Domestic violence month: A reminder to invest in the health of the community

Thursday, October 25, 2012
Robin Christian, Children First for Oregon
Sybil Hebb, The Oregon Law Center
The Statesman Journal

Three years ago, Marie was trying to start a new life for herself and her children after separating from her abusive spouse.

She was working two jobs and juggling day care, but when her partner continued to stalk and abuse her, the state stepped in and placed the children in foster care. Marie was afraid for her safety and terrified of what would become of her children.

Luckily, Marie’s child welfare caseworker assigned her a domestic violence advocate to connect her to community resources including shelter, relocation assistance, restraining order information, safety planning, and counseling. Thanks to this prompt response, Marie was able to resolve her safety issues and bring her children home.

Marie’s story is not unique here in Oregon. Last month, the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division named family violence one of its six public health priorities because of the lasting damage it inflicts on children and the community. More than one-third of public assistance applications are related to domestic violence. Even more troubling, nearly a third of the 13,000 children in Oregon foster care are taken from homes marred by violence. This makes domestic violence Oregon’s most prevalent factor in foster care placements behind substance abuse. While foster care is sometimes a necessary safety measure, children who are taken from their homes exhibit a higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder than combat veterans and are more prone to mental health issues and homelessness than their peers. In a state that already has one of the highest rates of foster care placements in the nation, we have to look at what these numbers mean for the health and success of our future generations and focus our efforts toward keeping children safe at home and out of the child welfare system.

There is a strong interplay between domestic violence, child safety, and the need for public assistance. But when the advocates trained to address these distinct sets of issues operate in isolation from each other, clients like Marie are vulnerable to gaps in safety planning, battered women are further punished by losing their children, and children who could remain with a caring parent given the right family support services end up in state custody instead. Meanwhile, scarce funding for Oregon Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services means our domestic violence shelters are turning away more than 20,000 emergency requests statewide each year. Nearly half of these requests come from a woman who has children with her at the time.

Our state leaders have shown great vision in supporting funding for domestic violence shelters and in rolling out a program to locate domestic violence advocates in child welfare and self-sufficiency offices. These services have been shown to reduce further violence and return more children safely home from foster care. But budget constraints have left these programs with only half the funding required to meet basic emergency needs across the state, threatening the safety of victims and children.

Advocates know well that state budgets are stretched thin, but when human services and prevention efforts are underfunded, it’s our most vulnerable citizens who pay the price. Let this Domestic Violence Awareness Month serve as a reminder that fully investing in proven programs not only saves lives today, but builds a stronger community for our children tomorrow.

Robin Christian is the Executive Director of Children First for Oregon. Sybil Hebb is the Director of Legislative Advocacy at the Oregon Law Center.

Read the original article here.


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