Domestic violence and substance abuse receive particular attention during October, a month for heightened awareness. This follows September, designated for recovery and suicide prevention, and months for often related issues—from child abuse prevention (April) and foster care (May) to mental health (May), among others.
Also known as intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic violence—with the broader problem of abuse, encompassing emotional, financial, and other controlling, damaging behaviors—is linked to numerous social harms.
Men are sometimes victims of such violence (or stalking), and same-sex and transgender abuses do occur. Yet men are usually at fault, consumed with controlling their partners. It is mainly men’s responsibility to stop, for example by modeling respect toward women. “Coaching boys into men” is one approach.
Women must have access to safe, confidential, non-judgmental resources—and law enforcement protection as needed. Emotional, financial, and parental ties, not to mention sheer fear, can understandably be complicating factors. Ultimately, we have to break the cycles of violence and raise expectations—across genders—for what is acceptable conduct in a relationship.
Toward this ambition, the “Sound of Hope” is a New Haven-area tradition, to remember those lost to domestic violence and reaffirm a commitment to a better future. This year, the Sound of Hope is online, October 7.
Effects on children
People of all ages are affected by witnessing abuse, even if they don’t experience it directly. Violence at home is one of ten Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) associated with physical, psychological, and social risks in adulthood.
Amid the pandemic, pressures have grown, at home as well for children in foster care. From economic crisis and evictions to homeless veterans, the pandemic threatens housing. According to Karen Jarmoc of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV), in a September WNPR segment, shelter space is at 145% of capacity, requiring hotels to assist in housing survivors. Often isolated and financially insecure, survivors need safe, confidential options more than ever. One source, beyond a hotline (1-888-774-2900), is CTSafeConnect.
Like violence, substance abuse in the home is among the ten ACEs, and of troubling scope. It is a major factor in child neglect (more common than child abuse), and therefore in entry to foster care.
Connecticut is projected to exceed its (2019) record of 1200 opioid-related deaths, which were among some 72,000 drug overdoses nationally. (Alcohol kills even more, some 88,000 Americans per year, as reported in a September NPR story on increased alcohol use during COVID-19.) According to a July New York Times analysis of CDC data, “Deaths from drug overdoses remain higher than the peak yearly death totals ever recorded for car accidents, guns or AIDS, and their acceleration … has pushed down overall life expectancy in the United States.”
Connecticut is responding. In August, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz convened a roundtable on the opioid crisis, and Gov. Ned Lamont recognized overdose awareness day. Prevention, treatment, and compassion are needed. Even in recovery, there is frequently relapse.
Intertwined with multiple agencies—public and nonprofit—and crossing municipal and state-local boundaries, problems such as domestic and substance abuse fuel the need for foster care. It should be temporary, a last resort for children’s health and safety. About four thousand children are in the system at any one time in Connecticut, some ten thousand under the child protection courts’ jurisdiction in a given year. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) and its partners are making documented progress, but serious challenges remain, aggravated by the pandemic. Racial and ethnic disproportionalities are persistent, part of what demands further action.
As a September Mirror article relayed, about the latest report by DCF court monitor Raymond Mancuso, “Services that have long wait lists or struggle with timely availability include: outpatient mental health services, in-home services, substance abuse services, domestic violence services, mentoring, supportive housing vouchers, foster and adoptive resources, and readily available placement/treatment options.”
According to the Office of the Child Advocate (Sarah Eagan)’s most recent annual report, the child welfare system in Connecticut as elsewhere is “a system that providers and families too often find to be fragmented and siloed.” (p. 10)
Collaboration, across organizations and sectors, is essential. The South Central Network of Care, including DCF and Social Services affiliates, is a boon in our region. Countering substance abuse, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) and allies appear in SURGE—the Substance Use Resource Guide Entity and Smart Recovery.
When children are affected, community members including Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) may have a role in advancing the best interests of a child. The goal: aiding each in finding a safe, permanent home in which to thrive.
Interrupting cycles of trauma
One aim, in mobilizing volunteer advocates, is to help children who have endured trauma to grow up without such problems repeating in another generation. Not only safe, caring homes but also appropriate therapy, schooling, and relationships with peers and mentors are vital.
In recruiting, training, and supporting volunteer CASAs for children who have experienced abuse or neglect, the CASA movement devotes attention to concerns including domestic violence and substance abuse. Both are addressed in the national curriculum that CASA of Southern Connecticut (with the CT CASA Association and partners in Northern CT and Southwest CT) adapts for preparation of volunteer advocates here.
Along with professional social workers, attorneys (represented on the board), educators, health providers, and judges, CASA is part of the constellation of care and advocacy that children and families in crisis need. Under a 2016 law, CASAs may be appointed by judges—upon request of any party to a case—toward “determining and furthering the best interests of” a young person.
These volunteers meet with children at least monthly, connecting them with resources and getting to know them and their circumstances—through teachers and social workers, foster parents and families. Screened and trained as part of a national network enhancing outcomes for kids, CASAs make evidence-based recommendations to judges. At the center: caring, consistent volunteers’ relationships with the children themselves—with whom advocates can make a lifelong difference through one-on-one interactions.
On October 15, CASA of Southern Connecticut will hold an online public forum with our Ambassadors to raise awareness of ways men and women can get involved with this movement. As a complement to public resources—for education, health and child care, treatment and safety—dedicated volunteer advocates can help interrupt cycles of violence, substance abuse, and other harmful behaviors. Our vision: loving, permanent homes in which children can grow up securely and happily.
Josiah H. Brown is executive director of CASA of Southern Connecticut (New Haven, New London, and Middlesex counties), part of the Connecticut CASA and national CASA network. He is also a former member of the board of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven (now the Umbrella Center).