- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A state panel is moving closer to recommending ways Connecticut can better help children exposed to domestic violence, including cases involving a fatality.

The General Assembly formed the group this year amid concern that children who witness one parent killing the other may face the greatest risk for developing trauma-related problems in life. In a one-month period last year, six young Connecticut children in three separate families were home when their fathers shot and killed their mothers. This year, two children were home during what authorities refer to as “intimate partner homicide.”

“Children often see, hear and remember more than adults suspect,” warns a draft report prepared by the Task Force to Study the Statewide Response to Minors Exposed to Domestic Violence. The group said such children need a “collaborative community response” that involves everyone from health care providers to judges.

The group has posted a 27-page draft report on the General Assembly’s Human Services Committee’s website for public review. Emailed comments to MEDV@cga.ct.gov are being accepted ahead of the task force’s final meeting Jan. 7. The group has until Jan. 15 to submit final recommendations to the legislature, which opens its regular session in February.

If any of the group’s recommendations are considered for possible legislation, a more formal public hearing will be held, said Karen Jarmoc, co-chairman of the task force and the president CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The panel has been meeting since July, hearing from various experts about the impact of family violence on children and the resources currently available.

Task force members have learned that the consequences of a child being exposed to domestic violence can be serious.

In August, Dr. Kimberly Citron, a behavioral health clinician from the Middletown-based Connecticut Health Center, said children face “a decreased ability to form attachments, decreased ability to self-soothe, lack of ability to form trust and predict one’s environment.” These children might exhibit signs of aggressiveness or distant behavior, separation anxiety, poor school performance, feelings of guilt or extreme fear.

The report recommends better screening in pediatric, primary and OB-GYN health care settings and at prenatal health clinics to identify children with direct or indirect exposure to intimate partner domestic violence.

A major theme of the draft report is better collaboration among the entities that may come in contact with a child who has been exposed to domestic violence. The panel is recommending cross-training among advocates for victims of domestic violence, Department of Children and Families caseworkers, behavioral health specialists and law enforcement.

While the state’s judges receive training on domestic violence, the draft report identifies a need to provide family court judges with more information to help them decide whether to grant a family restraining order. The list includes a records check of past domestic violence arrests, including those that were dismissed or erased, and risk assessment conducted by a family relations counselor.

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