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Targeting abuse

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Family Service of the Piedmont aims to help families get help.

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. [04.19.04] — Five years after the merger that created it, Family Service of the Piedmont is working on several fronts to make it easier for families throughout Guilford County, particularly those living with abuse, to get help.

And in the face of funding cuts, including a 16 percent drop in United Way support over the past two years, Family Service is looking for new sources of support.

“It’s not that the demand for services hasn’t grown, but the economic climate is such that it’s very difficult to increase revenues,” says Julia Nile, president and CEO.

Family Service, with a $5 million annual budget and 110 employees, was formed in 1999 through the merger of Family Service of High Point and Family and Children’s Service of Greater Greensboro.

Family Service operates two shelters in Greensboro and High Point for battered women and children, offers services for victims of violent crime, and provides counseling on emotional and mental health, and on credit, budgeting and housing.

And this month, the agency will relocate to the Jamestown YMCA on the Jamestown campus of Guilford Technical Community College an office it opened in 1999 at the Piedmont Center in North High Point.

In recent years, Family Service has responded to two big state initiatives designed to build better ties and teamwork between public and private agencies that focus on family violence.

One initiative, growing out of a statewide task force on the well-being of children and on domestic violence, prompted state lawmakers to create a new misdemeanor crime for committing a crime or assault in the presence of a child.

The second initiative, piloted in 18 counties over the past year-and-a-half, has created a “multiple-response system” that pushes county departments of social services to better deal with calls involving child abuse or neglect.

The initiatives, part of a growing effort to better integrate services 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.

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.

Yet in the face of the stumbling economy, combined annual support for Family Service of the Piedmont from United Way of Greater Greensboro and United Way of Greater High Point has declined to $1.2 million from $1.5 million two years ago.

To better protect children and prevent their abuse and neglect, Family Service has been helping to train county social workers to better identify not only actual abuse, but also neglect and conditions that put children at risk of abuse or neglect.

The agency also is focusing more resources on children it sees at its two shelters, and expects to expand basic services it delivers to at-risk children in their homes, as well as a program that provides 10 to 20 hours a week of therapy over 16 weeks for families living with abuse or neglect.

“Children who live in families where there is domestic violence are at risk,” Nile says. “The goal is to keep children safe at home.”

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