Lessons Learned from the Greenbook Initiative

By Jennifer Rose, MSW

In 1998, research revealed that between 30 to 60 percent of child abuse and neglect cases also involved domestic violence.i In 1999, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) published Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice (known as the "Greenbook" due to its green cover).ii The Greenbook served as a guidepost for communities working to address the co-occurrence of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, by offering a set of principles and recommendations for the three primary systems working on these issues—child welfare agencies, domestic violence service agencies, and dependency courts—with the goal of encouraging them to work collaboratively to meet the needs of the families they serve.

Greenbook Cover: Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment Cases
From 2000-2007, the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Justice provided funding for six demonstration sites to implement the Greenbook’s policy recommendations. The project became known as the "Greenbook Initiative." The six demonstration sites, referred to as the "Greenbook sites" included El Paso County, Colorado; Grafton County, New Hampshire; Lane County, Oregon; San Francisco County, California; Santa Clara County, California; and St. Louis, Missouri.iii

The Greenbook Initiative embarked on an extraordinary endeavor to enhance the safety and well-being of families experiencing the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment. The sites undertook major collaborative efforts aimed at improving practices, services, and outcomes for children and families. Each of the sites received intensive technical assistance throughout the process from the NCJFCJ, the Family Violence Prevention Fund (now FUTURES Without Violence), and the American Public Humane Association.

Throughout and following the Greenbook Initiative, a National Evaluation Team reviewed the process and effects of implementing the Greenbook recommendations and policies in the six demonstration sites. The National Evaluation revealed a number of common themes and lessons learned by the Greenbook sites throughout the process.iv Although not exhaustive, the following list identifies the top ten lessons learned by the Greenbook sites as they sought to improve outcomes for families through increased collaboration.v

Collaboration, Means Versus Outcome

One of the key lessons learned by the Greenbook sites was that collaboration is not an outcome in and of itself. Instead, collaboration is a potential strategy for improving results for families. This became evident throughout the Greenbook Initiative, as the sites struggled to define their collaborative efforts and maintain focus on the end goal of improving outcomes for families.


The Greenbook sites quickly learned that successful multi-system collaborations require clarity and structure. They discovered that by adopting a shared leadership model—with at least one leader from each discipline—the sites were able to develop a shared vision, establish trust and safety, share power and influence, and represent the right mix of stakeholders and decision-makers. To maintain this model long-term, the Greenbook sites created three-tiered structures that included an executive committee to handle fiscal and administrative decisions, advisory committees to guide the project, and workgroups to carry out the work of the Initiative.

Power & Trust

Issues around power and trust arose between the three systems involved in the Greenbook Initiative. Child welfare agencies and the dependency courts represented major formal systems with well-defined roles and considerable power. In contrast, the domestic violence community was made up of grassroots organizations with less formal power and resources. To combat tensions that arose around power and trust between the three systems, the sites added more partners to their governing body, facilitated retreats, created a domestic violence consortium, and facilitated cross-system dialogues.


The Greenbook sites identified open and ongoing communication as an essential element of successful collaboration. This was true between the three levels of governance, where communication helped the teams maintain a shared vision and better understand one another’s unique roles. Meaningful engagement of community members and survivors was equally important to the Greenbook sites, although they often found it difficult to effectively bring these voices to the table. One site achieved this goal by asking nationally known survivor, Sharwline Nicholson,vi to speak. This reportedly had a huge impact on the partners in that site, who were then able to look at the removal of a child through a different lens.


During the Greenbook Initiative, concerns around confidentiality arose when professionals sought to share information as part of the collaboration. For example, child welfare agencies expected domestic violence service providers to share information about individual cases or "report back" on mandated services. This conflicted with the domestic violence service philosophy of facilitating a safe environment for victims by ensuring confidentiality. To address resulting tensions, the partners facilitated cross-trainings on their policies pertaining to confidentiality and worked to build trusting relationships.


Throughout the Greenbook Initiative, the sites identified staff training, cross training, and community training as successful strategies for improving the collaborative response to the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment. Within the three systems, training reportedly increased knowledge, enhanced institutional empathy, and improved practices. In addition, community training and outreach helped increase public knowledge about and interest in the field.

Specialized Positions

The creation of specialized positions within child welfare agencies and the justice system helped move the vision of the Greenbook forward. According to the Greenbook sites, these positions—including domestic violence advocates co-located in child welfare offices, court staff responsible for holding batterers accountable, and systems analysts who review gaps in the way systems respond to families—facilitated cross-system information sharing, enhanced institutional empathy, engaged frontline workers, formed bridges between agencies, and improved services in cases involving child maltreatment and domestic violence.

Offender Accountability

Although offender accountability was not a primary focus of the Greenbook Initiative, the Greenbook sites identified batterer intervention programs as critical partners to the efforts to end violence against women and children. Throughout the Greenbook Initiative, the sites held batterers accountable in various ways, including using experts in "fathering after violence" programs, forming specialized positions for working with men who batter, creating tools that outline court system best practices for working with co-occurrence cases, and developing safety audits to assess the criminal justice system’s response to families experiencing domestic violence and child maltreatment. This work confirmed that working with fathers is an important strategy for achieving safety for adult victims and children.vii

Working with Children and Survivors

The Greenbook sites struggled to effectively focus their efforts on child victims and survivors in child maltreatment cases involving domestic violence. Children often became invisible or forgotten when the systems shifted their focus to the parents. The sites also discovered that they had to challenge their own beliefs and assumptions about survivors who had been abused before they were able to provide them with effective and appropriate services. In both cases, the Greenbook sites learned that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work well for child maltreatment cases involving domestic violence, and that services must instead be tailored to meet the unique needs of the family.

Cultural Competency

The Greenbook sites identified the need for cultural competency as something that should be addressed at the beginning of any collaborative process. Many of the sites involved in the Greenbook Initiative found it difficult to discuss topics such as racism, classism, sexism, and ableism that did not offer easy answers. In addition, many of the sites were unable to offer services that were appropriately tailored to the meet needs of the cultures present in their communities. In an effort to improve their own cultural competency, the sites developed self-assessment tools, hired consultants, and sought to engage in critical discussions about the role of culture in their communities.


i Appel, A.E. & Holden, G.W. (1998). The co-occcurrence of spouse and physical child abuse: A review and appraisal. Journal of Family Psychology, 12(4), 578-599; Edleson, J.L. (1999a). The overlap between child maltreatment and woman battering. Violence Against Women, 5(2), 134-154.
ii More information on the Greenbook and related tools and resources is available at www.thegreenbook.info. A copy of the Greenbook itself is available to download at http://www.ncjfcj.org/resource-library/publications/effective-intervention-domestic-violence-child-maltreatment-cases.
iii Information on the Greenbook sites is available at http://www.thegreenbook.info/demo.htm.
iv The interim and final evaluation reports are available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/209733.pdf and https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/233290.pdf (respectively).
v For more detailed information on the lessons learned by the Greenbook sites, see Allo, J. & Ptak, A. (2009). If I Knew Then What I Know Now: Project Leadership in Multi-System Change Efforts to Address the CoOccurrence of Domestic Violence and Child Maltreatment, Lessons Learned from the Greenbook Project Directors, available at http://www.ncjfcj.org/resource-library/publications/effective-intervention-domestic-violence-child-maltreatment-cases. For information on lessons learned in Santa Clara County, see Implementing Recommendations In The Greenbook: Lessons Learned In Santa Clara County, By the Santa Clara County Greenbook Executive Committee, available at http://thegreenbook.info/documents/lessons_learned.pdf.
vi To learn more about Ms. Nicholson and her case, see Lansner, D., The Nicholson Decisions1 : New York’s Response to ‘Failure to Protect’ Allegations, available at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/cdv_enewsletter/LansnerFall2008.authcheckdam.pdf.
vii For information on offender accountability, see Checklist to Promote Perpetrator Accountability in Dependency Cases Involving Domestic Violence; available at http://www.ncjfcj.org/resource-library/publications/checklist-promote-perpetrator-accountability-dependency-cases.


Resource Center on Domestic Violence: Child Protection and Custody.


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