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By Danielle Ohlemacher

Safe Moms, Safe Kids

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Violence within families is complex, and requires our whole community to work together to promote safe and nurturing homes. Family violence survivors who are parents play an instrumental role in helping promote the safety and well-being of their children. By supporting survivors parents, we can support their role as protective parents. 

Family violence programs and child advocacy organizations each have a role to play in promoting safe families. We are united in our goals and in our guiding principles. One such guiding principle? That enhancing the safety of the parent who is a victim of domestic violence enhances the child’s safety. We asked our partners in this vital work to share what that guiding principle means to them. 

“Enhancing the safety of the parent who is a victim of domestic violence enhances the child’s safety.”


Leigh Ann Fry, Executive Director of Noah Project:

The idea of keeping children safe should be a simple concept. In its most basic form it means to do whatever it takes to secure a safe, healthy life for a child. However, the safety of a child cannot be teased apart from the safety of a protective parent who also happens to be a victim of family violence. For too long those concepts did not co-exist.

Within the last few years we have come to understand in a deep and meaningful way that often the best way to keep a child safe is to keep their victim parent safe. Through careful safety planning, recognizing and highlighting the protective capacities that a parent already may have in place, or helping them to identify new means of protective capacity, we are doing our part to secure safety for children. Additionally, it is essential in moving forward with enhancing victim safety that we hold batterers accountable. It is unfortunate that this continues to frequently be the greatest barrier to enhanced safety. Frequently the focus is put on requiring the victim to participate in some type of services rather than holding the batterer accountable. We cannot and should not allow the excuse that the batterer refuses services or disappears altogether during investigative periods. The vehicles of BIPP and best practices in community collaboration are only some of the tools immediately at our disposal for batterer accountability.

We must recognize that for many this is a relatively new concept and it is the diligent work of providers that will help turn the tides of victim blaming and welcome a paradigm shift where we recognize child safety and parent safety as synonymous.


Judge Darlene Byrne, 126th Civil District Court, Travis County:

After more than a decade of hearing CPS cases, I have held more than 14,000 hearings and seen firsthand how the safety of the child is intimately tied to the safety of the victim of domestic violence. A very high percentage of these cases involve domestic violence, either as an immediate crisis or past experiences that have contributed to the trauma and behaviors of those involved.  In most of my cases, the children want to be with one or both of their parents in the end. They just want the adults they love to stop fighting with their hands and words and to live in a home free from violence in which no one is hurt. As we move toward safety and permanency for a child, however, the Court and all Court participants must understand that domestic violence is complex. Safety doesn’t immediately happen when a CPS case has been filed, or a kick-out order issued, or a protective order sought. In fact, the initiation of these actions may be the most unsafe time for the victim and the children involved. When CPS and domestic violence cases collide, judges and court teams need the assistance of professionals who are well-trained in the complexities of domestic violence to help them make the safest possible decisions for the victim and children involved.


Christina Green, Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas Director of Public Affairs and Sarah Crockett, Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates Public Policy Coordinator:

Children are our future, our legacy, our hope – and in Texas, the protection and safety of our children is paramount. During April’s focus on child abuse awareness it is important to emphasize that protecting children is not the responsibility of one person, one group, one agency, or one entity. Rather, the responsibility to keep our children safe rests on all of us.

Strong communities, buoyed up by public-private partnerships that support strong families, are a critical part of keeping families and children safe. Local community programs like children’s advocacy centers, court appointed special advocates (CASA), and family violence programs let children and families know that they are not alone and have resources, services, and caring people to walk alongside them through some of their most difficult times. The result is a stronger system and superior services for children and families. It is only with this multifaceted, all-hands-on-deck approach that we can ensure that families have the tools and 360-degree support they need to break the cycle of all types of abuse.

We are part of a system that is greater than the sum of its parts, and the work that we do together produces more resilient and hopeful communities and families. Rather than turning a blind eye to what can be a difficult and heartbreaking topic, will you be a part of this collective solution in your local community? Join us this month by wearing blue to raise awareness, volunteering, or starting a courageous conversation. We can’t do it without you.


Deborah Tucker, Domestic Violence Specialist, Division of Practice Excellence, Child Protective Services, Department of Family and Protective Services:

Child Protective Services took to heart the Guiding Principles of the Task Force to Address the Relationship between Domestic Violence and Child Abuse and Neglect. April’s Child Abuse Prevention Month provides opportunity to share practice changes that better protect Texas children and adults harmed by the same perpetrator.

In partnership with the Texas Council on Family Violence the Disposition Guidelines for Domestic Violence assist CPS to determine the best intervention when child abuse and domestic violence are alleged. Among the underlying philosophical shifts at CPS the Guidelines reinforce separately considering the actions of each parent/caretaker.

Instead of CPS reports that read “the parents were fighting, the child got between them and was struck,” reports now say “John hit Jane. Jack tried to step between to protect his mother and John hit him too.” This allows CPS to better coordinate services for the family.

CPS training promotes partnerships with adult victims, including connecting them with Family Violence Programs (FVPs), family, and friends who help keep them and their children safe. To support changes in behavior CPS Family Group Decision-Making meetings now include FVPs and welcome mentors of the person using the violence. If best for safety, CPS arranges for participation of the perpetrator by phone rather than in-person.

These are among many examples of how CPS, TCFV, and FVPs apply the Guiding Principles to protect children and adults while seeking to end violence. We make a difference together.

Believe Survivors

Did you know that sexual assault is the most under-reported crime in Texas?  

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM) and TCFV stands united with our partners, Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and programs working across the state and country to end sexual assault. As Texans who care about ending violence in our state, we recognize the importance of knowing the key facts about sexual violence and being champions for all survivors.

The Facts about Sexual Assault in Texas:

  • 3 million Texans have experienced sexual assault— that’s one third of all Texans.
  • 413,000 Texans are sexually assaulted each year.
  • 92% of survivors never report to law enforcement.
  • 3% of rapists spend any time behind bars.

While sexual and domestic violence are distinct forms of violence that require their own approaches, our movements have always worked hand in hand to build a safer Texas. Here are just a few of the connections between sexual and domestic violence.

 1. Sexual assault and domestic violence are choices.

Violence is not natural, unpredictable, or uncontrollable. Abusers choose to be violent, and they can choose to stop. Perpetrators specifically target their abusive behaviors to people who (they think) they can get away with hurting. When we recognize violence as an individual’s choice, not an inevitability, we open opportunities for change.

 2. Sexual assault and domestic violence are social issues, not just individual crimes.

Perpetrators of violence are responsible for their own violence. Yet behaviors have context: social and cultural ideas about power, control, masculinity, and gender shape and influence all of us. When we acknowledge the cultures of violence within our communities, we can address deep-rooted beliefs that condone and reward violence.

3. Survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence are both subjected to victim-blaming.

“Why was she wearing that?”

“Why didn’t he fight back?”

“Why didn’t she just leave?”

Survivors are often asked accusatory questions that frame them as responsible for the violence committed against them. Victim-blaming shifts the focus from the actual perpetrator of violence onto the survivor. This is part a culture of violence that excuses the perpetrator’s choices and actions. When we listen to survivors and believe them, we can combat victim-blaming and focus on real solutions to violence.

4. We all have a role to play in building a safer Texas.

Ending violence means changing our culture – and everyone has a role to play in promoting safe and healthy standards. Check out the SAAPM toolkits from Texas Association Against Sexual Assault and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center for actions you can take during April – and all year long – to prevent sexual violence in our communities. 

 

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Image credit: National Sexual Violence Resource Center