I am writing today to share an observation I have made while traveling to Washington County over the past several months on a project to improve responses to domestic violence for families involved with the child welfare system. Observation: Your people care.
The project I work on for the Ohio Domestic Violence Network (the state domestic violence coalition), and alongside many private and public state partners, joins community training with community collaboration to increase the safety, well-being and healing of family members who are a) involved in the Washington County Children Services (WCCS), and b) have been impacted by a batterer's harmful behaviors. The project is being rolled out in other counties around the state, but I have been particularly impressed by your organizations' and professionals' willingness to come together when child welfare and adult domestic violence intersect. Even landing the project this early in the statewide roll-out required your county's Children Services agency to be a squeaky wheel among other counties, to demonstrate confidence in their abilities and assure a commitment to make the most of significant investments by the Supreme Court of Ohio, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, Casey Family Programs and the HealthPath Foundation of Ohio. Alice Stewart cares. She is the Intake and Assessment Supervisor at WCCS; she was Washington County's cheerleader and instrumental in getting the project.
For my involvement, this work is the most difficult of my 20-year career in domestic violence, not because people don't care, but because they care so much about helping children in homes where one adult uses violence and entitlement to dominate their partner and family. It is our caring that sometimes feels disruptive and intrusive in a family's private pain. This work is also hard because so many systems including law enforcement, courts, health care, Legal Aid, counseling agencies, social services and schools need to perform optimally and act respectfully with insufficient resources to establish consistent and effective responses. It requires capacity building, relationship building, tough cross-system discussions and personal gut checks, and it is certainly not for the faint of heart.
On my visits to Marietta, I have sat with case workers, supervisors and administrators of Washington County Children Services for weeks of training as they learn and practice a field-tested model called "Safe and Together." I have attended site visits where child protection teams apply the model to open cases that include a history of domestic violence (and there are many) so that workers more holistically consider the risk and impact of harmful batterer behaviors on children and give appropriate credit for the protective actions taken by adult victims. WCCS was clear that this work would be done with the partnership of EVE Inc., your local domestic violence program, and they shared their available designated team seats with several EVE Inc. staff members who completed the training and attended meetings alongside their child protection counterparts. Annelle Edwards and Janet Wells, co-directors of EVE Inc., care. They themselves attended these trainings, offered a firsthand tour of the shelter and provide leadership toward a goal of re-installation of the crucial service of a local Batterers Intervention Program. In the past six weeks, through a desire to understand each other's role better, workers from WCCS and EVE Inc. have been shadowing their counterparts across agencies to gain perspective on the functions and limitations of available services. They are likewise seeking out opportunities to leverage resources for better outcomes.
In June, a Community Partner Day to explain the core principles of the model and plans for ongoing work was well attended with leadership and representation from many other systems and stakeholders. Because your people care, they have agreed to conduct a rigorous data-driven self-assessment to prioritize action areas that will improve the lives of Washington County families dealing with the domestic violence. Additionally WCCS and EVE Inc. have asked me to return to Marietta to provide training for the broader community on the effects of domestic violence on children. They understand that this violence can harm a child's overall health, social and emotional development, attachments to family and neighborhood, and academic and lifelong success.
On my most recent visit to Marietta in October, I did my own shadowing of Protective Caseworker Kim Ensign. Kim has gone places and seen things that most of us would try hard to avoid. She clearly recognizes the gravity of her involvement in a family's life. I already knew Kim cared, but what she explained to me on that visit was your people care. I think I was asking her how hard it was to adopt this new model while implementing the agency transition to the Differential Response approach and managing a full caseload. She explained, "We do it because our community expects a lot from us." And so, I look forward to my future work in your county,
Family Systems Advocacy Director
Ohio Domestic Violence Network