The overlap between domestic violence and child maltreatment is profound. Research suggests that crossover may include between 30 and 60 percent of families involved with the child welfare system.
However, when the media writes about child welfare — the system that is charged with taking care of abused and neglected children — that connection is seldom featured in stories, according to a new study from the Berkeley Media Studies Group.
“The absence of explicit connections between domestic violence and child welfare in the news could obscure the significant overlap between the two issues and make it harder to make the case for an integrated response at the local, state and federal levels,” the report reads.
Researchers found that domestic violence made an appearance in just 12 percent of stories about the child welfare system in major newspapers from July 2016 to June 2017. For the most part, news stories mentioned domestic violence only in passing, and usually in cases where serious or deadly violence against a child had occurred.
According to the study, news coverage of child welfare was quick to highlight specific cases of abuse, usually those that featured the death of a child or another graphic case of maltreatment. (See Figure 2 from the report below.) As a result, criminal justice storylines tended to dominate child welfare coverage. Sources representing the criminal justice system — such as police officers, detectives, judges and others affiliated with law enforcement — were the most frequently group quoted in news stories. Child welfare professionals were the second-most frequently used source in child welfare stories.
According to Berkeley Media Studies Group researchers, media often failed to shed a light on contextual factors like racial disparities, underlying factors that cause families to end up in the child welfare system and connections between child welfare and domestic violence.
That matters because of the way the media can shift the dialogue on these issues, according to the researchers.
“News coverage also sets the agenda for public policy debates. Journalists’ decisions about which issues to cover can raise the profile of a topic, whereas topics not covered by news media may remain outside public dialogue and policy debate,” they wrote.
The report offers several steps practitioners and professionals can take to improve conversations around family violence in the media, such as developing professional relationships with journalists, writing op-eds and other opinion pieces and creative uses of data.
Read the Berkeley Media Studies Group report here.