Vulnerable Populations Research and Policy Briefs

Distilling findings from studies of social innovations to help children and families exposed to violence and abuse

Dates of Program: January 2013 to July 2015

Description: Vulnerable Populations Research and Policy Briefs, a $550,000 national program, has funded seven projects that distill research on social innovations that address the needs of vulnerable children and families. Five explore intimate partner violence and child abuse, one examines mental health factors in children and youth that promote well-being, and one concentrates on restorative justice. Five of the projects had reported their findings by the end of 2014.

The research informs the work of RWJF in addressing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), in order to strengthen families—a part of its focus on building a Culture of Health.

Key Findings

Directors of the five projects cited these findings, among others:

  • Implementation of mandatory reporting laws related to child abuse and neglect varies dramatically by state.
  • Child abuse registries serve an important function in identifying children at risk of violence, but they do not protect adults’ rights to due process.
  • Poverty drives child neglect, and strict lifetime limits on families’ welfare benefits are linked to higher levels of child maltreatment.
  • All states should expand their domestic violence laws to recognize the large array of intimate relationships, including dating, romantic, sexual, and same-sex relationships.
  • Exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) is relatively common among mothers in fragile families, ranging from 5 percent for physical violence to nearly 30 percent for psychological violence.
  • The child welfare system is ill-equipped to handle an increase in cases resulting from children’s exposure to domestic violence.
  • Financial assistance and stable shelter are vital for victims of IPV and their children, but related legal provisions are largely ineffective because of poor implementation, resource shortages, and requirements that exclude many victims and children.
  • Education, race, ethnicity, and mothers’ immigration status are important risk factors in children’s exposure to neighborhood violence.
  • States are reluctant to outlaw corporal punishment because of debate about whether spanking harms children.
  • Black parents have the highest rates of harsh parenting and Latino immigrant parents the lowest. Home visiting may help encourage nonviolent parenting.
  • Funders and policymakers seeking to prevent interpersonal violence in ethnic and minority communities should support interventions that create and sustain positive cultural values that foster healthy relationships.

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More than 42 million U.S. women suffer physical violence during lifetime; 686,000 children abused yearly.