Services for victims of domestic violence are stretched thin

On any given day, dozens of women in Connecticut seeking help to get out of abusive relationships will be denied services or put on a waiting list for assistance with housing, counseling, transportation or legal services.

Many of them have children.

“Domestic violence has deep and lasting effects on children,” Joette Katz, commissioner of the state’s child welfare agency, said Wednesday. “We have very complex and difficult work to do.”

Child advocates say that these unmet needs –- mapped out annually in a census of Connecticut’s network of programs — show that the state still has a lot of work to do to ensure that children are shielded from family violence.

“Our shelters in Connecticut are at capacity 95 to 98 percent of the time, which you can imagine is a real challenge,” said Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. 

The state’s emergency domestic violence shelters housed 1,018 children in 2012. Meanwhile, the consequences for children who remain in a volatile living situation can be grave. Since 2000, more than 60 children have witnessed a parent or guardian  being killed during a domestic dispute, Jarmoc’s group reports.

Dr. Nina Livingston, who works at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and at St. Francis Hospital & Medical Center, sees the impact these situations have on children.

“I recently saw a 6-month-old infant with a depressed skull fracture who happened to be in his mother’s arms when his father began punching her. And I saw his 8-year-old brother who was injured by the same batterer as he went for the phone to call 9-1-1,” she told a crowd at the state Capitol Wednesday.

Even if the physical violence isn’t directed at the child, it’s traumatic for children to see a parent being abused, she said.

For those victims who want to leave their attacker and need legal representation for child custody or financial issues, Jarmoc said, there’s a void. “The challenge is that there are clearly more needs from the victims than there are lawyers [available] to represent them. So we have to prioritize cases,” she said.

The Department of Children and Families reports that domestic violence exists in approximately six of every 10 cases where the agency determines a child is being abused or neglected.

But the federal court monitor overseeing the agency routinely reports that DCF is failing to provide enough services for foster children affected by domestic violence. Among the 55 cases reviewed during the first three month of 2013, the monitor reported that five perpetrators did not get treatment in a timely fashion and that seven victims either faced delays in getting services or were not identified as needing help.

“Domestic violence services have been routinely identified as insufficient … Service has not been increased and does not meet the actual need,” Raymond Mancuso, the court monitor, wrote state legislators this spring.

The state budget allotted DCF $1.8 million for the current fiscal year for “Family Violence and Outreach Counseling,” an increase of $140,000 over the previous year.

Still, Katz said, several initiatives are under way to ensure that children in families where violence exists are cared for. These efforts include allowing children and their caregivers to get mental health services by reaching Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services through the 2-1-1 social services hot line number. The department also has been training its staff and private providers in how to help children work through post traumatic stress disorder.

The department is also seeking help from a consultant to realign and evaluate the way the agency provides services to children and families affected by domestic violence. 

Meanwhile, 20 percent of the state’s domestic violence programs report they don’t have enough translators and counselors; even more report they don’t have enough beds for victims who need sanctuary. 

And the problem is not going away.  “On the one hand we are not seeing an increase (in the numbers of victims of domestic violence), but on the other hand, we are seeing they are remaining the same,” Jarmoc said.

State census numbers on domestic violence in Connecticut have been constant over the last five years: On any given day, there are 275 victims of domestic violence living in emergency shelters, 644 adults and children receiving other services and 69 victims whose requests for housing, counseling or legal needs go unmet.  

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