Psychologists need to work to prevent--not just treat--violence in the home, said David Wolfe, PhD, at the opening plenary session of the 11th National Conference on Children and the Law, sponsored by APA and the American Bar Association.
Wolfe, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, joined Judge Lee Satterfield of the District of Columbia's family court to discuss the challenges that family violence raises for legal and mental health professionals.
Wolfe described his work with young teenagers from violent homes, who are more likely than others to become violent themselves. "They want information on how to have healthy relationships," he said. "They don't like the word 'treatment,' but they want education."
The early teenage years are a key time to reach these children and stop the cycle of violence from continuing for another generation, he said. Wolfe also described the 21-lesson curriculum that he has developed called "The Fourth R"--the "R" stands for relationships. The curriculum, which is being used in some Ontario schools, aims to teach ninth-graders about healthy relationships and includes information on violence prevention.
"Prevention isn't easy," he emphasized, "but it's easier than later treatment."
Satterfield described challenges courts face when working with family violence and the changes that can be made to better serve at-risk children.
In the District of Columbia, for example, the courts have moved to a "one judge-one family" system. In this system, one judge is responsible for all court cases involving a particular family, rather than separate judges presiding over juvenile, domestic violence, custody and other cases.
One judge-one family courts, Satterfield said, reduce the potential for conflicting orders and allow judges to have a better overall sense of a family's needs.