Issue Notes
Vol. 3, No. 10                                                                                                          December 1999

 Domestic Violence As A Barrier To Women's Economic Self-Sufficiency 

by Heidi Sachs


While domestic violence affects women from all sectors of society, many studies demonstrate that the percentage of welfare recipients who are victims of domestic violence is much higher than among the general population. Recognition of this phenomenon and realization that many victims would not be able to fulfill the strict work requirements necessitated under PRWORA, led Congress to adopt the Wellstone/Murray Amendment as part of the new welfare law (P.L. 104-193).

The Wellstone/Murray amendment gives states the option to adopt the Family Violence Option (FVO), which allows states to waive work requirements and time limits, and increase services to victims of domestic violence and their families without being penalized financially. The temporary waivers under the FVO are intended to allow victims of domestic violence the time needed for a successful transition off of welfare by allowing flexibility in complying with work and job training requirements. The waivers also allow victims to receive TANF benefits, without having to identify the father of their children or supply child support enforcement agencies with other pertinent information. Such actions can endanger a battered woman since violence may increase when child support action is taken against an abuser. States choosing to adopt the Family Violence Option are required to screen applicants for domestic violence while maintaining confidentiality, refer victims to counseling and other supportive services, and provide "good-cause waivers" from TANF program requirements where meeting those requirements might endanger victims.

While 39 states have adopted the Family Violence Option to date, it is important to note that it is not a panacea for domestic violence. In some states that have adopted the FVO, programs and policies around family violence are not being implemented in local welfare offices. Furthermore, several states that have not adopted the FVO have effective practices in place, which address domestic violence. For more information on the domestic violence provisions of PRWORA, refer to NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund’s "The Family Violence Option in the New Welfare Law" or call 212-925-6635.

In addition to state human service offices, employers can play an important role in assisting victims of domestic violence in their efforts at self-sufficiency. While the FVO and similar provisions temporarily exempt some victims of domestic violence from work requirements, it is important to keep in mind that many victims are already in the workplace and in most cases, those who are not currently working will eventually have to take part in work activities. Therefore, employers should be aware of strategies they can employ to mitigate the effects of domestic violence in the workplace.

Policy Issues

What are some of the barriers that victims of domestic violence face when working? Many studies show that finding and keeping a job is extremely difficult for women when their lives are continually interrupted by violence. Victims often suffer from low self esteem, depression, anxiety, anger, and other behaviors associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which may cause women to be less productive at work than they might be otherwise. In addition, violence is associated with tardiness and frequent absences, which may lead to termination of employment.

Furthermore, many abusers feel threatened when their partners’ participate in work or training activities, which may lead to self-sufficiency and escape from the abusive relationship. Therefore, instances in which an abuser attempts to sabotage a woman’s efforts at employment/self-sufficiency are numerous. Some examples of attempts at sabotage include promising child care and/or transportation and then failing to deliver, destroying or hiding items a woman needs for particular work related activities, and inflicting physical harm that precludes a woman from attending work or a work activity, or which makes her embarrassed to go to work or a work activity.

Why should employers be concerned with domestic violence? In the context of welfare reform, employers can play an influential role in a woman’s quest for self-sufficiency. Economic dependence is often cited as a primary factor for why women remain in violent homes. Furthermore, a chance at gainful employment may be the only means by which battered welfare recipients can escape both poverty and their abusers. The reasons why employers should be sensitive to issues of domestic violence are many. For example, domestic violence impacts the productivity of a company’s workforce and thus can have a negative effect on the "bottom line." According to Wayne Moon, Chairman and Executive Officer, Blue Shield of California, "Corporate leaders need to take a leadership role in stopping this epidemic by reviewing their human resource and workplace policies to be sure they recognize and assist battered women who seek help. Taking these simple steps is more than altruism - it is in the interest of business." In addition, victims’ health and safety, as well as their chance to become self-sufficient can easily be sabotaged by a perpetrator if employers are unaware of, or unsympathetic towards the issues related to work and domestic violence.

What are employers doing to mitigate the effects of domestic violence on the workplace and create safe working environments? Increasingly, employers are taking additional steps to implement policies and programs that treat domestic violence as a "preventable health problem" and a "bottom-line" business issue. Strategies that employers have used to foster awareness of domestic violence in the workplace include: flexible scheduling, the training of employers and employees by domestic violence experts on how to recognize and respond to employees coping with abuse, establishing a corporate policy around the issue, increasing safety in the workplace, ensuring that Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are responsive to victims of domestic violence, being sympathetic towards their employees when perpetrators come to the workplace to harass them, and providing time for victims to attend medical and court appointments. These strategies are undoubtedly less costly than the decrease in productivity and turnover that is so common with victims of domestic violence.

Are state human service offices effectively serving victims of domestic violence? Parallel to the larger welfare bill, states and counties have a great amount of flexibility in designing and implementing policies and programs around family violence. While some states are undoubtedly serving battered women in ways that are effective, other states’ programs and policies are weak at best. Anecdotal evidence as well as several studies demonstrate that many human service caseworkers simply are not trained to work with victims of family violence. This phenomenon has far-reaching implications. Failure to possess information about the needs of battered women can further endanger this population and put them at greater risk of long-term poverty. Also, when caseworkers are unaware of domestic violence and are not trained in how to handle it, they cannot effectively prepare their clients for work. Furthermore, without help from caseworkers, there is an unnecessary disconnect between human service agencies and employers. For example, employers who have workers transitioning off of welfare may want to know whether their employees are receiving necessary support services.

A recent article in the Seattle-Post Intelligencer documents this lack of education and training among caseworkers. In Washington State, domestic violence advocates found that many caseworkers do not even know about the Family Violence Option. Only one four-hour training on domestic violence has been offered to welfare workers in the past two years. Furthermore, caseworkers are failing to screen for abuse, and victims who make the disclosure on their own are often held to job search requirements, in violation of the FVO. For more information on this article, contact Ruth Teichroeb at 206-448-8175 or

A report by the Taylor Institute, (Raphael and Haennicke, 1999a) documents similar findings. This recent study of the implementation of states’ family violence policies found that 20 states have notice and assessment processes that appear largely inadequate. If a victim does not understand that she may disclose the abusive situation and why it may be in her interest to do so, she cannot make an informed choice whether or not to disclose.

How can TANF agencies better help victims of family violence find and maintain employment? The first step in the process of helping victims of domestic violence is notice and assessment. Several barriers to disclosure (i.e., clients’ distrust of the caseworker, denial of abuse, fear that children will be taken away, fear that the abusive partner will discover the disclosure, and lack of training on the part of the caseworker) make it unlikely that victims will admit to abuse. With this in mind, it is essential that women applying for and receiving TANF are informed of the waivers and kinds of support services that may be available to them as victims of domestic violence. Thus, states and localities may want to consider how they communicate with clients about their work requirements and the special provisions that may be available if working would put clients in danger of increased abuse.

A recent report by the Taylor Institute (Raphael and Haennicke, 1999a) provides a comprehensive overview of states’ assessment practices. Some of the "best practices" highlighted by the report have a notification process, in which the term, "domestic violence" is excluded. This may be preferable because many victims of domestic violence do not identify themselves with this label. The report also highlights state assessments that are informative, such as cases where caseworkers inform clients that they may be able to be temporarily excused from work or work activities if participation would put them in danger of abuse. For example, Rhode Island’s notice states, "If working, looking for a job or going to school may put you or your children in danger of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, we may be able to excuse you from these activities until the situation is resolved." Also, the state’s FVO notice form informs TANF recipients that their child support obligations can be waived due to danger of abuse.

In order to best help a victim who has disclosed abuse, TANF agencies should offer employment related services in combination with various supportive services to assist clients as they move from welfare to work. These services may combine case management services and domestic violence support with employment-related services, such as literacy training, job readiness training, and job placement services.

With whom can TANF agencies and employers work to help victims of domestic violence become self-sufficient? Coordination between welfare agencies, domestic violence service providers, battered women’s shelters, law enforcement, child welfare, health care providers, schools, child care providers, child support enforcement, and education and training providers is tantamount to a victim’s safety as well as her efforts to become economically self-sufficient. Several states and counties have had a great deal of success when contracting with community-based domestic violence service providers. Having a trained domestic violence worker on staff at the TANF agency not only provides victims with immediate services, but also allows for the training of TANF personnel. Victims are best served in situations where there is a strong safety net in place, comprised of several supportive entities.

What are the funding sources for programs and services that address the needs of victims of domestic violence? The funding for domestic violence services for welfare recipients comes primarily from TANF. States may use TANF funds for a broad array of services, including but not limited to education and training of caseworkers, contracting with domestic violence providers, and transporting women from domestic shelters to their place of work.

Additional resources are available through several other federal agencies: The U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration provides grants to model programs that target clients with multiple barriers to employment. Approximately 20 grants were given in 1999 to projects that work with victims of domestic violence. The states that received these grants included Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. More information on the Welfare-to-Work grantees can be found at

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also provides money to prevent violence against women. The FY 1999 budget included $156 million for HHS programs to prevent violence against women, including $1.2 million for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. For HHS programs under the Violence Against Women Act, the Department received $88.8 million for grants to states for battered women’s shelters, $15 million for programs to reduce sexual abuse among runaway, homeless and street youth, $45 million for grants to states for rape prevention and education programs, and $6 million for coordinated community responses. In addition, $7 million from the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant was earmarked for rape prevention programs. The President’s FY 2000 budget includes an additional $27.9 million to fund a Department-wide initiative to prevent violence against women from occurring and to provide services its victims. In addition, this past August, an additional $1.25 million in new grants to help communities address domestic violence were awarded. These 14 new grants went to state domestic violence coalitions, community-based organizations, universities and a tribal council. The 3 grants to universities will help train researchers, scholars, and practitioners working on domestic violence in under-served communities.

The United States Department of Justice also funds programs around domestic violence. In fiscal year 1999, Congress appropriated $23 million for STOP Violence Against Women grants, specifically designated for civil legal assistance programs for victims of domestic violence. The Office of Justice Programs’ Violence Against Women Office (VAWO) is the administering agency. VAWO encourages applicants to develop programs that reach diverse and traditionally underserved populations. Grants are also targeted towards collaborative efforts between domestic violence advocacy organizations, local agencies (such as police, prosecutors, or courts), local services and businesses (such as public housing agencies, hospitals, community and other health clinics, public schools, and public libraries) to provide on-site legal advocacy and/or legal assistance information in places battered women are likely to access.


Several studies have shown the impact of domestic violence on the workplace. According to a recent study done by the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future (Moore and Sekowe, 1999), finding and keeping a job is extremely difficult for women when their lives are continually interrupted by violence. In the W-2 study, approximately 30% of respondents reported that they had been fired or lost a job because of domestic abuse and 35% reported that the abuse hurt their education and training efforts. More than half (57.8%) of women surveyed indicated that they had been threatened to the point where they were afraid to go to school or work. Surveys completed by 274 domestic violence victims from around the state also document that abused women are consistently overlooked under Wisconsin Works (W-2), due to a lack of effective screening methods for identifying victims, insufficient caseworker training, and the frequent failure of caseworkers to provide victims with information on available support services and program options. For more information on this study, call IWF at 414-384-9094.

In 1997, the Institute for Poverty Research completed a study on the effects of abuse on female labor force participation (Lloyd 1997). Through a random survey of low-income women in the Humboldt Park area of Chicago, researchers found that roughly 40% of the women had at some point experienced male aggression directed at them, and 28.4% reported having experienced severe aggression. The women who were the target of physical or severe aggression (ever or in the past 12 months) were significantly more likely to have received AFDC, food stamps and Medicaid. For additional information, contact Susan Lloyd at

The New Chance Study, a national research and demonstration program that operated between 1989 and 1992, documents similar findings. Welfare-to-Work program staff reported that some women were unwilling to attend training classes due to fear of provoking their partners’ "anger and further assaults." For more information, contact the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation at 212-532-3200. Additional research can be found at

Additional Research Underway:

The Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) is launching a four-year Economic Independence Project to demonstrate how communities across the country can develop programs and policies to assist abused women transition successfully into the workforce and achieve economic independence. In collaboration with Wider Opportunities for Women, the FVPF will partner with a range of experts and advocates representing the broad spectrum of issues that affect abused women’s struggle for economic independence. The project will work to identify existing services and supports, educate caseworkers, assist employers in domestic violence awareness and build on resources that are available. For more information, contact the FVPF at 415-252-8900.

The NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund is in the first phase of a long-term project, called The Advocacy Project, the goal of which is to assess and influence the impact of state-level welfare changes on women. One of the 4 key issues the project will focus on is domestic violence. The initial focus is on seven states - California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Washington. For more information, call NOW LDEF at 212-925-6635 or 202-544-4470.

The Taylor Institute/University of Michigan School of Social Work has a collaborative Project for Research on Welfare, Work and Domestic Violence, which is putting together a compilation of approximately 10 studies on domestic violence. A description of each program is to be posted on their web-site ( Some of the major studies to be listed on this site include:

Innovative Practices

Colorado: As part of a federal research effort, the Colorado Division of Child Support Enforcement developed and implemented a standardized training plan and screening and assessment tools for intake workers in three county welfare and child support enforcement offices. Welfare agency caseworkers (from the Office of Social Services) used a one-page form to screen all public assistance applicants for domestic violence. Afterward, and if appropriate, clients were given information on community resources and referred to the Child Support Enforcement Office for a good cause evaluation. At this point, child support intake workers used a more detailed assessment tool to probe the nature of the domestic violence in clients’ lives and to offer needy clients the opportunity to apply for good cause exemptions. The Denver Office of Social Services has dropped this screening approach, but is now working with community domestic violence service providers to sponsor two paid staff in the Office of Social Services. It is intended that these staff will provide domestic violence support services to clients (for instance, help in gaining access to temporary shelter or obtaining a restraining order). Contact Jessica Pearson, Esther Griswold, Center for Policy Research, 303-837-1555.

El Paso county has also hired staff from women’s shelters to work in the county Department of Human Services offices. These staff members provide training in domestic violence to caseworkers, as well as services to clients. For more information, contact Levetta Love, Family Independence Program, El Paso County Department of Human Services, 719-444-8153.

Illinois: Chicago State University and several other partners have formed the Chicago State University Works Program. It will target individuals in the far south and southeast sections of the city who are facing barriers to their successful transition from welfare to work as a result of problems associated with domestic violence. One of the partners is Family Rescue, an Illinois domestic violence provider agency (the largest provider in the target areas). The agency will work with clients and provide education and training to the other partner agencies involved in the project. Welfare recipients will partake in several job readiness and retention activities. Support services, such as child care, substance abuse treatment, psychological counseling, transportation, emergency or transitional housing, and books and supplies are available to participants. For more information, contact Carolyn Moore-Assem, Chicago State University, 773-995-2383.

Maine: The Training & Development Corporation program will work in tandem with the current formula grant activities to provide additional services to victims of domestic violence. Such services include: domestic violence counseling, classes in parenting and literacy, legal advocacy, housing, child care, and transportation. All participants will attend a job readiness program, "Success @ Work," which also provides information on the impact of domestic violence on a woman’s ability to find and keep a job. As part of the program, job mentors will provide post-employment (subsidized and unsubsidized) assistance and support services. Staff will receive domestic violence training in the dynamics of domestic abuse and its impact on victims and their children. Additionally, an employer education and support program will help employers understand domestic violence and its effects on their workers and workplaces. The program will serve welfare recipients in Penobscot, Hancock and Piscataquis counties. For more information, contact Charles G. Tetro, 207-469-6385.

The Richmond Area Rural Health Center in central Maine has a battered woman’s advocate from the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence on staff. Funded through a grant from the Department of Justice, the advocate has trained the entire staff (including receptionist, maintenance personnel, and medical records clerk) in domestic violence issues. She has worked with a staff committee to develop a screening tool for use during all pre-natal and well-women visits and a logging system to record assessments and referrals. For more information, contact Polly Campbell, Muskie School of Public Service, Institute for Public Sector Innovation, 207-780-5864 or Tracy Cooley, Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, 207-941-1194.

Maryland: In the fall of 1996, the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services’ Domestic Violence Awareness Training and Service Planning Agency received a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to develop and pilot-test a domestic violence training curriculum for administrative and frontline social services staff. The training model, which was developed in collaboration with the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, is intended to better equip staff to identify and serve clients of TANF and other public assistance programs who may be victims of domestic violence, and provide general education to the public about domestic violence. The county implemented the three-day training program in 1997 and the Maryland Department of Human Resources is now implementing the program statewide. The model draws on the one used by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota. Videotapes are incorporated into the training and are used as instructional devices. For more information, contact Vesta Kimble, Deputy Director, Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services, 410-269-4603.

New Hampshire: Administered by North Harris Montgomery Community College, the PATHWAYS program provides participating welfare recipients with post-employment multi-track, multi-level educational options, life skills, communication, and cultural diversity training. One of the many components of the program works to "break the cycle" of domestic violence by offering preventative programs for participants’ children. For more information, contact Dr. Lindy McDaniel, 409-273-7310,

New York: Victim Services in New York City works with area corporations to develop sensitive domestic violence policies in the workplace. The organization provides consultations with supervisors, security staff, and human resources personnel on domestic violence awareness. Victim Services also provides training on how to recognize and respond to employees coping with abuse, educate employees on how to prevent or deal with violence, establish a corporate policy around the issue, set up risk-management teams to respond to potentially threatening situations in the workplace, and stay informed about employer liability. Contact Victim Services, 212-577-5080.

Oregon: The Office of Adult and Family Services (AFS) within the Oregon Department of Human Resources recently developed and implemented a domestic violence service plan that includes comprehensive staff training and domestic violence services for needy clients. Each AFS district office appoints a domestic violence contact person to coordinate training and services. All welfare agency staff receive training (both initial and ongoing) on how to identify and refer victims of domestic violence. The training model includes the use of a screening and assessment tool to help identify victims. The model was developed by AFS with input from the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. Contact Shirley Iverson, Field Services Manager, 503-945-6902, or Carol Krager, Domestic-Violence Lead, 503-945-5931.

Rhode Island: Welfare workers give every TANF applicant written information about both work waivers and counseling resources. When a women asks for help, welfare workers page a local domestic violence advocate who immediately comes to the DSHS office to provide assistance. For more information, contact the Taylor Institute at 312-342-5510.

Tennessee: Centerstone Community Mental Health Services, Inc. will provide employment and support services to victims of domestic violence. Case managers will be placed in each participating domestic violence shelter to refer individuals to the WtW/ Family First (TANF) programs for job placement, and to follow-up with job retention and life skills training. For more information, contact David Gouth, 615-463-6600.

Washington State: In an effort to determine how many abused women need services, the state began tracking the number of welfare recipients identified as domestic violence victims in the fall of 1999. Domestic violence advocates have also been invited to participate in an advisory committee for the Economic Services Division of DHHS. A pilot project that will fund on-site domestic violence counselors for 10-15 welfare offices around the state is also in the planning stages.

The Spokane Works Project will coordinate existing services, so that an effective package is created to mitigate barriers to employment for eligible recipients. For more information, contact Daniel O. Jordan, 509-456-7111 ext. 215.

Nationwide: The Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) has compiled a list of 28 companies, trade organizations, and labor unions, which have implemented policies in the workplace that address domestic violence. For a comprehensive list of model workplace practices and participating corporations, go to or contact FVPF at or 415-252-8900.

The United States Office of Personnel Management: In 1998, President Clinton directed the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to prepare a handbook on domestic violence for Federal employees and supervisors. The booklet called "Responding to Domestic Violence: Where Federal Employees Can Find Help," provides concrete advice for employees who are victims and guides supervisors through an array of resources and management tools that can be used to assist federal employees in abusive relationships. The entire handbook can be viewed online at

Levi Strauss and Co’s. Red Tab Foundation: The company’s foundation has a Domestic Abuse Pilot Program, based at the sewing facility in Tennessee, which provides employees with education, resources, counseling and emergency funds to address domestic abuse in their lives. Nearly 1,000 employees and managers received extensive training about warning signs of domestic abuse, how to talk to someone who is being abused, and where to go for help in the workplace and the community. Additionally, managers and those in supervisory roles have actively created an atmosphere that supports employees in their efforts to break free from the cycle of abuse. The Red Tab Foundation has expanded the Domestic Abuse Pilot Program to other LS&CO. facilities.

For More Information...

Resource Contacts

Center for Law and Social Policy, Contact Vicky Turetsky, 202- 328-5140,

Center for Policy Research, Contact Jessica Pearson, 303-837-1555.

Family Violence Prevention Fund, San Francisco, CA. Contact Ester Solar, 415-252-8900,

Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Washington, DC. Contact Jackie Chu, 202-785-1921,

National Center on Poverty Law, WomanView, Chicago, IL. Contact Wendy Pollack, 312-263-3830 x238,

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 303-839-1852,

National Employment Project, 212-764-2204

National Network to End Domestic Violence,

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, Harrisburg, PA. Contact Anne Menard, 800-537-2238.

NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, Washington, DC. 202-544-4470,

The Project for Research on Welfare, Work and Domestic Violence at The University of Michigan School of Social Work, 734-998-8511,

Taylor Institute, Contact Jody Raphael, 312-342-5510.

Aron, Laudan and Krista Olson. "Efforts by Child Welfare Agencies to Address Domestic Violence in Public Welfare." American Public Human Services Association. Summer 1997. 202-628-0100.

The Institute for Wisconsin’s Future. "Domestic Violence and W-2 Results of 150 Interviews."

Contact Vicky Selkowe for more information. 414-384-9094.

Jons, Pamela. "Monitoring Domestic Violence Policy and Practice in State Welfare Programs: The Role of Community-Based Groups and Providers - A How-to-Guide." The Project for Research on Welfare, Work, and Domestic Violence at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. March 1999.

State Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Programs." Taylor Institute. September 1999a.

Raphael, Jody and Richard Tolman. "Trapped By Poverty/Trapped By Abuse: New Evidence Documenting the Relationship Between Welfare and Domestic Violence." The Project for Research on Welfare, Work, and Domestic Violence at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. April 1997.

Turetsky, Vicki. "Implementing the Family Violence Option—Lessons from Child Support "Good Cause" Policies." Center for Law and Social Policy. November 1997. 202-328-5140.

U.S. Department of Labor Education and Training Administration. "Features of the Grants Awarded in Round One of Welfare-to-Work Competitive Grants-Projects focusing on: Domestic Violence."

U.S. General Accounting Office. "Domestic Violence: Prevalence and Implications for Employment Among Welfare Recipients." November 1998.

Women’s Programs Office of the American Psychological Association. "Making ‘Welfare to Work’ Really Work: Poor Women Are Often Battered Women."

The Welfare Information Network is supported by grants from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Woods Fund of Chicago, the McKnight Foundation, the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Labor