSCC. "The TSCC subscales include Anxiety, Depression, Anger, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and three measures of dissociation" (Sullivan et al., 2004). The clinical cutoff on the TSCC was a T-score of 67. The PSI was completed by parents, and includes a child domain and a parent domain. "The child domain measures parent's perceptions of their children's distractibility or hyperactivity, adaptability, reinforcement of the parents, demandingness, mood, and acceptability" (Sullivan et al., 2004). Children above the 85th percentile on the PSI "might be characterized as difficult" (Sullivan et al., 2004). "The parent domain measures parents' perceptions of their own competence, isolation, attachment, health, role restriction, depression, spouses, and life stress" (Sullivan et al., 2004). The final measurement was the Children's Perception of Interpersonal Conflict (CPIC). The CPIC was a self-report measurement for children, aimed at assessing self-blame for the domestic violence in the home.
One of the main problems with the measures used is that active victims of domestic violence were being asked to fill out the surveys about their children. Generally, research is invalid if it is conducted by an interested party. It is inconsistent for Sullivan et al. To characterize the mothers as merely victims of domestic violence, which excuses them for failing to protect their children from witnessing and/or experiencing violence in their home, and then to use those same mothers as objective reporters of their children's behavior. It is well-documented in the area of domestic violence research that, not only do children from violent homes frequently experience emotional and behavioral symptoms, but also that both the offending and non-offending parents are unable to recognize when their children need assistance. The lack of a normal level in the home makes it difficult, if not impossible, for mothers to assess whether or not their children's behavior is meeting certain standards of normal. Therefore, some question as to the accuracy of the measurements exists. This question could be remedied by having people who are not involved in the abusive situation, such as teachers, caregivers, or therapists, assess the child's behavior. Therefore, any results of the study should be understood to represent the mothers' perceptions of changes in the children's behavior, not actual changes in the behavior.
In addition, the data collection methods used may not have been sensitive to the target population. Because a mother who permits her child to be abused, whether or not that mother is also a victim of violence in the home, may be legally responsible for such abuse, there are concerns about the honesty of parental responses in such a study. There does not appear to have been any type of mechanism put in place to determine the veracity of the mothers' statements. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that children from violent homes are frequently discouraged from speaking to others about the violence, or have heard the violence minimized so frequently that they minimize both the violence and its effects upon them. There does not appear to have been any measures put into place for detecting or correcting such a trend.
However, if the research is limited to a measurement of the mothers' and children's reported perceptions regarding the efficacy of a completed conjoint intervention program, the research design is valid. Sullivan et al. issued retests to insure that the results were consistent (2004). Furthermore, they pointed out areas of difference between those that completed the intervention and those that failed to complete the intervention (Sullivan et al., 2004). In fact, they mentioned five limitations of the research and its findings: small sample size, the fact that the research included only those that completed the intervention, the data was collapsed over time, the findings are general rather than specific, and there was no control group (Sullivan et al., 2004).
The findings on the children suggested that those children that scored above normal prior to the intervention benefited more than children who scored in the normal range prior to the intervention (Sullivan et al., 2004). However, those children continued to score above the normal range after the intervention (Sullivan et al., 2004). The most dramatic improvements were in the anger and trauma domains (Sullivan et al., 2004). Perhaps the most significant difference was that the intervention significantly reduced children's self-blame (Sullivan et al., 2004).