Saturday, September 26, 2009

Stopping Domestic Violence is a Job for All of Us: But Governments must be More Accountable for Creating Solutions

I've been working on the front lines in various capacities since the late 80's. I've seen up close and personal the impacts of domestic violence on children, on women and on men. It lasts a lifetime.

Just prior to Wally Oppal being appointed Attorney General First Call invited him to attend a monthly meeting. At that meeting I gave him a verbal and written report and recommendations for suggestions to improve the criminal justice system as it pertained to youth and domestic violence. This was based on my experiences as a Social Worker and in other capacities working with individuals in those systems. I called on the soon-to-be new AG to improve and increase counseling services to men who abuse their partners, because there is a shameful dearth of male-focused services.

I've worked with many men who've been involved in violent relationships. Most were abused and witnessed violence as children. They were not protected and years later still in pain and had no-where to turn. I have never met a man who wanted to grow up to abuse his partner. I have heard the stories of violence many men have experienced as well. That needs to be recognized and they need help too, especially since they often go from one abusive relationship to another, causing damage in each one.

Over the last decade there has been a vicious slashing by both the federal and provincial government for services to women - no more Court Challenges funding, no more funding for Status of Women across Canada, no more funding for Women's Centres, often the only safe haven for women being abused, cuts to transitions homes and community support services.

The single biggest mistake and damage made to women in BC has been cuts to access to Legal Aid for Family Court. Mediation is fine, expanding the program is fine, but not for families where there is a vast inequality of power, in income, in ability to retain lawyers.

Sometimes the real truth of what is happening behind doors is difficult to ascertain. Try living with an abuser day-in and day-out and see whether your mental health remains intact for too long and how you are judged and pathologized by others. Even when victims, such as Sunny Park, reached out desperately for help, their pleas go unanswered. Law enforcement, lawyers, judges and child protection systems generally just do not receive adequate training in domestic violence and the impacts on individuals and children. That must improve.

As women, I do not know if we are in touch with our power, the influence we can have with our elected officials, we have the numbers and need to use them. Joined by men who also want domestic violence to stop, who want support for families and for women feeling abuse. We are are a powerful lobby and we must work together and tell our elected representatives that they cannot count on us for our votes and support if they will not act to improve domestic violence. Too much harm has been done and something needs to change and NOW, enough women and children have been murdered because of systemic failures. As a civil society, we cannot tolerate this anymore.

If a government can reverse funds for Arts & Culture, important as well to the health of a society, then they can see sense, and restore and improve funding to services that decrease domestic violence that shatters children and parents lives. As those of us who work in the field know, the damage continues throughout people's lives, if we don't intervene, protect and offer real solutions to all involved parties.


Honouring Their Lives and Experiences: Creating Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence in BC
Sept. 25 2009
BC Association of Social Workers

Excerpts, read the whole release by going to the link above:
The life and death of Christian Lee, his mother, Sunny Park, his grandparents and Peter Lee, who took all of their lives highlights the complexity of decision-making, processes and actions that cross many systems - criminal justice, legal aid, mental health, child welfare, health and family justice. As this tragic story illustrates there continues to be an appalling lack of coordination, communication and accountability built into these systems that leave a terrible legacy when they fail, as they do far too often.

We ask the BC government how cutting $440,000 from life-saving community services and transition homes that offer safety, protection and dignity to abused women and their children will benefit children like Christian, or his mom, Sunny? It is counter-intuitive, at a time of significant unemployment, economic uncertainty and upheaval, to be making cuts to intervention services when research and evidence-based practice indicate that when families face additional stressors and fewer supports and resources, the risk and occurrence of family violence increases.

The BCASW makes the following recommendations to improve systems and decrease domestic conflict and violence in families:
  • Introduce Integrated domestic violence services and coordination of information-sharing, communications and collaboration between child protection, law enforcement and legal systems to minimize domestic abuse and potential for violence;
  • Restore funding for multicultural community support services, transition homes, domestic violence counselling and legal aid for family law cases;
  • Ensure that abusive individuals receive assessment, early intervention and specialized counselling services, with strong measures to compel individuals into adhering, and prioritizing the safety and protection of current and future victims, service providers and the public;
  • Provide training, utilize best practices and offer skilled clinical supervision for child protection intervention in situations of high family conflict and domestic violence and to other frontline professionals who work with families;
  • Introduce specialized family and domestic violence specialists into the court system to build the capacity of the family justice and criminal courts, law enforcement and probation systems to effectively intervene in serious cases of family violence, or high-risk situations.
Honouring Christian Lee: No Private Matter: Protecting Children Living with Domestic Violence
Representative for Children & Youth
September 2009. Read the full report here

Risks to Children in Domestic Violence Situations Make Special Initiatives Urgent, says Representative

From the Hansard debates, Question Period in the Legislature:

Carole James, leader of the opposition, asked the government:

"Today, as we all remember this tragic loss, will the government make a commitment today to support families exposed to domestic violence?"

Hon. Minister Polak reported that the government is "absolutely committed to resolving the issues that the representative has raised in the report, and [is] proud to say that work is already underway"

However, members of the opposition pointed out that there have been funding reductions in the community social service sector, effectively reducing programs for victims of violence, when as Mable Elmore noted that "the Solicitor General is cutting $440,000 this year and $1.2 million next year in funding for precisely the programs meant to protect women and children". Elmore spoke of Federation member Teri Nicholas of Family Services of Greater Vancouver, who has experienced cuts to programs for women and children escaping violence.

Hon. Minister Polak stated that "It is important for us to recognize that … the very complex nature of domestic violence, … isn't something that can only be dealt with by social workers or by police or by courts". [Yes it can and should be].

Hon. K. Heed was quoted as saying "We are truly working on integrating and coordinating our services and taking the lead in our ministry to deal with those. We are working with service providers to ensure that we meet that goal of better coordination and better integration so we can truly deliver a meaningful service".

Boy's death was preventable, advocate says
Lindsay Kines, Times Colonist, Sept. 25 2009.

Child unprotected before Oak Bay murder-suicide: report
CBC News. Sept. 24 2009.

BC Slammed for Cuts to Domestic Violence Programs
Justine Hunter, Globe & Mail, Sept. 25 2009.

No comments: