Guest Author: Rachelle Pinkerton
When our community thinks of our agency, I think they often imagine a survivor who is walking through our door saying I am experiencing violence and I need assistance. For the most part, that is how our agency is designed, for individuals to make these decisions on their own and to decide that they want something different for themselves.
But after serving clients since 1980, our directors recognized there was a whole population of clients that were being underserved. Unintentionally, of course, because our goal is to always help however and whomever we can. There was a population of clients who were told they needed our services by Child Protective Services. CPS would intervene in a client's life based on allegations of domestic violence. They know that we are the experts in handling domestic violence cases, so CPS would send clients to us, often without the victim even being able to recognize they were experiencing these things. We were able to create a class that CPS clients could complete and receive a certificate for, showing that they had learned what domestic violence is and how it affects their children.
I was one of those clients. I knew I was experiencing chaos, and I knew that I didn’t want this for my life. But with the threat of CPS and my ex-husband looming over me, I was angry. I was angry with the system and this “agency” that thought they “knew my life”. But I did it; I signed up for the class reluctantly, with fear and the anxiety of losing my child. I was not a very pleasant client.
But why? Why would I not be nice to someone who just wants to help? I was afraid and lacked the ability to trust anyone. I made it through the class and was able to decide that I could benefit from other services at DCFOF. I was able to identify what abuse was and how I could safely exit the relationship and move on with my life.
That was in 2010. Since then, the agency recognized there are lots more “Rachelle-Like” clients who were afraid and unable to identify the dangerous things that they were experiencing, and they deserved a more tailored form of services to benefit them at their pace.
That is how we were able to reinvent the CPS Mandated class, which we now call ADVANCE: Acknowledging Domestic Violence and Navigating Child Protection Effectively. We redesigned the process in which a client will complete this class by adding an orientation. This helps them get their feet wet with our agency and lets them know who we are, what we do, and how we are a separate entity than CPS. We also have a very specific advocate who is available to case manage for them if they do decide to become a client. And then there is my position; I am a survivor mentor. Like I previously mentioned, I once took this class and sat in their exact seat, confused, sad, scared, and angry. I go through the process with them, sharing my experiences, hoping to give them an opportunity to feel safe and believed.
We have 7 weeks of classes; it is an open group so each group member starts on a different topic. While there may be one member on their first class, there may be a group member on her 4th or 7th class. The classes in ADVANCE are Intimate Partner Violence Overview, Impacts of Violence on Children, Positive Parenting, Self-Care, Boundaries & Communication, Gender Socialization, and Civil & Legal Remedies. Civil and Legal Remedies is a new addition to the group topics. This is an opportunity for one of our on-staff attorneys or legal advocates to come and speak about all of the remedies available to them to help them stay safe. It also gives them another opportunity to choose if they would like to become a client. Once they have completed the classes, they receive a certificate that they share with their CPS worker. The certificate signifies that they have been given every bit of information they can get about how to navigate safety for themselves and their children if they are experiencing domestic violence, but also that they have found a support system that they can access at any time they decide.
The process of this new class satisfies both CPS’s abilities to safety plan with their clients but also our philosophical belief that our clients have to make the decision for themselves.
DCFOF Survivor Advocate