Tucked into one of Kansas City’s historic neighborhoods, Newhouse has been a sanctuary for countless individuals and families for over five decades.
Founded in 1971, Newhouse is one of Kansas City’s first and oldest domestic violence shelters. Its humble beginnings trace back to a group of women attending the same church who recognized the alarming prevalence of domestic violence in their community. They initially provided essential support through food, clothing pantries, and a few beds. By 1999, Newhouse had evolved into its present-day form, an 88-bed shelter with a renewed mission.
Today, Newhouse operates on an ecosystem model approach to address domestic violence. A large part of this approach revolves around providing mental health services for their residents and a an especially deep commitment to the mental health of the children and youth who are in their care. In fact, through their partnership with the CSF, Newhouse is able to offer a broad array of comprehensive programs dedicated to the emotional, social, and mental well-being of children. These include trauma-informed learning environments for young children, therapy, assessments, and counseling services for all their residents.
Falling within one of the ten service areas that the CSF funds, Individual, Group, and Family Counseling, Newhouse runs the Early Learning Center on-site for children ages six weeks through five years, and the Children’s Center for Education and Healing, which serves children from grades K-12. The Early Learning Center is distinctive in that it provides a trauma-informed environment for young children. The Children’s Center for Education and Healing ensures that school-aged children who reside at the shelter receive academic support and emotional and behavioral health services during their time at Newhouse and beyond.
Creating Space To Breathe And Heal
The Early Learning Center sets Newhouse apart from other domestic violence shelters in the county; it is the only one that offers a full-time early development program. “The Early Learning Center is directly tied to the CSF and wouldn’t be possible without them,” insisted Courtney Thomas, CEO and President of Newhouse.
She went on to explain how this particular offering allows them to not only provide shelter to parents escaping abuse but also peace of mind, knowing their children are receiving essential care as they, the parents, embark on their journey toward healing. “Very often, parents who are escaping domestic abuse situations are burdened with guilt: “How will I get better myself? How will I address my needs and provide full-time care for my children?” From this perspective, Newhouse allows parents escaping abusive situations to just … take a deep breath.”
Diving deeper into how Newhouse creates space for children’s healing, Manique Burnett, a children’s therapist at Newhouse, shared a little about using a play therapy approach. Creating a welcoming environment for their young clients is just a first step. Therapy sessions cover a broad spectrum, including crisis intervention to guide children through overwhelming emotions. Therapists provide the children with a secure space to express and manage these feelings. They are also prepared to respond therapeutically when children have breakthroughs during play that lead to the release of pent-up trauma from the violence they have witnessed.
But that’s not all; Newhouse is committed to the holistic growth of the children staying at the shelter. Ms. Burnett and her fellow therapists at Newhouse conduct weekly group sessions that offer invaluable support and skills development. The life-skills group caters to various grade levels and individual needs, addressing topics like self-confidence, drug awareness, and self-care. The emphasis is on nurturing healthy relationships as an essential part of personal growth.
Disrupting Cycles of Violence and Trauma: Empowering Emotional Growth in Children
Sean Crews, a staff member in the ELC, enthusiastically shared how he has witnessed the vitality of Newhouse’s children’s programs. “We recognize that, from the outside, it’s easy to perceive these children as trapped in cycles of violence and trauma. However, our mission is to interrupt these cycles and positively impact their brain development. By fostering positive relationships with caring adults who offer support and encourage growth while sharing decision-making power, we help children create healthy patterns, set boundaries, and express themselves positively.”
A relatively new staff member at Newhouse, Mr. Crews enthusiastically shared the impact of a Conscious Discipline approach. He has personally experienced tangible changes in children’s behavior and witnessed the development of emotional regulation as children spend time in the ELC with trained and dedicated staff. “The work is about allowing children to make decisions about what they’re feeling about what they want to do – it encourages their brains to create healthy patterns to learn how to set boundaries and learn how to express themselves in positive ways. And so we’re kind of watching their brains change! It’s so cool when you get those glimpses and see a child who was struggling with managing their emotions expressing themselves begin to, on their own, choose healthier responses.”
Ms. Thomas joined in to add how crucial it is for children to have experiences that are entirely removed from their histories of trauma and violence so they can have a vision for a new normal. Newhouse actively plans these events and takes the children on field trips to various places in the city, including Science City, the zoo, orchards, and even farming communities where they can learn what life outside the city looks like. They also organize trips to the pool, movies, sports games, and various activities to keep the children engaged and connected to the community.
Beyond that, they invite other groups to their location to offer enrichment opportunities for the children. Newhouse places a strong emphasis on active movement and mindfulness, incorporating exercises into their programs for kids. They also utilize art therapy as a valuable tool to support both the children and their families.
Expanding Services With Sustained and Innovative Partnerships
Ms. Thomas and Mr. Crews emphasized how CSF funding enables the organization to maintain a consistent presence of multiple full-time staff members within the ELC every day. This financial support plays a critical role in adjusting staff-to-child ratios; it ensures that the children in their care benefit from more personalized attention, which leads to the development of stronger bonds between children and caregivers — a crucial element of their broad mission to empower both their adult and young residents.
“Outside of the funding, one of the greatest blessings that we have experienced in our partnership with the CSF is their willingness to be innovative,” added Ms. Thomas. “They’re always thinking outside the box on how we bring solutions to children and families, always asking, “How do we serve people better? How can we serve families and children better?” So being able to brainstorm big ideas together and disrupt some of the norms has been a blessing for us.”
With the number of people seeking shelter from violent situations growing yearly, Ms. Thomas was happy to share that Newhouse will soon break ground on a new intake and healing center. “In 2022, over 30,000 people were turned away for service in the Kansas City region, which was up from 12,000 the year before,” explained Ms. Thomas. “It’s not a statistic we should be proud of, nor is the fact that Missouri ranks in the top 10 deadliest states for women to be killed by their abusers. So the fact that we can provide a place for parents to bring their children, not only creating safety for that survivor who’s being abused but safety for the child is huge.”
The new center will add 40 new beds to the shelter, making Newhouse the largest shelter in Kansas City.