It's a show of support for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.
Two nonprofits – both working to fight both domestic abuse and child abuse in North Texas — just received the gift of a lifetime.
The Dallas Children's Advocacy Center and The Family Place have each been granted $1 million by the Highland Dallas Foundation, which is a supporting organization of The Dallas Foundation, the first community foundation in Texas.
The generosity highlights an intersection between child abuse and domestic violence during such a significant moment this month.
“These [grants] don’t come often so when we do see them, we are so extremely excited and gifted,” said Irish Burch, CEO of DCAC.
The money will help fill gaps in public funding sources that nonprofits have been experiencing since the start of the pandemic.
“We’ve had some federal funding that has been challenged this year and that has created a little bit of a concern for us as to how we continue to ensure that we are having the best staff members and that they are receiving the best training. So that we can always be our best when we perform for our programs and clients that we see,” said Burch. “It’s hard to do this work and it is extremely hard when you also are concerned about funding and trying to figure out what the landscape is to continue moving forward.”
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DCAC is the only agency of its kind fighting child abuse in Dallas County. The organization reads through thousands of reports and then coordinates the cases that rise to the level of a criminal offense, bringing together CPS, law enforcement, medical and the district attorney’s office.
Unfortunately, the pandemic isolated the children they seek to help recover from abusive situations. The lack of exposure to potential reporters of child abuse, like teachers and school nurses, caused numbers of reports to stagnate. But once school returned to in-person, those numbers shot back up.
In just the last year, the organization helped about 8,000 children and read through 28,000 child abuse reports in Dallas County, the highest to date.
"For a lot of people, home is not a safe place. If you don’t have a safe place for quarantine and all of the sudden you’re quarantined with your abuser, it just really enhances the emotional effects of those factors in your life," said Carrie Paschall, DCAC chief investigative and support services officer, in a story with NBC 5 in April.
At DCAC, therapists and forensic interviewers provide healing and trauma services, guiding children through the justice system, life and school.
DCAC will use this money to provide resources like school supplies, clothes, and hygiene items for families, as well as shore up their caseworkers to reach even more kids in Dallas County.
“These resources will allow us to not only plan for today but also to plan for anticipated increases and numbers that we see. As more and more children are in school every single day, our primary mandated reporter is going to be school teachers. The more they are back in school, the more we will anticipate that our numbers will continue to increase,” said Burch.
An Intersection of Two Crimes
The overlap between domestic abuse and child abuse is clear.
DCAC has been conducting research with SMU and Ernie Jouriles about intimate partner violence taking place in the homes of clients. They discovered 50% of child clients have witnessed or experienced violence in the home in the last 30 days.
Burch said there needs to be a coordinated effort to end both domestic violence and child abuse to create healthy homes in Dallas.
“There are so many ways that our cases overlap that a lot of people don’t necessarily recognize,” said Burch. “Not only do you have a child that’s a victim, but you also have a non-offending parent that is a victim of that domestic violence.”
Oftentimes, the two crimes are happening in the same family by the same perpetrator.
DCAC works closely with partner agencies that specialize in domestic violence but they also ensure their staff members are trained to recognize the signs in both children and the non-offending adults caring for children in the household.
“We know as a caregiver, they need to have the support they need to be supportive for the children that we serve on a daily basis,” said Burch.
Children who witness domestic violence are affected by their environment. Some of the warning symptoms people should look for include fear, anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, and behavioral problems, and angry outbursts. Often the behavioral problems are a symptom of the distress.
Where DCAC provides specifically for clients experiencing child abuse, The Family Place helps house and guide entire families – especially adults – through the trauma of domestic violence.
“It’s definitely been a one-two punch with COVID-19 hitting and the complications of the virus being prevalent and potentially coming into the organization. There’s been an increase in domestic violence due to COVID-19 and folks being cooped up at home,” said Mimi Sterling, CEO of The Family Place.
The Family Place served nearly 12,000 clients in 2020 providing 62,118 days of emergency shelter, 36,015 days of transitional housing, 18,526 hours of counseling to nonresidential clients, and 8,758 hours of counseling to batterers.
Sterling reports a sharp uptick in domestic abuse since the pandemic began.
“Job loss, changes in routine, changes in health concerns,” she said. “There’s a lot of stress that comes with COVID-19 that we all have experienced and being cooped up with an abuser is a very traumatic and very dangerous experience.”
Pipe bursts from the fire sprinkler system flooded housing units where victims and their children were living. Sterling said just about every ceiling caved in, forcing 123 clients into hotels for weeks and months.
The organization has since brought families back into repaired units but it is still rebuilding. It’s looking to purchase a generator and make other upgrades, so this million-dollar grant will help them recover completely from the storm’s destruction.
“The recovery has been slow,” said Sterling. “With these funds, we’re able to continue our renovations and our services for our clients.”
Approximately $500,000 of the Highland Dallas Foundation's $1 million grant will provide funding for repairs to The Family Place's Safe Campus Emergency Shelter. The remaining funds will support The Family Place's Enduring Promise Foundation Campaign and will help provide long-term funding for on-site medical staff who provide essential medical services to clients in two on-site clinics.
"The support we've received from the Highland Dallas Foundation goes beyond these generous grants. When we asked donors to participate in our 'Adopt A Family' program, the Highland Dallas Foundation stepped up to adopt all the families in need, providing holiday gifts for every resident in our emergency shelter, who were so grateful to receive such an unexpected surprise,” said Sterling.
The Highland Dallas Foundation is also providing the lead grant to The Dallas Foundation's new Racial Equity Fund.
This recognition for victims comes as the Dallas mayor and police chief recently rolled out a new plan to combat domestic violence.
Additionally, DCAC is planning for its annual Holiday of Hope fundraiser to collect toys, clothing and other items for clients for the holiday season. Click here to learn more and get involved.