URBANA, Ill. – Two University of Illinois researchers have received a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Justice to study the effectiveness of training attorneys to identify and address intimate partner violence in divorce and custody cases.
Jennifer Hardesty and Brian Ogolsky, Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I, are partnering with the Battered Women’s Justice Project (BWJP), to evaluate the SAFeR (Screening, Assessing, Focusing on the Effects, and Responding to Abuse) training program.
“Addressing domestic violence in the context of divorce and custody decisions is a complex issue. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to ensuring safety for victims who may also share custody with abusers after separation. Training and preparation for working with clients in family courts who experience abuse varies greatly across states and jurisdictions,” Hardesty says.
BWJP developed SAFeR to help attorneys better understand the role of intimate partner violence in their cases. While the training program has existed for several years, its effectiveness had not been evaluated.
“We are examining whether this training results in attorneys having more research-based knowledge about intimate partner violence, enabling them to apply it in their practice and their direct work with victims,” Hardesty says.
The four-year study will include 1,440 attorneys from urban and rural areas nationwide. Half of the participants will receive the three-hour SAFeR training program, while the other half will serve as a control group.
The researchers will survey participants’ attitudes and behavior before and after the training, with follow-up assessments after three and six months. A subset of attorneys will be randomly selected for qualitative in-depth interviews before and a year after the training to gain more insight into changes in perceptions and behaviors.
“The trickle-down effect by targeting practitioners is that every attorney is likely working with hundreds of cases. Whereas many intervention studies only benefit the participants, when we're targeting practitioners it spirals into an enormous potential impact,” Ogolsky states.
If the study shows the training is effective, it could lead to increased federal funding allowing an expansion of the program nationwide.
The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois.