Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Family Reunited

There are an astounding 624 children currently in the county’s foster care system. Our CASA program has only 134 volunteer advocates to support 368 children, and 9 Program Specialists to support 256 children. And, on average there are 35 new children who need advocates each month. With your support, we will be able to recruit, screen and train more volunteers and staff who can provide advocacy for our most vulnerable children.

CASA volunteers can attest to the poignant reality, sorrows, and joys of their critical involvement with the program. Take this account as told by a Clark County CASA volunteer, a story of persistence and transformation, as an example of the impact CASA has on the lives of children whom desperately need a voice:

The woman whose case I was assigned started out as a foster child herself. The family who adopted her from the system ultimately abandoned her. Unfortunately, as an adult she became involved in unsafe relationships that resulted in the birth of her son with a man who abused her and introduced drug experimentation, leading to her addiction. When Child Protective Services removed her son, she left her abuser, but was simultaneously experiencing emotional and physical abuse, addiction, untreated mental health diagnosis, and homelessness. The mother’s homelessness and drug addiction had control of her life for the first year of her dependency case.

The turning point was when she realized she had to get her life together in order to get her son back. She sought services at YWCA Clark County and accessed domestic violence support through our SafeChoice program. She eventually found housing, enrolled in parenting classes and continued her addiction treatment, all in an effort to provide a better life for her son.
Her case workers continually recognized what a strong woman she was and that nothing was going to stop her from gaining complete control over her life and be the best parent she could be. She applied for a Family Unification Program housing voucher and was denied but applied again and with over 10 supportive references from community members, was approved and would be moving her and her son to their own apartment.

I will never forget the first time I saw her and her son in their new home. She said for the first time in her life, she has her own place and gets to share it with her little boy! After six months of continued progress, growth, and success as a now single mom, her case was dismissed. She is two years clean and sober, found healing from her past, and felt empowered to handle the current and future challenges of raising a child on her own.

I collaborated with her attorney and independent social worker and ensured that the resources she needed to help with drug treatment, housing, critical medical, daycare, and educational services for her son. But most importantly, my conversations with her along her journey are what stick with me the most. She said people believing in her made it possible for her not to give up on herself.  

I am so thankful I had the opportunity to witness this incredible journey and that I had a small part in the creation of a brand new happy, healthy, and safe family.”
-Heather Redman, CASA Volunteer

YWCA Clark County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program operates on the principle that every child has the right to a safe, permanent, and loving home. When CASA volunteers are sworn-in by a Judge, they commit to representing the best interests of children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. For many of these children, their CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence in their lives.

The CASA volunteer speaks for the child in the courtroom and ensures they don’t get lost in the complicated legal and social service system. Due to the advocacy and services of YWCA Clark County CASA, recently twelve children returned to their homes, and four children were adopted or gained guardianship. Notwithstanding these accomplishments, Clark County’s CASA program is still lacking sufficient volunteers and staff to meet the growing needs of all children in foster care.

Please consider a gift that will help us raise vital funds for CASA to provide quality representation, like Heather, for all children in need of an advocate. Your support could save the life of a child. When you support CASA, YOU are an advocate for the children of Clark County. Please help us ensure sure that all the children in our community are safe and well-nurtured. Your donation will help make this happen.

Monday, October 10, 2016


By: Tashina Johnson, SafeChoice Domestic Violence Advocate

Imagine you are a 15 year old girl. Your life up to this point has consisted of being verbally, psychologically and emotionally abused by your father, all while watching him physically abuse your mother. There have been endless trips to the hospital with broken ribs, blackened eyes and cuts to your mother’s body. You have run away from home twice in an attempt to get help and be free from the constant terror only to be returned. The CPS worker who interviewed your mother after your second attempt to flee did so with the abuser by her side leaving her little options in communicating the danger that presided in the household. Local law enforcement, while being advised of the situation, has done nothing to help your family, no resources, no interventions, nothing. You are desperate and the only way that you can see a way out of the cycle of abuse is to end the life of the person terrorizing your family. So one night after coming home to yet more violence you take the very gun which your father said he would use to kill you and your family and you shoot him while he’s sleeping. You are free or the terror. But instead of being supported by the very systems that failed to protect you when you pleaded for help, they now seek to imprison you for the rest of your life. This is the story of 15 year old Bresha Meadows.

This story though sad is all too familiar. A 1992 study found that, of the approximately 280 parental killings in 1990, approximately 90 percent involved children who had been victims of constant and severe abuse. “Typically, [the killing of a parent] cases involve children who are denied or provided minimal assistance and, seeing no alternative, resort to self-help by killing the abusive parents using brutal methods in non-confrontational situations,” noted study author Susan C. Smith. (Law, 2016) These children are then thrown into a legal system that according to the NAACP statistics, systematically incarcerates people of color 6 times the rate of whites. African American youth represent 26% of juveniles arrested, 44% of those detained, and 58% of the youth admitted into state prisons. They are 21% more likely to get the mandatory minimum sentence and 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison than whites.

Bresha has become yet another victim of the intersectional racism perpetrated in the criminal justice system against African Americans and even worse as a woman of color she is now invisible. She sits in a cell at the Trumbull County Detention Center in Warren, Ohio facing aggravated murder charges that, if charged as an adult for a premeditated crime, will carry a life sentence. She has been there since July 28th, 2016 and is now battling depression.

While there is a grassroots movement (#freebresha) making some traction the lack of media coverage is appalling. Bresha is not white and she is not a male so she is less politically appeasing to champion in the mainstream media. What’s worse is Bresha is a victim of domestic violence in a society that still questions whether the victim is at fault for crimes committed against them. For victims of domestic violence it is particularly hard to end the cycle of abuse since the system is not set up to be survivor centered. Often times this plays out in systematic injustice such as cuts to financial assistance programs, the lack of affordable housing and the lack of trauma informed services in our schools and criminal justice system.

The system has failed to protect Bresha and others like her but we simply cannot. Bresha’s life must matter, her story must be heard, and we must stand in solidarity with victims of domestic violence instead of persecuting them after they are forced to take extreme measures. I implore you to reach out to or Girls for Gender equity to donate or sign a letter in support of Bresha.

October is domestic violence awareness month and this year our theme is “what does a survivor look like”. Well a survivor looks like me, you, and it looks like Bresha.

So let’s imagine you are 15 years old and you are being abused at home. You runaway once and when asked why, you tell law enforcement and family members about the terror awaiting you. They quickly take action and provide much needed survivor-centered services. They offer your mother a protection order because although last time she was fearful of leaving, this time she has a system of protection behind her and she’s ready to take that next step. When CPS gets involved they interview her in a safe location away from her abuser allowing her to fully disclose what’s been hiding inside the four walls of your “home”. And when she does in fact decide to leave there are resources for affordable housing and financial assistance to make the transition less traumatizing. The systems that are there to protect you do just that. Bresha is free. Just imagine.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Why We Need Proposition 1

By: Michelle Polek, Domestic Violence Prevention Specialist
and other SafeChoice advocates

A few weekends ago, YWCA Clark County advocates joined the Bring Vancouver Home campaign to knock on doors and share information about Proposition 1 with our community. Proposition 1 is a ballot measure that would create an Affordable Housing Fund, which would help to create safe, affordable housing for all of Vancouver’s residents.

I had some great conversations with folks who were interested in learning more. An interaction that particularly stuck with me, however, was with one gentleman who appeared to be quite skeptical when I told him that 2200 kids in the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts are currently homeless. His disbelief seemed to only increase when I further explained that many of those who are homeless (including families with children) are fleeing domestic violence. At SafeChoice, our domestic violence advocates regularly meet with survivors who are looking for and cannot find safe housing – for themselves and for their children.

I’m not sure that either of us walked away from that conversation feeling fully satisfied. This interaction really reminded me about the importance of raising awareness about how the issues of domestic violence and safe housing are intertwined.
One of the most frustrating widespread myths about domestic violence is the idea that survivors can simply leave their abusive partners. Not only does this myth place the burden of stopping violence on survivors (rather than holding abusers accountable), it ignores a very basic fact: oftentimes, survivors have limited funds and nowhere to go. And in Vancouver, the housing crisis means that survivors and their families have especially few options.

    The reality that many survivors face is a choice between sleeping in their car (if they have one), staying in an unsafe environment, or returning to an abusive relationship. I think about the many folks that I have worked with who only had that option, and as an advocate this feels helpless. As a society, we continue to send the message out that if you just leave your abuser, then it will all be ok. Advocates and survivors alike know that it is not that simple.
    -Caroline Bartlett, Director of SafeChoice

At SafeChoice we are committed to providing empowering services for survivors of domestic violence. Our community office is a safe space for survivors to tell their stories and talk about how to keep themselves and their children safer. When safe housing is a survivor’s need, however, all too often the support that we can provide is limited. Housing support available within the community is limited, too.

    The housing crisis has escalated in the eleven years I have been an advocate with SafeChoice. Our program participants have rental barriers because of domestic violence, or are financially unable to find affordable housing due to domestic violence. There are few affordable places to go, and very little financial help to lift them out of a crisis. We need solutions to keep families safe.
    - Margo Priebe, Legal Advocacy Specialist

I am incredibly proud of the work that SafeChoice does to support survivors. I have seen our advocates spend hours calling on countless resources to secure even one night of safe housing so that a survivor and her child would not have to sleep in the rain. Half of the people who stay in our shelter currently are able to exit to transitional or permanent housing. Although this statistic might seem low, in our community it demonstrates survivors’ determination to find safe housing as well as our SafeChoice shelter staff’s tireless advocacy. Our shelter advocates work around the clock to look for resources, provide support for survivors, and collaborate with community partners to help reduce survivors’ barriers. Even then, a 60-day stay is often not long enough to secure housing. Fifteen percent exit to other shelters or to an unknown location. Thirty-five percent are able to find space with friends or family, but for many this is by no means a permanent or even safe solution.

    Oftentimes, due to the isolation by the abuser, these are complicated relationships. There are resentments and safety concerns that might not have been considered prior to moving in together – are they all at risk of abuse now? The kids don’t feel like they’re in a stable place and can have troubles at school and with their safe parent. Getting out sooner rather than later is a priority. Having affordable housing is a key element to helping families become free of abuse.
    -Vicki Hipp, DSHS Advocacy Specialist

Supporting Proposition 1 is one concrete thing that you can do to support survivors of domestic violence. If you live in Vancouver, vote for Prop 1 on November 8th. Encourage your friends and family to do so as well. Reach out to people in your communities and help them understand Prop 1 – most people who learn more about this measure will then support it! You can find out more about the specifics at the Bring Vancouver Home website. If you are interested in helping to go door-to-door to raise awareness about Prop 1, there are weekend shifts every weekend from now until November 6th. You can also volunteer to phone bank or put up a sign in your yard – sign up at Bring Vancouver Home.

Together, we can empower survivors in Vancouver by allowing them to have more safe options for themselves and their children. We can show that our community values everyone’s right to a home free of violence.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Perspective on Orlando

By: Ariella Frishberg, Sexual Assault Program Prevention Specialist

My first instinct as I processed the shooting at a gay bar in Orlando on Sunday morning that resulted in the death of 49 people and injured another 53 (primarily LGBTQ folk of Latinx descent) was to stay silent. To put my head down, do my work, and grieve behind closed doors. To let someone else speak up, not because I am speechless, but because I am so tired of being the one speaking.

As I sit at my desk, listening to the “Pulse” playlist Spotify has already created and trying not to cry, however, I know that’s not an option. As a queer woman, this tragedy strikes too close to home for me to remain silent. I, along with many within my community, spent the last several days reeling from this event. I have had to question my safety at the Pride events this coming weekend – events that originated as a result of acts very similar to this, where police raided gay and lesbian bars and violently attempted to stop us from being who we are. Pride is supposed to be a celebration of who we are, how we love, and how far we’ve come, and yet this year, Pride will be irrevocably darkened by grief for lives lost and for how far we have yet to go. I can’t stay silent, because I need you to understand that every queer or trans person in America has spent the last week thinking, "that could have been me.”

As a white, cis person, I have even more of a responsibility to use the privilege I have to talk about this event. It is necessary that I recognize the ways in which I have access to safe spaces that many queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) do not. YWCA Clark County has been one of those safe spaces for me over the last three years, which is why I chose to write this article. I encourage those of you reading this (the majority of whom I know are white, cis, and straight) to use this as an opportunity to put the allyship we often talk about to good use. I’ve suggested some strategies for practicing allyship below. Please know I do not speak for all queer people by any means – but much of this was inspired by the thoughtful posts my community has written over the last several days.


+ Don’t lean on your LGBTQ identified friends to help you process this event. No matter who you are, it is horrifying and incomprehensible. But if you’ve never had to question whether you are safe holding your partner’s hand as you walk down the street, you cannot understand the fear that goes along with that horror and outrage.

+ Don’t let people get away with Islamophobia or xenophobia in their responses to the violence. Islam is not to blame for the hatred and violence that is rampant in our own country and was enacted by one of our own citizens.


+ Reach out to the queer and trans people in your life. Not to talk about what happened (unless they want to), but to let them know you see them. That you care about them. That they have your support.

+ Reach out to the Muslim people in your life. Not to talk about what happened (unless they want to), but to let them know you see them. That you care about them. That they have your support.

­­+ Recognize that discriminatory laws (like the bathroom laws, and others currently being passed around the country) are part of a spectrum of oppressive systems that make violence like this possible.

+ Speak up. Even if you don’t think you know anyone who is LGBTQ identified, I’m quite certain you do. And they will remember who posted something on Facebook, who spoke up in public, who interrupted an oppressive conversation, and who stayed silent. Especially for those who remain closeted, your public allyship will mean more than you can know.


Other people have posted much more coherent articles than I can put together right now. I highly recommend this short read, or this great list of concrete things you can do to help.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt of a poem I found comforting last night.

From "In Case you Ever Need It, It Is Here," by Daphne Gottlieb

"...Let your name be

The name of someone who

can do the unthinkable:

Stands up and keeps moving.

You are standing. You are taking

a shower and eating breakfast.

You are going to classes

or going to work. You are doing

impossibly hard things. Keep going

and keep going and there

is summer. Laugh even if it is

with rage. Open your mouth

and your fists. Tell the truth.

Tell a friend. Listen to someone

else's heart. It is beating a miracle. You are

Both here.

When scars are new,

They shine. Be all the glitter

You need."

This month, let's all be all the glitter we need.