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Louisiana's Family Violence Agencies Offer Many Means of Protection
by Debra Faircloth
Shelter is only one of many crucial services offered by family violence programs in our state. In fact, the majority of people served by Louisiana's 18 specialized agencies do not need to take the extreme step of going into safe housing. For them, non-residential services are the perfect option.
"Shelter is important," said Cathy Ayo, director of Ruston's DART (Domestic Abuse Resistance Team). "Shelter keeps people alive, people who would not otherwise have a safe place to go, but family violence manifests itself in varying degrees of threat. For those not at imminent risk of physical harm, non-residential services are ideal."
In order to gain admittance to a domestic violence shelter, victims must fear for their safety. But, what does a person do if there's no room available? "All too often," said Henrietta Lewis, the Rapides Parish advocate of Faith House, "shelters are full. As a rural advocate, a non-residential worker, it's my job to meet with victims. I write protective orders. I go with victims to court, and every time I meet with someone who needs my services, I update that person's safety plan to make certain that he or she has the skills necessary to stay safe. Safety planning is one of the most important services rural advocates offer."
Non-residential domestic violence services can provide safety skills and even assist in getting victims into shelter; they can also serve as an effective bridge between a shelter stay and complete freedom from abuse. Said Sami Riley, director of Franklin's Chez Hope, "Going from shelter to non-residential services is one way that family violence programs continue to provide the supportive environment necessary for healthy change. Women who leave shelter and continue with non-residential counseling are less likely to return to their abusers than women who have no support at all."
Billi Lacombe, director of Lafayette's Faith House concurs: "Leaving a violent relationship is not a single event; it's a process. Statistically, women go back to their abusers anywhere from five to seven times before they are able to sever the relationship. Non-residential services like case management and counseling, whether group or individual, increase the odds that a person will break the pattern of violence in their relationships and live in safety."
"Make no mistake," said Beth Meeks, executive director of LCADV, the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, "our own state's statistics prove the need for family violence services in Louisiana, both shelter and non-residential. We did a study recently that proved that on each and every day at least 1000 women and children approach the 18 sister agencies of LCADV for help. Many are turned away because there's no room or not enough staff to serve them. We need more services in this state, not fewer."
If you are afraid of someone you love, there's help available. In North Central Louisiana, call your nearest DART office. In Grant Parish, call me at 318-899-5296. Outside Grant, you can call the statewide crisis line at 1-888-411-1333 for a referral to the agency nearest you. If you want to help keep Louisiana's families safe by supporting the family violence agency nearest you, dial these same numbers. The trained professionals who answer the phone will tell you how you can help.
Debra Faircloth, currently DART's Grant Parish advocate, has worked for more than a decade in the field of family violence in various capacities ranging from grant writer to support group leader. Her family violence column ran in the Ruston Daily Leader for four years.