According to Mary Anne Metheny, President and CEO of Hope House in eastern Jackson County, “Domestic violence is not solely an individual issue, but an issue the entire community needs to be aware of and involved in if we’re ever going to eliminate it.” Addressing it in a way that truly helps children means focusing on the family unit by helping the abused parent, empowering them to be there for their kids.
This family-style approach is more than just safe housing, which is vitally important. But over nearly 40 years, Hope House has learned providing long-term solutions means removing all of the obstacles hindering a family from living a life free of abuse. It requires a multitude of services, including court advocacy, assisting with child visitations, therapy and more.
A 3-Pronged Approach to Go Beyond Safe Housing
For Hope House, COVID did more than obstruct services. On the positive side, it was also the disruptor that triggered their staff to see more options. The result? A pivot in services to a 3-pronged approach that would serve more kids and families in more ways. Hope House opted to:
- Retain their safe, transitional housing
- Expand housing to a hotel program
- Add a program to assist families with the money they need to stay in their current homes, purchase a new home, or rent.
What they learned is that case managers were free to serve more kids and parents. They also quickly saw the value of helping families avoid coming into shelter and keeping them in their home. If they could take appropriate steps (like changing locks) to make their current home safe, kids could stay in their home, have their friends close, remain in their school, and work through therapy without adding more trauma to an already traumatic situation.
For some, coming into shelter is the safest option. And that’s okay. Unfortunately, COVID limited the number of people they could house, which added even more value to this new 3-pronged shelter approach. All families, however, can receive any of the services Hope House offers, including:
- Court Advocacy
- Contract Attorneys
- Individual and Group Counseling
- Hospital Advocacy Program
- Safe Visitation Center (the Guardian Program)
Every program at Hope House was developed out of needs clients had. Funding from the Children’s Services Fund (CSF) plays an integral role in two of these programs — the Guardian Program and Children’s Advocacy & Therapy Program.
The Guardian Program Provides Safe Visitation and an Avenue for Healing
Unfortunately, offenders can see child drop offs and visitations as an opportunity for reoffense, stalking, or using children as a tool of retaliation toward the other parent. Even more unfortunately, domestic violence can escalate and become lethal. Not only is the custodial parent in danger, but so are the children and any other family members or friends present. When 3 local domestic violence incidents during drop offs turned lethal, Hope House started the Guardian Program as a support for custodial parents. But they quickly realized it was really for the kids.
The Guardian Program addresses several needs:
- Providing safe drop offs before and after visitations. Parents are in separate parking lots, have different timed arrivals and departures, and do not have contact. This way, children can avoid further altercations between their parents.
- Supervising visitations to encourage relationship building between children and the offending parent in safe, healthy ways. An off-duty police officer is present, metal detectors are used, bags are searched and rules are followed, especially regarding what offending parents can and can’t say to their children. It creates a safe environment where kids feel empowered to use their voice and (at times) confront their parent about prior abuse. They feel protected by other trusted adults and can experience healing along the way.
- Assisting court-ordered visitations so kids are not left alone with the offending parent. Often, if visitations are court-ordered, the children have likely suffered abuse by the offending parent. In these cases, code words are determined and therapists monitor visitations, take notes, and report back to the court as needed.
The CSF offered critical funding during COVID that supplied the technology and equipment necessary for this program to continue through virtual visitation.
Children’s Advocacy Program to Help Kids Enjoy Childhood
Offered to families sheltering at Hope House or as an outreach to those who’ve moved on, Hope House offers therapy to adults and kids. A few of the many benefits: 1) the custodial parent gets the support they need to make parenting decisions, 2) kids don’t have to worry about their parents, and 3) kids get to focus on school, their friends, and enjoying their childhood.
To facilitate this program, Hope House works directly with local universities to supply in-field experience to students working on degrees or practicums as children’s advocates. Their role is to:
- Enroll kids in school
- Oversee their health and dental needs
- Provide experiences for kids through group- and after-school activities and field trips
- Work with the children while their parent is receiving help also
What’s at Stake & What’s to Come
One thing is certain: without critical funding from the CSF, the Guardian Program would be at stake — and so would the mental health and wellbeing of local kids challenged by domestic violence. Funding also provides more children’s advocates to assist in the Children’s Advocacy & Therapy Program. Since 2019, these 2 programs have served 758 children. This year alone, Hope House is projected to help 225 children.
But Hope House is . . . well, hope-full. They’re making plans for the future! Seeing how important prevention work is, they’re taking a community based-approach to repurposing and revitalizing their Lee’s Summit shelter.
Learn more about Hope House and the significant impact our funded partner organizations are making by downloading our 2021 Report. Their work and our understanding of how vital support is for kids’ mental health is what’s best for our community.
*Hope House does not offer services to assist the abuser.