The Prevention Advocacy program provides child abuse and family violence prevention, positive and protective parenting, case management, evidence-based services for fathers, and many other services. These services assist parents in building safe, resilient and healthy relationships with their children, and creating supportive environments where they and their children can grow. Parents and their children also receive resources to address housing, mental health and other issues affecting their well-being and stability. When children are cared for by parents with the skills and supports to address their emotional, safety, developmental and other needs, they have the foundation to grow and thrive. Prevention Advocacy is helping break cycles of abuse and instability, reduce stress, improve the strength and safety of the home, and keep families thriving and together.
Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace created The SAFE Alliance because we are committed to never again seeing an abused child that is victimized as an adult; a little boy that watches his dad beat his mother and then later hurts his girlfriend; a battered woman that loses custody of her children because of abuse by their father; or all the other examples of the epidemic of violence that is transferred person to person and generation to generation. These forms of violence must be addressed as the interconnected crimes that they are, not separately. This is also the context for and a basis of the Prevention Advocacy program.
Additionally, abuse survivors in the City of Austin/Travis County, TX community also grapple with tremendous barriers to their self-sufficiency. 9,050 family violence cases, 954 sexual violence cases, and 2,495 child abuse/neglect victims were reported in Austin/Travis County in 2015. 193,753 people (17% of the population) in Travis County are low-income. Of the 7,054 homeless persons in Austin in 2015, 28% endured domestic violence, and 23% are children and unaccompanied youth. A study of runaway and homeless youth in Austin and other U.S. cities found that 72% had endured abuse. Combined with mental health, substance abuse and other issues, all these challenges increase financial, mental and physical stressors on children and parents and threaten their well-being. (Data references can be provided upon request). The Prevention Advocacy Program provides a holistic and empowerment approach to the services that we provide.
Abuse survivors need high-quality and comprehensive services that address barriers to building skills and resources essential for creating peaceful, stable futures. The Prevention Advocacy program offers many services targeting these barriers, helping families learn to make changes to strengthen their well-being and prevent future violence and instability. Program services are provided free of charge, by skilled staff, many of whom are bilingual.
Prevention Advocacy provides case management for adult domestic/sexual violence survivors with children who are involved in the Child Protective Services (CPS) system. This includes safety planning, linkages to housing, parenting, counseling, jobs and other resources, and financial assistance to stabilize from financial crises. Skilled staff (called advocates) and survivors work together to develop goals to create a safe and stable home for their children. All these services help families find or maintain safe, affordable housing in the community, gain key self-sufficiency resources, and address barriers keeping them from supporting their families emotionally and economically.
There are so many children and families who want to be able to create that safe and stable environment, but have challenges doing so. Relationships where there is domestic or sexual violence add such an additional challenge when a parent is trying to do their best. Through our case management services, we are able to affect families in so many different ways. We are working with families to help them empower themselves, when they have been a victim of someone else’s abuse of power for so long. This is a learning process, and we are there to hold their hand when they are nervous making the call to a utility department to set up electricity in their own name, for the very first time (as just one example). Through coaching and opportunities, we are lucky enough to see victims of violence become survivors.
Also provided are educational classes to adults in Austin. This includes a Positive and Protective Parenting series of four classes, on the topics of: assessing current strengths and areas for growth, setting limits and boundaries; sexual abuse and sexual abuse prevention; protective strategies; problem-solving techniques; and skills to build resiliency. Another class offered is called Domestic Violence 101, for Austin-area adults served by SAFE or referred by Child Protective Services, local courts, and other local entities. Topics covered include definitions of domestic violence and its effects on children, power and control dynamics, safety planning, and how to access needed resources. These educational classes to adults are activity-based and discussion-based.
The classes we offer are an opportunity for the parent to add new tools. It is also a time for them to see they are not alone, they have resiliency skills, and by being there they are making the choice to empower themselves to become the person who they want to be. We see so many parents open up and share, learn and grow through the classes. One of the beautiful things we see is the celebration from the other parents when one of the families is reunited with their children, due to the hard work they have done and the changes they made to create a safe environment for their children. These moments are inspiring.
Trainings on domestic violence, trauma, and healing are provided to agencies in the community that request these trainings. Prevention Advocacy staff participate in the multi-disciplinary Parenting in Recovery Court/Travis County Family Drug Treatment Court, where we share our expertise in addressing interpersonal violence, family dynamics, and trauma-informed healing. It is fantastic to see other collaborators in the court, who are supporting the families and children in other ways, recognize and comment when they see the impact that trauma has had on the family, and be open to discussing possible resource options. This shows that the training and expertise we provide is not surface level, but that they are taking the information and integrating it into their areas of expertise to benefit children and families.
Project HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support) is also a part of the Prevention Advocacy program. Project HOPES is a community-wide, evidence-based child abuse prevention program, offered via a partnership of Austin Children’s Shelter, SafePlace, Any Baby Can, Easter Seals, United Way and Community Sync. Project HOPES provides intensive home visitation and parent coaching and education to families with children ages 0-5 across Central Texas. Its mission is to strengthen families through early intervention and targeted education programs, so every child can stay in their home.
A Fatherhood Specialist works one-on-one with fathers or father figures, and facilitates groups to help fathers gain positive parenting, self-care and relationship skills. The Fatherhood Specialist also provides workshops with a variety of different topics to engage fathers in fatherhood and their vital role in the family. The primary purpose is for fathers/father figures to build connection, nurturing and secure attachments with their children. These workshops also give community members the opportunity to get support from others in a fatherhood role, gain tools and support, and learn about the other free services available for fathers/father figures through Project HOPES. The Fatherhood Specialist recently started a project called Fatherhood Bonding, which provides participants the opportunity to play, nurture and bond with their children in a fun and supportive environment.
To see the fathers interact with their children in a comfortable way while using play is amazing. We see fathers change from being too scared to spend time with their children because they are afraid that they are not good enough, to being willing to be vulnerable when playing with their child. They are seeing that perfection is not the goal – the goal is being present and supporting their children.
Project HOPES recently co-sponsored a 2nd Annual Back to School event, which offered food, clothing, toys and fun family-bonding activities for Travis County and Williamson County, TX families. The event was a success, and everyone left with clothing, school supplies, a frame that they decorated with a photo of themselves and their family from the event, and a many good memories.
The Domestic Violence Specialist with Project HOPES works with families in homes where there is a risk for violence, to decrease contributing factors, assist with crisis intervention, and otherwise support family members. Also offered is short-term, in-home counseling for family violence survivors and their children, including educational, therapeutic and mental health support services. The Domestic Violence Specialist provides various workshops/support groups based on the needs of Project HOPES participants and the community. One of these was called “The Art of Expression”, where parents and their children involved in Project HOPES and other SAFE services engaged in healing through art.
Other workshops/support groups provide mental health, therapeutic and other support around attachment, to engender knowledge and healing for parents who endured abuse, neglect and/or other trauma as children. Trauma in childhood affects the way children develop, which can create an unhealthy attachment style in adulthood and parenthood. These support groups thus offer information to participants about what healthy attachment looks like, and guide them through the developmental stages of children so they are aware of how their child is attaching to them. Participants learn about the effects of their childhood on their own attachment style, and that healthy attachment to caregivers is vital in raising happy, healthy, and well-adjusted children. They gain tools and skills to develop a stronger, healthier attachment to their children, and a sense of security. All these services are key in helping prevent future violence, and promoting well-being of children and families.