“This is traumatic for everyone.” Emily’s staff, like many Family employees, are working from home, juggling work, children and the impact of COVID 19. “More than half of my staff have had a family member ill and one person was ill herself. It has been a huge adjustment. The support from my co-Program Director, Karen Storch, at Washbourne House has helped me be in a better place to support staff.”
Survivors of domestic violence are survivors of trauma. If the rest of us experience anxiety about this illness, the people served by Family’s domestic violence programs have heightened emotions. “Many are isolated with their abuser. Others experienced extreme isolation as part of their abuse and this triggers their anxiety. On top of that, other resources aren’t open. Everything is harder to accomplish. Our Court Advocate was writing an Order of Protection behind the court house without meeting the client. We often need to arrange transportation for a woman fleeing abuse and the buses aren’t running. Usually we work out a Safety Plan for someone who is thinking of leaving their abuser. It’s harder now. You can’t say ‘Go to your neighbor’s house or your sister’s’. We have had to get creative.” Resources are limited too. In order to create appropriate separation, shelters have had to reduce the number of people they can take in. Most are full.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment for staff has been not working with people face to face. “We rely on body language to calm people down or better understand what they are feeling. The staff has had to learn how to work on the phone. And with kids running around, and maybe the abuser at home too, privacy is a big issue.” There have been some positive adjustments as well. Emily instituted a daily text chain and weekly online meetings. “This has kept us connected beautifully. We actually have more contact with the two staff members who are located outside of our main office in Kingston. We will keep those improvements after things return to normal.” And when will there be a return to normal? “We have started planning what a gradual return will look like but each of us has different challenges, whether we have kids at home or other responsibilties. It is a work in progress. I don’t sleep well, but I am amazed at the work we have been able to do.”