ending domestic violence & child abuse

Contra Costa County

While individual agencies—including STAND! and the Family Stress Center—had been working to end family violence in Contra Costa County since the 1970s, their efforts were fragmented. In fact, agencies focused on partner violence or child maltreatment often found themselves in conflict. In the late 1990s, it became clear that a more coordinated effort between agencies would be more effective.

In February 2000, Contra Costa County became a leader in the fight against domestic violence and child abuse when the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors adopted a policy of “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence.” The Board directed the County Administrator to convene a meeting of government and community leaders responsible for domestic and family violence—as well as elder abuse prevention, intervention, prosecution and remediation. The group emerged from the meeting with a strategic vision for the County’s family violence response systems, along with recommendations for implementation.

This collaborative initiative focused on early intervention, and inspired a long-term commitment to systemic change. By coordinating their efforts, the agencies involved were able to provide increased safety for victims and their children, better access to services for families in crisis, more stringent accountability for offenders, and an improved ability to reduce family violence.

In 2001, State Senator Tom Torlakson authored a bill authorizing a “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” pilot program in Contra Costa County.  The bill provided an ongoing source of funding for government oversight of family violence services, and demonstrated California’s commitment to effective prevention. Since then, the Contra Costa County Zero Tolerance Initiative and its partners, including STAND!, have been instrumental in increasing both families served and family violence convictions—as well as in reducing the rate of recidivism.

The leadership and vision that created Zero Tolerance has been:

  • Acknowledged by the National Association of Counties (2002 Achievement Award winner)
  • Featured in the California Attorney General’s publication “Safe from the Start, Promising Strategies and Programs Resource Guide” 
  • Invited to present at American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in 2005

Inspired by the success of the Contra Costa County program, neighboring counties have adopted similar initiatives. In spite of numerous challenges—funding cuts, a slow economy, underrepresented communities with their need for increased training and outreach—Contra Costa County remains committed to reducing family violence and providing crucial services to families in need.


A National Look

Until the late 19th century, the concept of family violence as a social issue did not exist in our cultural consciousness. While laws protecting animals from cruelty were first passed in the mid-19th century, no such laws existed regarding women or children. Individual courts had taken steps to limit the rights of adults to abuse children, but any kind of organized effort was simply nonexistent.

In 1875, inspired by the case of a tragically mistreated child named Mary Ellen Wilson, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was incorporated, becoming the first child protection organization in the world. From 1875 to 1962, private organizations across the country collectively nurtured the child protection movement.

In the 1960s, child abuse became recognized as a national problem, and state governments began to take a more active role in child protection. Then, in the 1970s, the Federal Government began to take notice, and in 1974 the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act became law.

Domestic violence (and its prevention) arose as a concept distinct from child mistreatment. It was not until the 1880s that states began to make wife abuse a punishable crime. Even then, the legal structure of many states that recognized coverture—the doctrine stating that all of a woman’s legal rights were subsumed by her husband at the time of her marriage—encouraged the view that a woman was the property of her father until marriage, and of her husband after that.

While the need to protect women from abusive spouses was recognized to a certain extent, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, this need was most often addressed by organizations like the Women’s Temperance Union. This group linked the mistreatment of wives to their husbands’ use of alcohol. Not until the 1960s and 70s did women begin to form organizations specifically for the purpose of fighting wife battering. These organizations first arose as offshoots of programs for wives of alcoholics. In the 1970s, the shelter movement arose as a reaction to poor responses from law enforcement. With police and district attorneys across the country neglecting to enforce wife battering laws, women formed grassroots organizations to protect themselves.

By the late 1970s, states had begun to recognize the need for protection, and were beginning to provide funding for education and intervention. Then, in the 1990s, organizations began to understand the relationship between partner abuse and child abuse. It became clear that treating these issues as separate problems was limiting the ability to provide help. To help explain this relationship, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) published Effective Interventions in Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice, known as the Greenbook Initiative, in 1999.

In December of 2000 and January of 2001, based on the recommendations in the Greenbook, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services funded six communities under an interdepartmental demonstration initiative: "Collaborations to Address Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment."  The success of that first initiative led to communities around the country adopting the recommendations of the Greenbook, and taking steps to more fully integrate their family violence services.

But our work continues: Contra Costa County's need for awareness and prevention is more critical than ever.