Home Free: A Child Advocacy and Parent Support Service for Families

In my first post for the first month of this new year, I shared my story by offering readers A look at Domestic Violence. I gave an overview of my personal history and the struggles that my family and I have experienced, which have been clearly identified by others as Domestic Violence. “Others” being my now adult children, friends and acquaintances, and various professions/service providers over the years. Yet, I’ve always struggled with the labels, categorizations, and definitions which are associated with the words: Domestic Violence.

In Changing Perceptions, I asked several questions about what comes to mind for you when you read or hear the words Domestic Violence. If you’re anything like me, you may think of a manipulative, control-freak, who is on a massive power trip, and truly enjoys the systematic destruction and subjugation of the ego and personal identity of the partner in the relationship. You know, the sociopathic stalkers in movies like Sleeping With the Enemy and Enough.

According to the Parenting Support Advocate with the VOA Home Free program I met with, it takes an average of seven attempts for a person who has experienced Domestic Violence to leave the abusive relationship permanently. “Average” meaning that there are those who may have done so successfully the first try and others who had to make many more attempts, combine all of the reported efforts and divide by the number of people who were queried in the research and that’s the average number.

I shared with her how uncomfortable I have been with the DV label and it’s associated titles/roles: Batterer, Abuser, Victim, Surviver, Perpetrator, Willing Participant. I’m not uncomfortable with or opposed to them when they are applied to situations and circumstances with clear-cut physical and verbal abuse where the one party physically harms and/or uses verbal threats, violent language, and uses his or her body and words in a way to diminish and control the other party. It’s the situations and circumstances like the one I have been in where the actions and behaviors of the “abuser” are more likely the result of a combination of neurological/cognitive developmental delays which are less than obvious in combination with some unidentified & untreated mental health issues, which may be a combination of genetics and environmental factors present during the developmental years of infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Especially when that person has made the effort to grow and change through participation in therapuetic processes.

The outcomes may be similar, if not identical. Which is why it is so often met with the overly simplistic method of categorization, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . . ”

I’m a very firm believer in, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

The representative from the Home Free program has been very constructive for me to speak to, interact with, and learn from. She has not informed me of her view and take of my situation and circumstances. She hasn’t tried to convince me why I should use or accept these labels or define what I have experienced as Domestic Violence. She has listened with clear intention to understand me and my experiences. She has not given me “knowing” looks or sly glances when I have spoken about the difficulties I have with the labels which are part and parcel of receiving services through the domestic violence resources and systems. She has reassured me that I am the expert on my life and on my relationships and that she is here as an Advocate for me, not as a therapist, counselor, or other service provider.

When we met for the second time, yesterday, it was in my home. She and I met in the living room while the Child Advocate met with my five year old daughter and they played together in her room full of toys. The Child Advocate is not a play therapist, but her role is to be present and engaged with the child, following the child’s lead during play and interaction. If the child brings up emotions or thoughts which are difficult or confusing regarding anything the child has witnessed or experienced, whether it is related to the relationship issues between the partners in the domestic violence relationship or anything else, then the Child Advocate’s task it to help the child talk through and process those thoughts and feelings in healthy and constructive ways, understanding that he/she is not in any way responsible for any of the things which have happened or responsible for the feelings and words of others.

Historically, I have not done a great job at seeing and understanding when my children were experiencing difficulties in how they were perceiving and internalizing those perceptions regarding the things I was dealing with in our lives together. Dealing with the cycles of depression and hypomania, being severely codependent, and not having processed and dealt with my own emotional and psychological trauma from childhood all blinded and deafened me to the things my two oldest children were struggling with. I did the best I could to get them help and services, connect them to others who seemed more knowledgeable or better qualified than myself, to help them. However, I wasn’t emotionally or psychologically present and available to help them as their mother. I’m determined to do better by their youngest sibling.

That is why I’m so grateful to the Home Free program and the people I am working with in it. They are not only able to see and advocate for what my littlest is experiencing, they are here to help me see and advocate for her as well.

Volunteers of America Home Free Program

Emergency Hotline: (503) 771-5503 (Mon – Fri, 8AM – 6PM)

Business Line: (503) 239-3929

“Home Free’s mission is to assist adults and children surviving domestic violence to move not just toward safety, but toward freedom and all that the word home suggests.

Our programs provide long-term, post-crisis support designed to prevent victims from having to return to an abusive home. Our commitment to reaching survivors means mobile, active advocacy that reduces the barriers to domestic violence support services. All of our services are free, flexible, and individualized, and driven by survivors’ needs and goals.”

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Depression: Finding more threads to hang on by

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In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I’ve spent a significant amount of my almost 30 years of parenting dealing with chronic physical and mental health issues. I was first identified as depressed as a young adolescent. My first diagnosis of fibromyalgia happened by the time I was 20. My son was born when I was 17 and I’d just turned 24 when my oldest daughter was born.

The impacts and effects that living with a parent experiencing these things without sufficient understanding, knowledge, and support in dealing with them, have been very much like is experienced by children who grow up with an alcoholic or drug addicted parent.

The mental and emotional instability which results in children taking on adult responsibilities (like parenting their siblings) combine with the parent’s inability to sustain basic needs with consistency: housing, utilities, and community resulting in chaotic lives lived from one crisis to the next.

I’ll let you in on a little secret – no one sets out to live a life of chaos, confusion, and fear-based decision making. It comes from a combination of nature and nurture. Things experienced in our environments as we grow up can trigger and exacerbate predispositions and latent tendencies.

Without early identification and constructive intervention to understand, educate, and train people in how to differentiate emotion from reality and self-regulate their emotional and psychological responses to stressors, children experience a variety of attachment disorders and act out in ways that are all to often dismissed as phases they will grow out of or attributed gender, class, race, etc. These same children get passed on, shifted around, and their maladaptive coping behaviors turn into character defects and personality disorders.

You can’t learn what you were never taught. You can’t grow seeds which were never planted. A broken vessel cannot put itself back together and generally isn’t responsible for breaking itself. Yet, every single day in all kinds of ways this is what we are expecting of ourselves and the people around us – to be capable of being and doing the things we aren’t equipped for and then deprecating, diminishing, and demoralizing ourselves and others for not meeting unrealistic expectations to be something we aren’t.

Mix that in with stessors such as job loss, death of a loved one, or a government shut down and the scenario for triggering a depressive episode in someone prone to depression, is pretty much guaranteed. Trying to make ends meet, trying to ensure my children’s psycho-social development needs were being met, all while consumed with guilt and depression didn’t work well. However, despite how difficult things were and the twisted paths they wound up choosing, some things must have helped, otherwise much more severe consequences would have been realized by us all.

Here are a few of the resources I have accessed over the years, which may be helpful to you or someone you know who is experiencing depression:

  • School-based counselors/therapists: middle school, high school, and college. If they can’t provide the level and depth of services needed by the individual and the family, they are the first person who has knowledge and access to resources which can help. They can meet with the individual and the family and create an action plan to address the current situation and beyond.
  • Crisis phone lines to help someone who feels too close to the edge of feeling overwhelmed with despair and/or rage who might be feeling on the verge of causing harm to self or others:

Multnomah County Department of Human Services: Crisis Number</a> 503-988-4888. Toll-free at 1-800-716-9769

Boys Town National Hotline: 1-800-448-3000. Serving teens and parents in crisis. Suicide prevention.

National Parent Helpline: 1-855- 4A PARENT • 1-855-427-2736

  • Employee Assistance Program: Just about every employer has an EAP service, available at no cost to their employees, even if the employees are not eligble for any other benefits. Depending on the employer and the contracted services, the employee may be able to access their EAP for three or more sessions a year for free. Since it is so short term, the employee can utilize the available sessions to do some problem solving and goal setting around accessing longer term services. EAP is available to help with any employee issue that could impair that employee’s ability to perform his or her job, including things like compulsive behavior issues, substance abuse/addiction, grief counseling, and any other psychological, emotional, or relational disruption or disturbance. Even if you work part-time at a minimum wage job, the chances are high that the employer has an EAP program. Contact the Human Resources Department to find out for sure what is available.
  • Medicaid/State-based health plan (OHP): Under the Healthy Kids Oregon program, the state of Oregon has health care coverage for all children under 18 whose families income qualify for the program. This preceeded the Affordable Care Act which will open up Medicaid to many adults who are currently uninsured who fall within 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, effective January 1, 2014 (Unless Congress succeeds in unfunding the ACA as part of the shutdown resolution). At any rate, if the child is covered under the Oregon Health Plan, mental health services for the family can be accessed. Since a parent’s mental health is critical and essential to the healthy care and nurture of the child, a parent who is experiencing mental health challenges and disturbances can receive mental health services under their child’s benefits, as long as the child is included as part of the service planning and is identified as benefiting from the services.
  • Child Protective Services: This agency has a scary reputation because they have the power and authority to remove children from a home if a report of child abuse or neglect is made and the investigator determines there is sufficient cause to do so. However, the people who are working in that system genuinely care about the welfare of the children and know that keeping families together or working toward reunification is always the first preference for all parties. When parents are mentally and emotionally unwell and overwhelmed, it can feel like the workers are unsympathetic, uncaring, and as if they may have it in for the parents. This is seldom the case, but it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because the parents are suspicious, fearful, feeling threatened and react with belligerance and resentment, often being combative and resistant to what the worker and the agency are trying to offer the family. Parents who reach out for help and self-identify as needing additional supports can often be connected with and referred to a community based service agency which can provide supportive services to help the parent through the initial crisis and get connected to ongoing services which will improve their stability and ability to successfully manage the multiple roles and responsibilities associated with parenting.

Essentially, the parent who is experiencing any form of mental and emotional disturbance, disruption, or detrioration needs to do the thing that feels the most dangerous and counter-intuitive. He or she needs to reach out and talk to a professional or trained volunteer who can and will help with listening in a non-judgmental manner, work with the parent to identify and assess needs, and provide resource and referral information and connections.

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