New NAU program helps children affected by family violence
Family Violence Institute provides resources for children affected by partner homicide across the state
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Three thousand children across the United States lose a parent to intimate partner homicide each year, where one parent kills the other parent, according to the associate director of the Family Violence Institute at Northern Arizona University Holly Hulen.
“About half of those children were home at the time and either witnessed the homicide or discovered the parent’s body,” she continued.
That is where the Family Violence Institute at Northern Arizona University comes in. The new program at the university, called the Arizona Child and Adolescent Survivor Initiative (ACASI), has been created to provide services to children who have lost a parent/parents to intimate partner homicide.
“We’re here to help, when you’re ready, when you need us,” Hulen said.
Some of the services that the program offers include intensive case management and access to spec
ialized trauma therapists. The institute also provides personal advocacy and accompaniment. Sometimes the families need to go to court and they can receive help with the criminal justice system.
“We help them with victim’s rights and then we also help them with connecting them with different resources and referrals,” Hulen said.
Family Violence Institute seeking mentors in northern Arizona
One of the other components the institute provides is its volunteer mentoring program. The institute matches mentors from the community with children who have experienced this kind of trauma.
All mentors go through a specialized training and they receive support from the staff at the Family Violence Institute throughout their mentoring relationship.
“Research has shown that if a child, especially a child who is at risk, has one adult who is consistent and reliable and is a role model, it can really make a big difference in their lives,” Hulen said. “That’s what we’re trying to do with that role modeling, that mentoring piece. We’re trying to provide another support system for the child and family.”
A mentor needs to be 18 years old or older. They have to pass a background check and be fingerprinted. There is an extensive interview process and also a training process before they are matched.
Mentors usually spend time with the child a couple of times a month. The program does try to match the interests of the mentor with those of the child, like if the child has some interest in arts and crafts, the mentor could take the child to a museum or cultural event. But it could also be just going to a park or basketball game. It all depends on the child.
“Part of it is providing a role model and part of it is just spending quality time with that child,” Hulen said. “The mentor is not expected to be a therapist. It’s more of just having an opportunity to provide support and have fun with that child.”
The amount of time and when the mentor spends time with the child is subject to the availability of both sides of the arrangement, the mentor and the child. If the child is younger, there may be more time to spend, but if they are a teenager, sometimes some contact may be made by text.
“We really try to tailor the activities in the mentoring role to make it fit for that family and child,” Hulen said.
Intimate partner homicide
Typically, in an intimate partner homicide, it’s the mother who is killed, though sometimes it is the father. The perpetrator can be a biological parent, a step parent or it can be a boyfriend or girlfriend, ex-spouse —but they have an intimate relationship, which does not have to mean they are married.
Hulen said that in looking at the children the institute serves, generally one parent is killed and the other parent is either incarcerated or commits suicide after the incident.
“That basically leaves the child orphaned in about 98 percent of the families we serve,” Hulen said. “We find the caregiver becomes either that grandparent or sister (of the victim), that aunt is taking care of the children, which is wonderful that (the kids) are in a family setting, but that family member is also grieving the loss. They are struggling with trauma themselves.”
More services the Family Violence Institute provides
The Family Violence Institute encompasses many different aspects. One is The Healing Lands Project, where children who have experienced this kind of trauma have an opportunity to spend time on a river trip. That specific project was Annette McGiveny’s idea after writing about domestic violence and its effect in a book called ‘Pure Land.’
That partnership is only one of many that the Family Violence Institute provides. The institute also provides a camping trip for the kids twice a year. It also provides the services the child and family can access throughout the year: therapists for the family and resource information referral, whether that is connection with housing, school camps and criminal justice support.
Intensive case management covers all of that.
“We look at the family and we work with the caregiver to identify the needs and then we have a plan,” Hulen said. “Those needs may change from week to week or month to month. But we have a case management coordinator who advocates and who works one-on-one with those families to make sure they’re receiving the emotional support and therapy needed.”
All of the services the Family Violence Institute provides are at no cost to the families and they do take referrals from different agencies around the state.
“Any agency that’s serving that family can certainly make a referral,” Hulen said. “The caregiver or family themselves, if they are in the situation, they can reach out and ask for services as well.”
The institute also works with victim service centers and family advocates throughout the state for referral services.
“We’re a fairly new project, so I think some areas of northern Arizona are not familiar with us, Hulen said.
While the 3,000 cases is a statistic nationwide, in Arizona Hulen said there are about a 100 people the institute is working with right now and several of those are in northern Arizona.
She said she is glad the Family Violence Institute is there to provide services to families and children in need.
“We’re really glad to be doing it but we wish we didn’t need to,” Hulen said.
More information about the Arizona Child and Adolescent Survivor Initiative is available by calling (928) 523-2119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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