I have visited quite a few domestic violence crisis centers around the country, and all of them are doing good work. Some are even doing amazing work. They are all equally overworked and understaffed, but they do not all offer equal numbers or quality of services. Some of them are so limited that I can hardly imagine their clients are satisfied. Others simply blow my mind with the comprehensive list of services available.
Here’s what they all have:
*Shelter (usually private rooms, often private bathrooms too. Sometimes a dorm-style room if space is tight and two childless women have to share a room).
*Legal advocates. What this means varies by center, however. Some only deal with civil cases like child custody, others deal with criminal cases, occassionally they help with both.
*Counseling. Typically this means private counseling sessions, could mean group therapy also. Most shelters do not employ a child counseling specialist.
*Education. What this actually means varies by agency. Often includes at least a few school assemblies or similar. Also includes education for clients on understanding what they’ve been through so they can watch for red flags and learn how to have healthy relationships in the future.
That’s all great stuff. However, here’s some of what the more awesome of crisis centers offer to their clients:
*Handicap accessible rooms, whether that’s for wheel chairs, sight-impaired, hearing-impaired, etc, residents.
*Shelter with full communal kitchen or, better, healthy meals provided.
*Shelter with communal quiet rooms, play rooms, secure garden/outdoor space, etc.
*Shelter with excellent security measures, including safe evacuation point that doesn’t expose residents to public view.
*Shelter that is a different location from the rest of the center’s services, intake, offices, etc.
*Shelter options for more than 30 days (many now offer 90), and help finding transitional housing and/or permanent housing.
*Assistance applying for government assistance programs and other important paperwork such as health insurance, and making sure that every client knows what they can apply for or otherwise need to take care of to plan for future.
*Networking help for jobs, or easy access to job listings. Free interview-acceptable clothing and shoes. Help writing a resume.
*Childcare, or at least help in signing up to get free childcare somewhere nearby. This is almost never offered, yet is one of the most needed things for a lot of women in shelter, so they can get a job and afford to take care of themselves and said children alone!
*Canine advocates for children (ideally also adults), who provide emotional support in counseling and at court or other stressful situations.
*Alternatives to counseling, such as mediation space, yoga classes, art therapy, etc.
*Health care on-site, or help getting to health care appointments. Especially a good idea: on-site rape kits and on-call nurse to administer the test, as many victims will refuse going to the hospital and will feel more comfortable to have test done at shelter. Alternately, or additionally, a dedicated team of nurses in the local hospital who specialize in helping those there for rape or abuse-related injuries (special training is available for this, and such nurse teams do exist in some city hospitals).
*Asisstance with resident transportation for other basic non-daily needs like job interviews and court dates.
*Help with basic supplies, such as clothing for both women and children, personal care items, diapers, school supplies, etc.
*Legal assistance for all kinds of legal issues involved with domestic abuse. This can include criminal charges, child custody, divorce, law suits, etc. Most legal advocates at crisis centers don’t help with divorce proceedings.
*Education for clients. Surprisingly, though all centers have “education” listed as a service, it is generally limited to school programs. It is so important for victims to get the information they need to not repeatedly get into unhealthy relationships, yet this is not the standard at crisis centers.
*Self-defense classes. Teaching women - whether just for clients or offering it to any woman or girl in the community - how to defend themselves if attacked, is an excellent but rare service.
*A “yes we can do that” attitude. Everyone’s needs are different, and may not fit the mold of the crisis center’s services. Too many centers are satisfied with the way they’ve always done it, and don’t talk with other centers to see what else they maybe could be doing.