Special guest Carrie Cox, executive director of Family Support Services, started the meeting with a recording of a 9-1-1 call from a child in the midst of a domestic violence case.
Cox said she met the girl, now an adult, who made that call, at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Conference. The woman reported that as a child she encountered more than 100 interventions by law enforcement or protective services to her family's home and that every relationship her mother had ended up being a domestic violence relationship.
Cox explained that domestic violence victims live with a threat daily. She said anyone could be a victim, although most are women. Domestic violence is strictly about power and control, she explained, and can happen in any type of relationship.
In 2011, there were 62 domestic violence deaths within 150 miles of Clay County. Ten of the deaths were of children.
Family Support Services began 36 years ago in Putnam County. "It was just a group of concerned citizens that got together," Cox said.
The mission of Family Support Services is to prevent child abuse and neglect in domestic violence through education guidance, intervention and prevention services.
The Putnam County office has four programs of primary services, as well as three satellite locations in surrounding counties including Clay County.
The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault program opened this week at 600 W. National Ave., Brazil.
"We will be providing advocacy services there 25 hours a week," Cox said. "In Putnam County, we have a full-time domestic violence and sexual assault program with three full-time advocates and a full-time program manager."
The program services Family Support Services offer include: Court Advocacy, protective orders, safe shelter, domestic violence education, safety plans, referrals, women's, teens and children's support groups, moving beyond abuse, compassion workshop, on-going support, educational groups and awareness programming.
Cox said she is hoping to expand their office in Clay County to eventually offer all the services.
She explained how the services have grown. In 1998, the program was serving 118 primary victims. In 2011, they were serving 531 primary victims at the Putnam County office. About 10 percent of those were Clay County residents.
"The history of the number of Clay County residents accessing service in Putnam County is approximately 35 residents each year over the last three years," Cox said. "That's when we first came to recognize that there is definitely a need in Clay County."
Family Support Services did a needs assessment to receive funding for an office in Clay County. Results from the assessment showed a definite need for the county. In 2011, 146 protective orders were granted in Clay County. To receive a protective order, there must be some type of relationship/family member or stalking incident and the person must prove violence or threats of violence. On average, Clay County's dispatch reports 20 family violence calls per month. In 2011, there were 61 arrests for domestic violence in Clay County.
"Now the good thing is that of those 61 that were arrested, those victims received court advocacy assistance," Cox said. "Your prosecutor's office here has a victim assistant that primarily works with domestic violence victims. They provide court advocacy, working with the victim on plea agreements, victim compensation and restitution, those types of things. The missing piece is the ongoing support, the crisis intervention and case management services that victims of violence and their families are in desperate need of."
Also, for the needs assessment, Family Support Services gave a survey to 148 students at Northview High School in February of this year. Verbal abuse in their current dating relationship was reported by 28 percent of the surveyed students. Twenty percent fear their partner will physically hurt them. Twenty percent reported being hit, punched, slapped or choked. Thirty percent have gone against their beliefs to please their partner, and 43 percent said their partner has prevented them from spending time with family and friends.
"That 43 percent doesn't surprise me for being the highest," Cox said. "The isolation piece is generally how domestic violence starts. It is a slow pattern of escalation that eventually gets to physical violence and in some cases death."
After the needs assessment was complete, Family Support Services was able to receive enough funding to start an office in Clay County and have a part-time advocate. On the very first day of being open, three people came in for services.
Family Support Services will be receiving all domestic violence reports from Clay County dispatch in order to contact victims, when it is safe, through phone or mail to provide them with support. Law enforcement will also be handing out resource packets to all victims in domestic cases they are called to, in order to give them information about local support services.
Even though the physical office will only be open for 25 hours a week, Owen and Putnam County advocates will be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week if needed. They will be able to respond at times of crisis.
"We're not going to just get someone through a crisis or protective order," Cox said. "Our goal is to provide long-term support and education, because it's then that you see lasting changes in someone."
Cox explained the programs need support from the surrounding community. She asked the community to refer any known victims of domestic violence to their office, as well as to send a consistent and negative message to offenders to disapprove of their actions.
She asked community members to contact their legislators and ask them to support domestic violence funding. She said the community can also support the cause by volunteering their time or making a financial contribution.
Currently, Cox said they have applied for funding to be able to have a full-time advocate in Clay County, but for now they only have enough funding to focus on victim advocacy. Eventually though, she said, they want to work on prevention and education in local schools.
"We look forward to building a very long-term relationship with this community," Cox said. "Hopefully, in 36 years, I can speak about our services in Clay County, and we can have the same history here that we do in Putnam County."
All services provided by Family Support Services are free to victims. To contact the office, call 812-442 1717 or toll-free at 855-472-1717.