Twenty years later: the impact of Jeffrey Edleson’s “Greenbook” on effective interventions for domestic violence and child maltreatment

July 16, 2020

While studying the impact of adult domestic violence on children in the 1990s, professor and dean emeritus Jeffrey Edleson observed a disturbing pattern: domestic violence and child maltreatment were frequently seen as separate issues rather than related problems. Domestic violence organizations advocated to protect women without always considering the risks mothers might incur by leaving an abuser. Child protection agencies often did not understand the role of domestic violence in mothers' ability to protect children from abuse. Family courts did not necessarily consider the impact of adult domestic violence when making decisions about child custody and parental rights. Systems often acted separately, with little cross-agency coordination.

Edleson and his co-author, the late Susan Schecter, embarked on an 18-month project to facilitate the development of a comprehensive set of recommendations to improve collaboration between domestic violence organizations, child welfare, and family courts. With federal and foundation funding, Edleson and Schecter worked with a national committee of stakeholders to develop over 60 guidelines for those working with families affected by both forms of abuse. These recommendations were published in 1999 by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges as Effective Interventions in Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice.

The book — better known as the "Greenbook" due to the color of its cover — had an immediate and widespread impact. Federal funding enabled the creation of six demonstration sites, a cross-site national evaluation, and a technical assistance program for other jurisdictions wishing to implement the recommendations. The Greenbook generated a wave of follow-up articles and sparked changes internationally.

Twenty years later, the Greenbook is Edleson's most-read work. To acknowledge the book's impact, Edleson and Lucy Carter Salcido co-edited a special edition of Juvenile and Family Court Journal in November 2019 to "reflect on some of the remarkable work that has been done since the publication of the Greenbook and show how far we have come in the past 20 years" (JFCJ 70, no. 4, p. 9). With eight articles that look to the future as well as the past, the special edition also highlights areas where more change is needed, including addressing the overrepresentation of families of color in the child welfare system.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges also sponsored four webinars this past Spring based on the special issue. The introductory webinar, led by Edleson and Salcido, had over 400 attendees.

Of course, public recognition of the book is only one metric of its effectiveness. More importantly, the recommendations in the book have led to permanent shifts, and are now the norm in many agencies as they seek the best solutions for families.

  • Child welfare agencies are now more sensitive to domestic violence in assessing not only the abuse of children but also the abuse of others in the household, and safety plans are now more likely to differentiate between an abusive parent and a parent who is the survivor of abuse.
  • Battered women's shelters are more equipped to meet the needs of children, recognizing that children are the majority of residents since many women bring more than one child to a shelter.
  • Family courts are more cognizant of the impacts on children of adult-to-adult domestic violence. Courts are more likely to offer confidential advocate services around child custody and child protection cases and are more likely to take steps to provide safety for a non-abusive parent as well as for children.

Amid talk of a Greenbook 2.0, Edleson sees the 20th anniversary commemoration as validating: "The major work of my career has been to study, raise public awareness and change public policy and social work practices around children's exposure to adult domestic violence."