A welcome package of bills in the state Legislature would create a safety net for the littlest, and perhaps the most vulnerable, victims of domestic violence.
The bipartisan measures would increase support services for children who are held hostage when the adults charged with taking care of them are themselves trapped in toxic relationships.
"The collateral damage inflicted on children of domestic violence can be devastating and long-lasting," Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) writes in a letter to constituents. "Boosting therapeutic services for victims can help mitigate their emotional damage."
One of the bills is designed to create a statewide program to provide grants for treating, counseling and providing supportive services for children and family members who have been exposed to domestic violence.
Currently, only 11 of the state's 21 counties offer such programs. The bill's sponsors say the goal is to codify these treatment approaches, and to expand their impact throughout the Garden State.
Another of the proposals would require counseling for perpetrators when ordered by a judge, with periodic assessments to provide greater protection to the victim and any children. Yet another would require certain training for law-enforcement officers and assistant county prosecutors in the handling of domestic abuse cases.
The multi-faceted approach grew out of the work of a New Jersey Supreme Court committee whose members included representatives from all three branches of government, as well as the private sector, academia and advocacy groups.
The group also included lawyers representing both victims and those charged with domestic violence.
We're encouraged that such a disparate array of voices came together to address an issue that continues to plague every level of New Jersey society.
One concrete result of their deliberations was a bill that requests the state Supreme Court to require certified matrimonial attorneys to complete at least three hours of domestic-violence training each year as part of their continuing legal education courses.
According to the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence, youngsters are pulled into the fray in a variety of ways.
They may watch as a beloved parent is beaten, they may overhear threatening behavior from another room, they may be thrown into contact with cops and a court system whose ways may seem totally incomprehensible - and downright terrifying.
In other words, the advocacy group warns, children see more than we think.
"While children can be negatively affected by domestic violence, both in the immediate and long term, children respond to trauma in a variety of ways," the organization notes on its web site. "Early interventions with child witnesses of domestic violence are crucial."
The bills making their way through the Senate and Assembly are a significant step toward assuring such intervention becomes a reality.