Aid For Domestic Violence Victims Still Available During Pandemic

Posted on April 8, 2020

Aid For Domestic Violence Victims Still Available During Pandemic

Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, resources are still available to anyone experiencing domestic violence in Denton County and nationally.

Denton County is currently under a stay-at-home order where people are encouraged to stay home except for essential businesses, with public school classes canceled until at least May. These measures to prevent the virus from spreading also bring concerns that domestic violence could increase because people will be closed in with their abusers.

Denton City Council member Keely Briggs on Thursday led a virtual discussion with Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon and Toni Johnson-Simpson, the executive director for Denton County Friends of the Family, to address these concerns. 

The main takeaway is that victims of abuse can still reach out for help to both the police and Friends of the Family. Dixon reminded viewers that people can reach police by texting 911.

“We are doing intakes and counseling and advocacy, as well as legal consults,” Johnson-Simpson said. “We’re doing all those by phone now or by video conferencing.”

Denton police continue to respond to calls for service and are still investigating reported crimes, Dixon said. Both Johnson-Simpson and Dixon said people should call 911 rather than Friends of the Family if there is imminent danger.

“We are staying consistent [in calls], especially when we’re talking about crimes of violence,” Dixon said. “The men and women of the Denton Police Department [are] still out there doing their job every day like they were prior to the pandemic.”

Dixon said the Police Department received about 12 fewer domestic violence cases in March 2020 than March 2019 but wants people to be aware that sometimes people can’t report family violence.

“I don’t want people to get lulled into a false sense of [security] because we’re down 12 cases from the same time … last year, that we don’t have a significant increase,” Dixon said.

Johnson-Simpson said Friends of the Family has seen a 36% increase in calls from mid-March to the end of the month; however, she noted that those calls were largely people seeking information on their resources now that many functions such as the court system have largely shut down as a measure to fight COVID-19.

Although financial stress during the pandemic can influence abuse, she said it’s highly likely that there was a power and control dynamic in place beforehand. 

“The basic issue is power and control, so we can’t lose sight of that,” Johnson-Simpson said. “If we lose sight of it being about power and control … when COVID-19 is over, we forget that domestic violence still exists.”

Friends of the Family had 61 new requests for intakes from March 18 to March 31, which is on par for what they see on a monthly basis, but Johnson-Simpson said they expect the number will go down since there has been a shift in switching to phone and video response from them.

“I would think that [the new intakes] really were already homes that were experiencing violence or some level of control in the homes, and perhaps this proximity and the quarantine certainly may escalate an already difficult situation,” she said.

Johnson-Simpson said it’s probably unrealistic for cases to come in where a victim says there was no violence or level of power and control before the pandemic.

Briggs also mentioned the concern about nonviolent inmates being released. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo signed an order Wednesday to release up to 1,000 nonviolent inmates.

If this were to happen in Denton County, Johnson-Simpson said her concern is that offenders who were jailed on nonviolent crimes, who have a history with domestic violence, would then continue to be abusive.

“You can’t make a broad sweep or broad brush and say that we need to release all these folks that we’re deeming nonviolent, which will put some of these abusers back into their homes with these families,” Dixon said. “We need to have a very thoughtful conversation on what we’re doing to those homes. Are we sending abusers back into it? … How can we keep [victims] safe at the same time while balancing public health?”

Friends of the Family is still accepting people at its shelter and can help people into hotels if needed. They screen people’s temperatures before they arrive and recently kept a family isolated from others after being tested.

Now that kids are largely at home because their schooling has moved online, they don’t have access to other adults — their teachers — who can spot red flags or signs of abuse at home.

Johnson-Simpson and Dixon said it can be hard to spot red flags sometimes because a kid may be shy in nature, and because some people are waiting to hear about physical violence rather than other power-play moves in the home before thinking something is wrong.

“With school being out, children lose access to a lot of safe people in their lives,” Johnson-Simpson said. “Yet the teachers are still interacting with them online … our grocery store workers, our clerks, for all those people who are still out there that are having access to the public, I would just encourage people that if you see something, say something.”

If victims can’t call 911, they can text 911 in Denton. Denton County Friends of the Family’s crisis hotline can be reached at 940-382-7273 or 800-572-403. Victims can text the National Domestic Hotline line at 22522.*

Written by Denton Record Chronicle's Staff Writer Zaira Perez

*please note that the name for the National Domestic Hotline was edited from the original article to reflect the accurate name of the agency to text.
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Evening of Raised Awareness

Posted on February 13, 2020

On Friday, February 7th, Denton County Friends of the Family's very own Our Community Matter's Coordinator, Cassandra Berry put on our third annual An Evening of Raised Awareness! It was another success, thanks not only to our staff and community members for attending, but also to our community supporters who donated to the event. There was a live performance from Gray Skool, a Joe Rogers Trio, a skit called "The Subtlety of It" an adaptation by Cassandra Berry, Directed by Sienna Riehle and performed by Victor "Juice' Berry and Aiyanna Salters, and a musical ending by Lorie's Joy, a Denton County Friends of the Family Choir. 

This year we had a panel discussion on the importance of raising awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault within the African American community. Facilitated by Nakia Davis, our panelists were Britni Canon, a Licensed Professional Counselor and Nationally Certified Counselor as well as a prior DCFOF Board Member, Sheryl English, Realtor and Community Leader who is Chair of the Denton Housing Authority Board of Directors, Betty Hardin First Lady of St. Andrew C.O.G.I., Denton, Celicia Boykin, STD Coordinator at Denton Public Health Department, and Aiyanna Salters, Survivor. Our panelists provided an in depth and poignant discussion about breaking down barriers and how to address the issue of domestic violence within the African American Community. 

Denton County Friends of the Family is extremely grateful to our Annual Partner, Plunk Smith, PLLC as well as our community sponsors who helped make this event possible. Thank you for supporting our community and An Evening of Raised Awareness!

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A Home for the Holidays

Posted on November 14, 2019

               For many, the holidays are a time filled with gifts, food, loved ones, and magic, but this is not the case for everyone. Some view the holidays as a reminder that they may not have the funds to provide a feast for their family or presents under the tree. At Denton County Friends of the Family, we strive to bring magic back into the holidays — specifically for our clients who may be spending the holidays in our emergency shelter, or in the middle of transitioning into permanent housing.  

               Thanksgiving Day can be a painful reminder of our clients’ struggle with housing. That is why our team works hard to ensure that our clients can still enjoy the holiday. On Thanksgiving Day, we cater a full Thanksgiving meal for families, with comfort foods like turkey, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce, to name a few! Clients are also able to cook meals that may be traditional or meaningful to them. For our clients in the transitional housing program, being able to provide a Thanksgiving Day meal for them in their new home is an empowering experience.   

               The winter holiday at the shelter is a beautiful expression of togetherness: everyone joins in to decorate the home with lights, tinsel, and festive flair. Our shelter team gets together a few weeks before the big day to decorate the tree, and the children join in the fun by making holiday banners, wishing everyone well. Our transitional housing program provides our clients with decorations and a tree for their new home. On Christmas Eve, the shelter staff place presents under the tree for each family in the home. Our transitional housing program clients can do the same thing, thanks to our Adopt-A-Family program. For children living in our shelter, or participating in the transitional housing program, there is nothing more magical than waking up to presents under the tree, surrounded by loved ones.   

               Clients in our shelter or Transitional Housing program say they don’t feel like they’re in a program or a shelter. Instead, they feel like they’re part of a big family. This holiday season, you can be a part of the DCFOF family striving to make a difference in the lives of our clients by donating or volunteering. As we step into the holidays, help us ensure that everyone, regardless of their circumstance, experiences the same love and celebration that we hope you do during all year-round. 

Visit our program pages for the Thanksgiving Drive and Adopt-A-Family to learn more about how you can get involved this holiday season.  

Blog post was written by McKenna Johnson, who interviewed Melanie Sanchez, House Manager, and Victoria Schofield, Housing Navigator

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We Need to Talk About Affordable Housing

Posted on October 15, 2019

If you live in Denton, you likely know that access to affordable and stable housing is a significant issue that profoundly impacts people across our community. At our agency, we see clients living at the intersection of homelessness and domestic violence who are in dire need of the services provided by our Transitional Housing Program. To better understand how our city is addressing the housing crisis, we attended The Affordable Housing Panel, which took place on September 5th at CoServ’s headquarters in Corinth. Check out our insights into what we learned.

What the Experts Said

Many different organizations attended the panel, each offering a unique perspective on the affordable housing situation in Denton County. Sheryl English, a chair of the Denton Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, discussed Denton Housing Authority’s limitations in providing housing vouchers to citizens in need. English noted that the waitlist for housing vouchers stands at a long two years and that they are currently not accepting new additions at this time. English also spoke to the crucial difference between the Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) North Texas and the Public Housing program. Public Housing is a government-funded and run agency that we do not have in Denton. 

On the other hand, DHA funding comes from the government; however, it is not a government entity. In discussing what our city is doing to encourage building more affordable housing, Dani Shaw, Community Development Manager for the City of Denton, explained the different tax and building incentives that the city could offer builders, such as flexibility with city codes during construction. If the City of Denton can provide different ways that contractors can cut costs, then they are more likely to offer affordable housing in the community. 

How the housing crisis impacts low-income individuals in Denton

Much of the focus of the panel discussion centered around how the community can further advocate for affordable housing on the city and county levels. As it currently stands, there is not enough housing for the city of Denton or for Denton County that is accessible for individuals and families with a lower income. In their 2019 Out of Reach study, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition found that to afford a 2-bedroom unit, without paying more than 30% of their income, a person needs to make $20.29 an hour. Individuals not making that much might find themselves cutting costs in other areas which can impact their health or wellbeing, leading to housing instability and homelessness. Adults might keep an average of two full-time jobs or more to afford a two-bedroom home, according to the same study. 

Victims of domestic abuse are often hit hardest

The panel did more than contextualize the need for more affordable housing; they also took time to discuss some of the challenges to the development of affordable housing and the ways in which people can get involved in making that possible. This has an adverse impact on our clients. 

If you consider that 99% of domestic violence victims also experience economic abuse, then it becomes easier to understand why access to stable housing is a vital component to the safety of our clients — and often the most challenging barrier to their success. 

Often, victims of domestic abuse can experience discrimination in housing and development. Affordable housing (or workplace housing, as Dr. Laura Keyes encouraged us to call it) tends to be met with community pushback. It is a phenomenon referred to as “Not in My Backyard” or NIMBY-ism. There is a harmful misconception that people living in low-income housing will bring issues, such as drug or alcohol addiction, domestic violence, and higher unemployment rates in the area, which people fear will drive down property values and increase crime rates. Often, once residents find that zoning for low-income housing is near their neighborhood, lobbying against construction begins. 

It’s time for the community to speak up

But the stigma is misguided, notes the panelists. The people who primarily need workforce housing are average Americans — teachers, first responders, or retail workers. It’s time for community members to push back and help address some of those misconceptions. To make matters worse, the state of Texas does not have laws that protect from income discrimination, allowing properties to turn people away who do not meet strict income restrictions or who are working with housing programs, such as Section 8. The lack of accessibility severely limits the places that prospective tenants can access or, worse, can prevent them from accessing housing at all.   

Whether you call it workplace housing or affordable housing, it is critical to remember that access to a stable place to live is a significant issue that affects people across North Texas. Moreover, affordable housing is crucial to the success of the clients we serve every day at Denton County Friends of the Family. You can get involved by contacting your City Council representative, educating yourself on the issue, and supporting our Transitional Housing Program. Denton, this issue is in your backyard — and it impacts every single one of us. We cannot afford to look the other way.   

Learn more about Denton County Friends of the Family’s Transitional Housing Program at 

Written by Denton County Friends of the Family’s Victoria Schofield, Housing Navigator and McKenna Johnson, Transitional Housing Intern 

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DCFOF Provides Hope and Safety

Posted on October 1, 2019


    Our agency was about to close one evening, when a young girl and her mother came to the doors of our agency at the request of the Denton Police Department and Denton ISD. The young girl had made an outcry to her school counselor about being sexually assaulted by an older male. The girl’s mother was in a state of shock, as was the young girl. Mom was trying to juggle many things in her mind: the instructions provided to her by the school, the police department’s questions, her daughter’s feelings and thoughts, her own feelings about the situation, and the victim’s siblings’ feelings about what was happening. She was attempting to understand all these things in a language that she does not fully understand, as she and her family are from another country. Mom first came to the United States, like many other immigrants, in search for a better life for her and her children; she, too, is a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault. The father of her children was also abusive to their children.  

    The evening of their arrival to Denton County Friends of the Family, a counselor who spoke their native language was made available to mother, daughter, and siblings that were present. The counselor tended to the mother’s needs by answering her questions in a manner that she was able to comprehend, as they were in her own language. This brought solace to this Mom because she felt that someone cared enough to provide her with the answers to her questions in an empathetic manner. Her child was taken to a separate office to see a counselor. Once in the office, the counselor provided services to her in both English and her native language in order to provide a safe space for the client to tell her story, in her own way. After speaking with the daughter, both she and her mother went to the police department to make a report against the abuser. As part of their initial meeting at DCFOF, both the child and her mother signed up for individual and group counseling. As time passed, Denton County Friends of the Family Advocates worked in conjunction with other community members to ensure that the family’s counseling, school, and housing needs were met. Mom enjoyed the individual counseling services that were provided to her and continued to attend both individual counseling services and support group.  

     This Mom has always been a very hard worker, attending to two jobs and taking on side jobs in janitorial services to make ends meet for her family. As a client of DCFOF, she has attended and made use of information provided to her in the Financial Empowerment Program. Mom has also attended Nutrition classes to learn how to provide healthy meals on a budget for her family. These tools, coupled with Mom’s determination and sense of hope have brought her and her family to a place in life where they now reside in their own home, which Mom is able to financially sustain on her own. The child, who became pregnant as a result of her assault, gave birth to a child of her own. Through collaborative efforts between Denton County Friends of the Family and other community agencies, she has been through individual counseling services and parenting classes that have assisted her in providing competent parenting skills. While attending services at another community agency, she was invited to go on a special summer camp to learn different ways to bond with her child. DCFOF was able to help provide her with some financial assistance to truly enjoy this camp. At this time, the abuser has served over a year’s time in jail and has been deported to his country of origin. Mother and daughter reside in the same home with daughter’s son and her two siblings. She will continue to attend school this year, feeling safe and supported by her family and Denton County Friends of the Family.

Written by: Dr. Catherine Sang, DCFOF's Individual and Group Therapy Counselor

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BIPP: Committed to Victim and Partner Safety

Posted on September 24, 2019

BIPP: 30 years of Dedication to Batterer Accountability, Three Decades Committed to Victim/Partner Safety

As Denton County Friends of the Family prepares to celebrate its 40 years of service to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, it will highlight the impact that emergency shelter, advocacy, legal services, counseling, transitional housing, and domestic violence education has had on the lives of victims/survivors over the past 4 decades. One critical part of the agency’s rich history that sometimes goes unnoticed is the Battering Intervention and Prevention Program, also known as BIPP. The primary role of BIPP is to help individuals who are abusive or become violent in intimate relationships to identify and change beliefs that support their choice to be violent.

BIPP counseling groups were incorporated into DCFOF services in 1988, and the agency was among one of the first domestic violence programs in Texas to integrate offender group counseling as part of their core services. The agency’s early leadership and BIPP staff quickly gained a reputation for its innovative approach to batterer accountability, and in the early 1990’s they played a pivotal role in the development of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Community Justice Assistance Division (TDCJ-CJAD) BIPP Guidelines. These guidelines were established to provide administrative standards by which BIPP providers in Texas would implement their services to perpetrators of domestic violence.
Excellence in service, guideline compliance, and strong audit scores afforded DCFOF the privilege of becoming one of the first programs in Texas funded through TDCJ-CJAD. The guidelines were revised on several occasions over the next several years, eventually becoming the foundation for the 2009 BIPP Accreditation Guidelines with the latest revisions occurring in 2014.
With its rich history within Texas and Denton County, DCFOF BIPP has played a critical role in keeping victims safe over the past three decades. Although the primary service offered through BIPP is education groups for perpetrators, the program also provides services that directly benefit victims/partners of the enrolled participants. The Partner Advocate program makes contact with the victim/partner by phone to safety plan, provide counseling referrals, and inform the victim/partner regarding the participant’s progress in the BIPP course.
As a fully-accredited provider and the only state funded BIPP in Denton County, the BIPP team continues a long history of innovation through its unique approach to group facilitation, exploring a wide array of group best practices and encouraging increased engagement and accountability by participants in both pre- and post-BIPP enrollment. DCFOF BIPP has also been a leader in providing group services to women who use force/violence in intimate partner relations.

The Battering Intervention Program recognized very early on in its history that in order to be effective in its work with offenders, it needed to establish strong working partnerships with the criminal justice system, child welfare, law enforcement, and victim advocacy organizations. Today, the relationships with Denton County Probation,  Parole, area Law Enforcement departments, Child Protective Services, and DCFOF Shelter/Advocacy services are critical in the work currently done with batterers, making sure that the victim’s story guides offender accountability in all levels of service.     
In continuation of its vibrant and rich history of excellence, DCFOF BIPP completed its most recent state audit in 2019, receiving a 98% compliance rate. The exemplary score reflected the dedication and commitment by BIPP staff and agency leadership to ensure that BIPP continues to provide the highest quality of service. The field of batterer treatment is still in its infancy in comparison to other counseling disciplines, but one can be certain that the DCFOF Battering Intervention and Prevention Program will continue to play an important role in supporting the agency’s mission and be a leader in helping end domestic violence in Denton County.

For more information about BIPP services and information about the upcoming one-day BIPP Conference visit BIPP and BIPP Conference
Written by: David Almager is the Director, Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP)

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