I keep a top 10 list on my computer at the Family Safety Center. It’s not the top 10 in good things … but the bad things like access to health care, high incidences of adverse childhood experiences scores in children and adults, intimate partner and family violence, education rates, high incarceration rates etc.
Seems morbid, but it’s motivational for me with the staff and agency partners who perform above and beyond daily in our work to improve the lives and health of our most vulnerable family members and friends. It reminds me that every day our partnership is making a huge difference in changing the bad effects of those statistics for the better.
Tulsa does have a top 10 nationally recognized change agent in this partnership model of co-located multidisciplinary agencies, with three trend-changing programs moving the needle: to mitigate and eradicate family and intimate partner violence, identify and more effectively treat victims of multiple traumas and hold offenders accountable for their abuse.
Many of you have never heard of Tulsa’s Family Safety Center unless you or a family member or friend are a survivor of abuse or sexual assault and referred to us for help.
The center opened in 2006 as one of only 15 Family Justice Centers in the country. Today there are more than 130 one-stop-shop agencies for survivors of intimate partner and family violence, sexual assault, stalking, harassment, trafficking and elder abuse and their children. While Tulsa’s Family Safety Center was the only one in Oklahoma for many years, the movement has spawned three others in the state: Palomar in Oklahoma City, one in Shawnee-Pottawatomie County and the latest in El Reno for Canadian County. We’ve also had a hand in developing centers in Springfield, Missouri, and in Wichita, Kansas.
Your Family Safety Center has 13 nonprofit and governmental onsite partner agencies at our location in the Police/Municipal Courts Building downtown and many more offsite. While the center convenes the partnership and serves as the backbone agency for service coordination, the front line partner staff includes mental health and counseling professionals, family and civil attorneys, legal advocates and nurses for forensic documentation of injuries. Law enforcement, the courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys and spiritual support are all engaged with the center in providing protection, hope and healing to those seeking help and justice.
Our programs are broad and deep for a Family Justice Center, in particular one as small as ours in terms of staffing. Tulsa’s center is one of five developing and implementing a tool to better identify multiple traumas our survivors experience that will be available nationally. We are one of three centers creating an entirely new central client intake and database system. Our dedicated domestic violence dockets in district court, for misdemeanors and felonies, are models that are producing reduced recidivism and increased compliance for offenders.
Policies and processes developed and initiated through Tulsa Police Department’s family violence unit and with the help of forensic nurses have resulted in strangulation response protocols by law enforcement adopted by most municipalities in Tulsa County and the sheriff’s department. This is saving lives by referrals and follow-up contact and increasing access to services.
We serve more clients than ever, hosting 785 survivors in the month of August with 245 accompanying children and 600 accompanying supporters. In 2018, we served more than 6,600 clients and 1,700 children. We project we will surpass those numbers by 30% in 2019, and we’re continuing to add partners and services, based on the demands of our survivors and the research and data we collect on their needs.
At the same time our numbers are growing, 911 calls for response to domestic violence incidents have declined for four consecutive years. In fact, 2018 numbers reflect the fewest number of 911 incident calls since 2008!
We think this is because more information about resources and services are more accessible than in the past. The #MeToo movement has confirmed it’s “OK to tell.” First responders are proactive in referring survivors to services, and there is definitely more public awareness that access to services can save lives.
So, we are definitely moving the needle in the right direction on intimate partner violence, sexual assault and accountability. But it takes more than just a building with lots of people for lasting change. We call on you, our community, to take it on yourselves to be informed and aware.
Pay attention to what goes on in the lives of your family and friends. Watch for signs that something is wrong, which to some may be only a gut feeling. Then refer them to Family Safety Center or encourage them to seek help to develop a safety plan. Be a safe place for children to come if there is violence, or know where to find a Safe Place for them. Be proactive in your stance as a bystander to offer help when someone may be ashamed or afraid to ask for it. That person will one day thank you for lighting a pathway to a better future and hope!
Suzann Stewart is executive director of the Family Safety Center and a member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board. Opinion pieces from Community Advisory Board members appear in this space most weeks.