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The sheer number of domestic violence (DV) victims in Wayne County (WC), the most populated and crime-ridden county in the state, prompted the formation of the much-needed Wayne County Council Against Family Violence (WCCAFV) in 1990. In 1995 First Step (FS) initiated a subgroup consisting of: the three DV non-profit service providers in WC at the time (Women’s Justice Center/My Sisters Place, YWCA/Interim House, FS); law enforcement (City of Detroit PD, City of Taylor PD, WC Sheriff’s Dept.), and criminal justice (WC Prosecuting Attorney, WCCAFV). Goals of the subgroup included enhancing the community’s coordinated collaborative response to DV, decreasing injury and death to victims, children, police and bystanders by holding perpetrators accountable, aiding successful prosecution, saving dollars in medical and criminal justice costs and freeing up police officers to combat other crimes. Later that year the Inkster PD joined the above listed group of participants. As the years have progressed the collaborations have expanded to over 20 communities.
These original communities are racially diverse/economically disadvantaged and were chosen as pilots for their high volume of DV cases and the lack of resources to adequately respond to these crimes.
The success of this model brought in additional funds allowing the teams to expand and evolve into serving the majority of the county. Some of the partners who dropped from the original collaboration project went on to duplicate the FS model, but under separate coordination (Interim House now coordinates the systems within the city of Detroit). FS continues to meet regularly with all WC domestic violence non-profit service providers, police, and prosecutors.
When the collaboration parties first convened, the group unanimously decided that FS should take the lead in overseeing the group collaboration efforts, although all parties continue to maintain equal authority in the responsibility and decision making for the group. The individual parties come together to address critical issues facing victims and their families. FS is able to identify gaps, spearhead grant seeking efforts, suggest how best to allocate funds and resources, ensure meetings are held regularly, maintain records of decisions, and record and share effective (as well as ineffective) strategies.
We continue to meet the varied and complex needs of our communities in the face of adversity and economic hardship. When federal funding was cut after 9/11, staffing gaps were filled with other funding sources to allow for continued model services and for these vital collaborations to persevere.
As prosecutors, victim advocates and investigating officers leave their positions and new employees are hired, the challenges of recruiting and training new staff are ongoing. It requires diligently working together to provide state-of-the-art training for all related systems to bring participants effectively on board with the mission of the collaborative efforts.
These systems work together on a daily basis on thousands of cases a year. All of the systems' key players view this important work as more than a job because it is lifesaving for many of the families we serve. The more we do together, the more we see there is to do. Each of the professions involved brings their own unique perspective, which can result in conflicts among the various systems; at the same time, these collaborations have compelled the systems to work together to resolve the conflicts. Having non-profit service provider advocates working within over 20 different police departments/courts affords us a firsthand view of the crimes as they happen and a powerful voice within the team. For example, a person’s death may be initially identified as a suicide but may actually have been a victim with whom our advocate connected with in the past. This information could lead the investigation in a totally different direction. If the criminal justice response is not adequate, the perpetrator will in all likelihood regain control of the victim, in one way or another. Systems working together on these difficult cases makes real and lasting change, ultimately transforming the way our communities respond to and prevent these crimes in addition to sending a strong message of zero tolerance for violence.
Prior to this collaboration, no statistics had ever been collected and evaluated regarding the response to the crime of DV in Wayne County. The collaboration quickly expanded to include Wayne State University’s School of Social Work, as a research partner. Their role was to develop design tools which would evaluate the services provided by the multi-disciplinary teams and perform the ongoing analysis. The written and verbal responses gathered from victims served by the teams, in addition to comprehensive surveys of judges, probation/police officers, prosecutors and court administrators have been overwhelmingly positive. One lesson learned was that the systems' personnel saw a desperate need to conduct more outreach and public awareness in the community about the available services.
The successful collaborations formed here have gone on to lay the groundwork for establishing state-wide collaborations/task forces. Lessons learned are used to teach others, capitalizing on successes while helping prevent the repetition of unsuccessful activities. This model program has been replicated both in the state and on a national level.
Some of the original community collaborators have joined DV task forces, legislative panels and government committees and are utilizing their experience to make a positive difference in law enforcement, criminal justice and service provision in the area of DV, expanded most recently to include the areas of sexual assault and stalking, at local, state and federal levels.
The Collaboration has allowed traditionally underserved survivors to get more immediate access to desperately needed services. Now having these advocates located in the communities means for some survivors that an advocate is just around the corner.
It has been determined that providing immediate crisis intervention within the survivor’s community is the most effective way to provide safety and promote healing and options. The Collaboration allows the non-profit service providers like First Step and Interim House working together to provide early, proactive intervention for survivors, including the most vulnerable and under-served victims of violence (such as the disabled, elderly and survivors with limited English proficiency) when they are in crisis and most in need.
Previously working as independent entities, systems/non-profit service providers personnel were not able to benefit from each other’s strengths or expertise. Now we are able to take action as a team, working side-by-side, providing a more comprehensive, effective approach as we all work to keep families safe, and simultaneously hold the perpetrators accountable.
Due to the current economic climate, resources for prosecuting domestic and sexual crimes have decreased, particularly within Wayne County (the most populated and crime-ridden county in our state). Cutbacks of prosecutors and police officers would surely have led to less Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault victims receiving legal support. This collaboration effort has enabled over the years as many as four specially trained prosecutors to be funded as well as several police officers to continue services. Advocates from First Step gather critical information about lethality and safety, as well as assist the victim with various aspects of prosecution, court preparation, and safety planning that would not otherwise be possible. First Step, as fiduciary and lead partner, has successfully written and obtained grants for several million dollars to include all systems, resulting in immediate, significant, lasting changes. We’ve enabled the training of hundreds of police officers and prosecutors, as well as training of victim advocates within the other systems, which would otherwise never have occurred.
By locating advocates at community sites such as police departments and courts, costs are reduced through shared office space, equipment, and office support along with less travel within the county. Through their vast support base, First Step provided in-kind donations of PC’s, fax machines and other office equipment to police departments and courts who had no funds to purchase these needed resources.
METHODOLOGIES - Wayne State University Social Services department formally researched and evaluated the success of this project, resulting in three publications: "An ecological study of nonresidential services for battered women within a comprehensive community protocol for domestic violence" (Weisz, et al, 1998); "Legal advocacy for domestic violence survivors: The power of an informative relationship" (Weisz, 1999); "An evaluation of victim advocacy within a team approach" (Weisz, et. al., 2004).
FINDINGS: Advocates lent a supportive, empathetic presence and possessed valuable information. Advocates' relationships with survivors enabled them to take further legal actions against batterers. An active, relational helping model meets essential needs for some survivors of crime. When a woman received battered women's services or had a protective order, a completed court case was more likely and numbers of arrests rose. These associations were strongest when women received both battered women's services and at least one protective order.
There is also an ongoing study within the same dept. (by Poco Kernesmith, PhD) on women and sexual violence, but that study is not yet completed. We are committed through thorough evaluations to continue to improve service response for victims as needed.
The project continues to collect data from survivors and community partners to conduct ongoing evaluation of the tremendous efforts of all of the partners. This approach to services and systems’ change has been revered by the key players involved, from domestic violence victims to police officers to detectives to judges to Survivor Advocates. In a 2006 survey, 96% of clients indicated they “now have increased knowledge on the range of legal options”, 94% indicated they “felt supported during criminal justice proceedings”, 95% indicated they “understood their role going through the court process” and of those attending on-going counseling 100% found “the program helpful to their healing process”, 100% “have an increased understanding about the natural responses to trauma”, and 100% now have “access to information about community resources they might need in the future”.
Prior to the collaboration the four systems (police, prosecutors, courts, and victim advocates) had a fragmented approach to keeping victims safe; in fact at times the systems worked against each other due to a lack of understanding of each other’s goals. First Step contacted the systems and set up a sub-committee to analyze and determine what was wrong with the current approach and to correct the existing structure:
• the absolute failure of existing efforts to address the problem
• the pressing need for innovation
• the scarcity of resources
• recognition of mutual needs and purpose among the different systems
• shared responsibility for the problem as well as the solution
The decided goal was to establish an understanding of each other’s system while at the same time creating the greatest safety for victims exposed to violence. Collaborators unanimously voted that First Step take the lead in convening ongoing meetings that ultimately led to setting up an innovative approach that has made a dramatic and lasting change across all of Wayne County in our response to domestic and sexual violence.
The collaborative effort established trust and built relationships among the systems leading to organizational and systemic change. Within the first week alone we saw the positive results from even the rudimentary trust that was already established: A batterer and his girlfriend accused a woman of attacking them so that she was incarcerated. Because of the shared information made possible by the newly established relationship between police and victim advocates, the assailant and his accomplice were successfully prosecuted. Prior to this established trust and removal of barriers between systems, the accused woman would have remained in jail.
With similar successes like this, we knew we were on the right track! First Step went on to lead the effort in providing resources & major government funding so that additional, specially recruited prosecutors and police officers could be hired and provided with cross-training, as NO training had ever previously occurred. First Step then began placing specially trained advocates on teams with the other systems.
When we first came together we looked at the inordinate amount of responses to crimes resulting from domestic violence and the infinitesimal amount of prosecution success. Initially we believed we would see a higher rate of successful prosecutions, but as the collaboration evolved we’ve realized that what victims want (and need) is to be SAFE and for the VIOLENCE TO STOP.
Although we’ve learned a lot, the methodology and tracking of statistics was not a primary goal because of minimal resources and the fact that Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault crimes were lumped together with other crimes under the Uniform Crime Act. They are now tracked separately, but it’s still difficult to divide them. With more resources we are better able to track changes.
We’ve also wanted to track the additional number of people we’ve reached with resources and options that weren’t previously being provided to them as the economic crisis continues to impact resources. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking services because they recognize that Wayne County systems are treating Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault differently than occurred prior to this collaboration project.
With decreasing resources, we’ve seen a DECREASE in successful prosecutions due to less police and prosecutorial staffing. Only by systems working together will we have greater opportunities to successfully prosecute the high-level, lethal cases. Our goals are to focus on the education of the systems, determine the potential for lethality, and make resources available so that all victims will be provided with options (Personal Protective Orders, housing, supportive services, etc.).
WHY SHOULD THIS COLLABORATION WIN THE COLLABORATION PRIZE?
Victim advocacy agencies like First Step and First Responders rarely receive recognition for their work; YET THE SERVICES WE PROVIDE ARE FAR-REACHING, CRITICAL AND LIFE AFFIRMING AND OFTEN LIFE-SAVING. This is especially true in the large and highly populated crime-ridden area of Wayne County, Michigan. Over the past 15 years SIGNIFICANT AND MEANINGFUL CHANGE has taken place in Wayne County as related to Domestic Violence and the response of systems that come in contact with victims. Relationships that had been strained (and in some cases adversarial) have been TRANSFORMED by this collaboration project. First Responders are more informed, better trained, and empathetic. Victims have greatly benefitted from the time, effort, resources and close working relationships that have created a team approach. There is now a history of collaborating and sharing of resources to enhance the response to victims. We continue to be creative and efficient in difficult times to keep our community safe. We are more effective at reaching those in need as well as maintaining an effective team that will IMPACT TENS OF THOUSANDS OF FAMILIES IN THE FUTURE.
Still, the community need is enormous and opportunities for expansion are great. The award of this prize would bring much-deserved notoriety to the partners and project as a whole. It would also heighten awareness of the issues in addition to allocating much-needed resources to help build peaceful families and safe communities in Wayne County. Recognition will encourage more victims to come forward for help, send a message to abusers that Wayne County takes Domestic Violence seriously, as well as to provide needed resources to continue our critical work.
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