Ensuring Equal Access for All

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Publication Date
November 3, 2016

Ed note: This post originally appeared in the ACF Family Room Blog. View the original post here.

Domestic violence is a national public health challenge that crosses racial, cultural, and geographic boundaries. On average, 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States — that’s about twelve million people each year.

We know the numbers of those experiencing such violence are far too high. We know that children and youth who witness domestic violence are at greater risk of developing psychiatric disorders, experiencing developmental delays, and committing violence against others. We know that failure to address this violence can lead to pervasive social and public health problems with devastating consequences for both adult and youth survivors, as well as for society.

To address some of these complex challenges, the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) funds emergency shelters, supportive services, and crisis hotlines in every U.S. state and territory, serving over 1.3 million domestic violence survivors and their families a year. These domestic violence services are led by knowledgeable and caring experts who work to enhance the physical and emotional safety of survivors of domestic violence and dating violence, as well as their children.

Today, we are pleased to announce new federal regulations that enhance access to the 2,600 HHS-funded FVPSA programs nationwide. These regulations reinforce existing FVPSA policies and guidance to better support all survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, and other forms of intimate partner violence.

Most significantly, the regulations clarify that the non-discrimination requirements in FVPSA and other government-wide civil rights protections apply to all FVPSA grantees. These requirements include prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of religion, race/ethnicity, country of origin, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

As a result of these new regulations, all FVPSA grantees will also be required to:

  • Ensure supportive services provided by FVPSA grantees are voluntary for survivors and their families, which includes establishing a non-mandatory service plan based on survivors’ needs
  • Eliminate the use of unreasonable screening mechanisms and other inappropriate conditions or requirements—like requiring criminal background checks, sobriety requirements, requirements to obtain specific legal remedies, or mental health or substance use disorder screenings—for receipt of services or entry into emergency shelter
  • Ensure victim confidentiality as the top priority for keeping survivors safe and ensure the FVPSA definition of personally identifying information conforms to requirements set forth in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013
  • Coordinate statewide service planning to be more responsive to the needs of the underserved, including survivors from rural areas, historically marginalized communities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or questioning communities
  • Promote collaborations and partnerships across communities with FVPSA-funded grantees to help ensure survivors and their families are well connected to the safety net of services available throughout local, state, and federally funded programs
  • These federal regulations reflect the foundational role of the FVPSA program in supporting states and communities that make up this national network as well as the evolution in those services over the last 32 years.

During National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 2014, President Obama said:

"Domestic violence affects every American. It harms our communities, weakens the foundation of our Nation, and hurts those we love most. . . . [W]e acknowledge the progress made in reducing these shameful crimes, embrace the basic human right to be free from violence and abuse, and recognize that more work remains until every individual is able to live free from fear."

These words could not be more relevant today as we work with our partners across the country to bring these regulations to life.

Commissioner Rafael López, Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families and Debbie Powell, Deputy Associate Commissioner of Family and Youth Services Bureau