Jeff Temple, an associate professor and director of behavioral health and research at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, has been named vice chairman of a new state task force on domestic violence.

Temple, a psychologist in UTMB’s Ob/Gyn department, specializes in the study and treatment of intimate partner violence.

The formation of a new Texas Health and Human Services Commission Task Force on Domestic Violence is the result of Texas House Bill 2620, which was signed into law in June 2013. It calls for measures to examine and address the impact of domestic violence on the health of women and children during pregnancy through the first two years of life and to help health care providers identify signs of domestic abuse.

“I am so honored by this appointment,” said Temple. “The physical and emotional trauma caused by domestic violence can have terrible ripple effects that permeate families and communities. This task force is going to come up with concrete ways to make a difference. I am very excited about the potential of our work to turn around thousands of families’ lives.”

According to the new law’s statement of intent, pregnant women experience domestic violence nearly twice as often as other women. At the same time they are at increased risk and vulnerability, pregnant women in general have repeated contact with health care providers because of standard prenatal health recommendations. Because of both their vulnerability to domestic violence and the health care protocols already in place for them, pregnant women represent an important and ideal focus for violence prevention and intervention.

Numerous state, private and federally funded programs introduced in Texas during the last several decades have improved birth outcomes and enhanced infant health and long-term child wellbeing through parent education. Domestic violence, however, undermines most of these programs’ outcomes, according to the law’s statement of intent.

The Domestic Violence Task Force’s directive is to identify gaps, needs and opportunities across the health care spectrum to address this issue. Committee members have been asked to develop ways to include domestic violence information in new protocols for health care providers and educators. The group is also expected to design health system responses to domestic violence against women who are pregnant and postpartum, including universal information, early screening and detection and public awareness efforts.

The task force will meet at least quarterly until September 2015, at which time the group is to present a report containing findings and legislative, policy and research recommendations for state leadership.

“Dr. Temple’s expertise, experience and perspective will be strong assets to this group,” said Dr. Kyle Janek, executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, who appointed Temple to the task force. Dr. Gary Hankins, chairman of the Ob/Gyn department at UTMB, added, “Jeff is the ideal person to help lead this critically needed task force. He is thoughtful, pragmatic and exceptionally hard working.”

The task force will be led by Gloria Terry, chief executive officer of the Texas Council on Family Violence.