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Journal Issue: Domestic Violence and Children Volume 9 Number 3 Winter 1999

The Impact of Federal and State Laws on Children Exposed to Domestic Violence
Martha A. Matthews


Until recently, few federal and state laws specifically addressed the needs of children in families in which there is domestic violence. Yet, many laws, particularly in the areas of domestic violence, family law, child welfare, welfare reform, and immigration, can have profound effects on the well-being of these children. The growing understanding by legislators and policymakers of the potential harms of domestic violence to children has resulted in recent years in statutory changes, particularly at the state level. However, laws that are enacted and implemented with inadequate knowledge of the complex dynamics of domestic violence and the unique issues battered parents and their children face may have unintended negative consequences for the children these laws are designed to protect. Collaboration across public and private social service agencies and domestic violence training for court personnel are examples of efforts that can bridge this knowledge gap and increase the likelihood that the protective intent of the laws is carried out in practice. This article analyzes current and proposed federal and state civil laws to better understand their potential impact on children affected by domestic violence. A companion article by Lemon in this journal issue examines court decisions related to these laws.