Agencies fight family abuse

Wake County groups aim to raise awareness, deliver more integrated services.

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. [04.12.04] — Three Wake County nonprofits are working together to increase awareness about family violence, and give victims and their abusers more integrated and accessible services.

The collaboration, unusual in a field that traditionally has delivered separate services for women, children and batterers, is taking shape in the face of growing concern about family abuse and about cuts in funding for social services.

“It’s critical for people to become more aware and take off their blinders and understand what violence is and how violence impacts the family,” says Marjorie Menestres, executive director of SAFEchild, which serves more than 900 families and 400 children a year.

One in four women in the United States will be the victim of domestic violence during her lifetime, eight in 10 households experiencing domestic violence include children, and of every four of those children, two to three will be victims themselves, according to national research.

At Interact, one of the three Wake partners, the number of direct victims of domestic violence and sexual assault the agency serves has grown 40 percent in the past three years, says Adam Hartzell, executive director.

Triangle Family Services, the third partner, offers a broad range of services for families, including a program for court-referred batterers.

Working with 3-C Family Services in Cary, the three groups last year won a federal grant of nearly $100,000 to recommend models that better integrate services for families dealing with domestic violence, says George O’Neal III, president and CEO of Triangle Family Services.

The three groups were part of a larger collaboration three years ago that developed a program that lets children in violent homes visit the parent who does not have custody of them, and be exchanged between parents in safe environments.

SAFEchild and Triangle Family Services, which has seen United Way support fall to 13 percent of its $2.8 million annual budget from roughly one-third two years ago, also have received joint funding to offer a 32-week rehabilitation program for men who abuse their wives and children.

All three groups’ executive directors meet every six to eight weeks to talk about other ways to work together, including helping their respective staffs better understand the other groups’ services, offering cross-training among all three staffs, sharing information about funding sources and developing ideas for joint fundraising.

Triangle Family Services and Interact, which suffered a $100,000 cut in its United Way support in the fiscal year that ends June 30, will split the net proceeds of a golf tournament the Cardinal Club will host Sept. 10 at Lochmere Golf Club in Cary and The Preserve in Chapel Hill.

Bound by a “common understanding about the crime of domestic violence and how it is impacting families,” and struggling to maintain the basic services they provide, says Hartzell, the three groups hope working together can help them reach more people and “generate community support for those core services.”

O’Neal says a key goal is to help the community better understand the services available for dealing with family violence.

“A lot of people have their heads in the sand,” he says. “A lot of people really don’t understand the magnitude of the problem.”

A key strategy, says Menestres, has been building common ground among groups that traditionally served different groups of clients.

“The fact that we can all sit down together, coming from different vantage points, and understand that we’re all advocating for the family, is a leap forward,” she says.

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