Breaking the Cycle of Family Violence: Leveraging Technology to Support Children
April 29, 2021 Posted by AHW Endowment
The Family Peace Center, located in Milwaukee, first opened in 2015 as a partnership between Children’s Wisconsin and Sojourner and is now the state’s largest provider of domestic violence prevention and intervention services. It houses 18 service agencies focused on various aspects of helping families heal from the trauma of violence. In 2018, the organization noticed that the children of the adults they serve were not receiving services at the rate they expected. A routine client survey showed that while 80 percent of respondents had children, less than 25 percent of those children were being connected to services.
Children who witness family violence experience a variety of negative biological, behavioral, emotional, cognitive, and social consequences and are at a greater risk of perpetrating or being victimized by violence as adults—making it crucial they have access to services that allow them to process their emotions and heal.
“We saw a trend when we were talking to victims that we were serving, that so many of them had experienced or been exposed to violence in the home growing up,” said Tristan Gross, project manager at the Sojourner Family Peace Center who helps lead the project.
Gross, along with project leadership at Sojourner and Medical College of Wisconsin, set out to take a systems-change approach to combatting the toxic and intergenerational effects of family violence. Through a 36-month, $374,055 AHW-funded project that launched in 2018, the Family Peace Center’s coalition of 18 partner agencies created a collective impact initiative to improve information sharing and collaboratively and consistently intervene when children experience family violence.
“The goal is to create policy, process, and practice change to support the improvement of identification of and response to young people,” said Gross.
At the onset of the project, the team realized they needed a centralized data system to help them connect children with services. Family Peace Center agencies were using different systems that did not communicate with one another, making it difficult to track just how many clients had children and whether referrals resulted in appointments. Despite sharing a location, providers were often unaware of all the services available for children.
When the team realized no technology existed that met their needs, they set out to build a platform that could.
“The goal is to create policy, process, and practice change to support the improvement of identification of and response to young people.” – Tristan Gross
Working with consultants, the team developed a system using the cloud-based platform Salesforce, which provided the ability to make modifications from its standard business use to meet the specific privacy, privilege, and confidentiality requirements necessary for the Family Peace Center’s social service needs. After four years of testing and development, the system went live in January 2021.
Now, the 18 partner agencies are using a systematic approach to assess client needs and make referrals. The system provides common language to use when discussing the impact of family violence on children and takes the burden of making an appointment off of the client. In the past, a parent may have been given a phone number to call to schedule an appointment for their child, whereas today, the new system alerts the referred organization of permission to reach out directly to the client.
“That is huge given what we know about trauma—when people are in a heightened state, one of the first things to go is memory,” said Gross.
Gross notes that victims of domestic violence are often juggling a host of other concerns that make it difficult to schedule appointments, like housing, school, employment, criminal and family court cases, and their own behavioral health while coming off of a traumatic, violent event.
When designing the system and their processes, the team relied on feedback from client listening sessions and ensured clients can opt in or out of sharing their data.
“We had a focus on protecting clients from unnecessary systems involvement in their lives,” said Gross. “We know that systems are not equitable, and that institutional racism exists, and that plays out as another form of trauma in service provision for the clients that we serve.”
In addition to creating the centralized data system, the 18 partner agencies have collaborated to increase referrals through touchpoints outside of the Family Peace Center’s walls. The project has funded the creation of print materials handed out when the Milwaukee Police Department responds to domestic violence calls and by school workers at Milwaukee Public School meal sites.
Now the team is focused on analyzing its data to measure the success of these initiatives, with an eye toward future expansion to other organizations in Milwaukee.
“This is not just about how do we help people survive, we want people to thrive and reach their full potential,” said Gross. “We don’t want them to define themselves by this one experience.”