As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials continue urging us all to seek shelter from the virus and stay home as much as possible. Those of us providing support and resources to families facing domestic violence have borne witness to the long-term impacts of this crisis on the Connecticut victims we serve.
For some, home is no haven. Incidents of domestic violence have only worsened during the pandemic – in fact, studies have shown that the very measures put in place to combat COVID also created a “nightmare for victims of domestic violence,” as more time at home often meant more exposure to abusers. Early estimates showed an increase in domestic violence incidents of more than 8% nationwide. These trends hold true in southeastern Connecticut where Safe Futures, the domestic violence shelter I lead, has seen a 22% increase in the number of survivors seeking refuge from domestic abuse compared to 2019.
Among the most vulnerable of our new clients are children. Remote learning kept children at home more than usual, and children are generally interacting less with a variety of systems that can offer safety and support under more normal circumstances. Teachers, for example, have a harder time noticing irregularities in behavior that could be attributable to abuse because they are seeing children less often. The Connecticut Department of Children and Families reported substantially fewer referrals from educators over the past year, at a time when we know rates of domestic violence increased.
Unfortunately, Connecticut is not doing enough to get these children help. Our state currently provides no funding to the Child and Family Advocates who work at shelters like ours, and whose job it is to work directly with traumatized youth using various trauma-informed, evidence-based, and resiliency-driven approaches. These advocates support both children and non-offending parents with critical services such as counseling, school and childcare enrollment, and advocating for victims within our courts and our child welfare system.
Safe Futures is one of 18 similar agencies in Connecticut, and together with our other partners we are urging the governor and state legislators to fund a single, full-time position at each of our agencies so that children whose lives depend on it can get the services they need. Currently, federal funding provides $11,500 to each of our 18 agencies in Connecticut in support of a Child and Family Advocate. This leaves us scrambling to hold fundraisers or limit the hours an advocate can spend working with children. In the case of Safe Futures, that one full-time position serves 21 towns. Last year, Safe Futures served 890 children. We anticipate these needs will only increase as we continue to recover from the pandemic.
As an agency, we at Safe Futures know why we must fund these roles across our state. We have seen how Child and Family Advocates ensure immediate and long-term resources. We know that this role is a critical piece to families rebuilding their lives after experiencing immense trauma and abuse.
Children victimized by domestic violence are incredibly susceptible to substance abuse, suicide attempts, depression, and declines in overall physical health. The evidence-based services provided by a single Child and Family Advocate are paramount to the overall safety and stability of Connecticut families. Connecticut can and should do more – it should start with fully funding our state’s Child and Family Advocates.