Friends of the Family provides services for abuse survivors despite pandemic’s challenges

Article Originally Published by Will Tarpley on North Texas Daily

Denton County Friends of the Family (DCFOF), a shelter and outreach center for relationship and sexual abuse survivors, continues to adapt to the pandemic’s challenges, like increased risk for children and the possible closure of its thrift store.

The organization, which celebrated its 40-year anniversary last month, has largely transitioned to telephone calls and webcam conferences to continue to serve patients and survivors, according to Associate Executive Director Katherine Boswell.

“Counseling, advocacy, legal assistance, transition housing and other services are now provided via telephone and telehealth platforms,” Boswell said in an email to the North Texas Daily. “Our crisis line now has a text feature for victims who may be quarantined and unable to safely call our 24/7 hotline. The emergency shelter has adapted and increased health and safety protocols in response to COVID.”

Working from home has brought in the need for web conferences and non-physical ways to get their clients the help and services they need, though Kirsten Kram, the director of clinical services at Friends of the Family, said clients have mostly adjusted.

“I think most have settled into a new normal,” Kram said. “The biggest change was in the children’s department because you cannot do child-centered play therapy over Telehealth. We compensated this by working with the parents and teaching them the skills that we use in the playroom with the children. This was also why we decided to bring younger children back first on a case by case basis.”

Due to the lockdown, many of those currently dealing with abuse, such as children and spouses, have largely been kept out of sight, a concern for Kram.

“The biggest drawback for abuse survivors at this time is that many are home with their abusers,” Kram said. “This can be potentially dangerous for many and may deter them from seeking out help.”

Briggs said the lockdown and quarantine has made children especially vulnerable, as many have not been physically present at schools.

“Because kids have not been in school, we’re being told there’s been a decrease in CPS calls,” Briggs said. “The kids are not in places where the ‘see something, say something’ practice is occurring because the teachers weren’t able to see them.”

Briggs said the pandemic made it difficult to keep their thrift store, Upscale Resale, located at 920 Dallas Dr, which uses all its profits for DCFOF and provides a safe shopping ground for its clients.

“We’ve had to close a few times due to COVID,” Briggs said. “But we are still getting donations. Donors are definitely still wanting to provide clothing, cars and washing machines. Everything you can think of. There’s been little decrease.”

While lockdown restrictions are gradually lifting, Boswell said DCFOF will continue to use teleconferences and other similar methods to continue to provide services to their clients.

“The adaptations to service delivery brought about by COVID will be lasting, and we will continue to utilize technology applications to provide remote access to victim services into the future,” Boswell said.

On the stress for the counselors working at Friends of the Family, Kram said they are undergoing as much stress as could be expected from the current situation requiring many web conferences.

“Mental health professionals, as well as anyone working in direct client services, are dealing with the pandemic like anyone else,” Kram said. “Those with children are having to juggle childcare options while still having to find a confidential space to work with clients. There is a phenomenon called Zoom fatigue and I’ve seen this amongst many clinicians I know. Four sessions back to back in person feel very different than four sessions back to back on Telehealth. I think it is the general consensus that Telehealth is here to stay, but we are all waiting eagerly to see our clients in person again.”

While all sessions since lockdown have been conducted via telecommunication, Kram said progress has been recently made to allow for in-person meetings.

“We use doxy.me for individual sessions and Zoom for group sessions,” Kram said. “Those individuals who do not have video capabilities are doing counseling sessions over the phone.  For children under 12, we are primarily working with the parents in an approach called Child-Parent Relationship Therapy. However, starting two weeks ago, we opened our doors for some in-person play therapy.”

DCFOF has multiple resources and shelters listed on its website, among them, two numbers for emergency shelters, 940-382-727 and 800-572-4031. The location is unlisted to protect confidentiality. They also maintain an outreach center and corporate offices, though the majority of the staff have largely been working from home, according to Director of Marketing and Development Kelly Briggs.

“We are, as an agency, working from home until numbers decrease per CDC guidelines,” Briggs said. “We can find waivers to go into the office we need to, the shelter has continued functioning. To my knowledge, we haven’t had any positive cases among residents at the shelter.”

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

- Advertisement -

Source: North Texas Daily