Sad boy with teddy bear. (Pikul Noorod via Shutterstock)
(Pikul Noorod via Shutterstock)

In 2021 there were 11 intimate partner murders, with about half witnessed by children under the age of six, according to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That doesn’t include the thousands of children annually who regularly witness domestic violence at home, advocates said.

The coalition and its 18 member organizations that provide shelter and counseling to victims of domestic violence are asking legislators to address child trauma with a $1.44 million funding boost.

The money will put the equivalent of a full-time advocate at each of the 18 member sites to help children and families to process what they have experienced so they can thrive, said CCADV Executive Director Meghan Scanlon.

“We need to invest in this so that children will not be defined by circumstances that they can’t control,” Scanlon said. In less than a minute, these kids’ lives are changed forever. This is always going to be a part of their story but it’s not going to define their life.”

But the call for increased funding may be a hard sell during a year when the legislature is in short session – from Jan. 9 to May 4 – and major alterations to the biennial state budget aren’t expected to take place, said Sen. Cathy Osten, co-chair of the Appropriations Committee.

“This is not something that’s at all guaranteed,” Osten said. “It is unusual in that they are coming in (to seek funding) during a time when they don’t normally come in. We are just looking at the budget now.”

The need for trauma-informed services has grown in the past two years as the pandemic has altered the lives of children who at times have attended school remotely or been isolated from their peers, Scanlon said.

“This was definitely an issue before, but the pandemic has exacerbated a lot,” Scanlon said. “Over the last several years support systems have been limited or shrunk for a lot of our clients in the community who have no way to escape with people on lockdown or activities outside of the home canceled.”

The state budget annually provides $5 million to CCADV to help fund shelter operations at the 18 member organizations, Scanlon said. The total budget for CCADV and the 18 members to provide services, including shelter, to victims of domestic violence is around $21million, Scanlon said. CCADV and the members actively fundraise through the year and seek state and federal grants, she said.

At the same time, the pandemic has inflated the operating budget of each member organization which now must pay for hotel rooms to keep up with the need for shelter and the need to keep people socially distanced.

There are shelters that are using between $5,000 to $10,000, in some cases even more, a month to place people in hotels, Scanlon said. That created a $1.5 million shortfall for 2021 which was solved by the organization seeking increased donations and federal Cares Act money which ran out on Dec. 31, Scanlon said. Even though the federal funding is gone, the organizations still have to continue to find money to place people in hotels, she said.

As it stands now, each member organization must either cobble together funding or job positions to provide the therapeutic services of a child and family advocate to children who have experienced domestic violence in their family life, Scanlon said.

With about 4,000 children annually coming through the doors, there is funding to provide 2.25 hours a year for each child, she said. That’s not nearly enough, Scanlon said. The $1.44 million in funding would allow the 18 member organizations to double the amount of children served and increase the amount of time advocates could spend with each child, Scanlon said.

“It takes time to build up trust between the advocate and the child and the non-offending parent,” Scanlon said.

At any given time there are between 60 and 65 children in residential housing programs including the shelter at the Prudence Crandall Center in New Britain, the organization’s Executive Director Barbara Damon said.

Staff try valiantly to make sure that every child in the program feels loved and supported, she said. But that doesn’t replace trauma-informed practices that can lead to more resilience in children who have experienced domestic violence at home, Damon said.

“All of them have experienced the trauma of living in an abusive home,” Damon said.

The cases when a child witnesses the death of a parent during an incident of domestic violence are horrifying, Damon said. But trauma also envelopes children who witness domestic violence every day, she added.

“How horrible is it to witness your mom being strangled every day?” Damon said. “These needs have been in front of us all along. Wonderful things can happen when children receive trauma-informed care, they are more resilient, they are more responsive to the world, they just open up, but as it stands now, we can’t get to all of them.”