Domestic Violence partnership in Pinellas
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09/08/09 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday

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Michael Bernstein (left), Ron Zychowski, George Steffen, Linda Osmundson, Nick Cox, Barbara Daire of the Suncoast Center, and Duggan Cooley of Religious Community Services, sign a domestic violence training and coordination partnership.


photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

This morning in Clearwater, several organizations signed the Pinellas County inter-agency working agreement to assist victims of domestic violence. The groups say that working together will help expedite the safety and well being of both children and adult victims.

The Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force promotes the prevention of domestic and sexual violence, enhances victim safety, and holds batterers accountable, according to their website. This inter-agency agreement will help member organizations accomplish these goals, according to Nick Cox, Suncoast regional director of the state’s Department of Children and Families.

"I think this is significant because it’s really - it’s a lot of agencies that treat the problem of domestic violence and deal with children and child welfare - bringing them together. But not only that we communicate, but that we understand each other: what we do, why we do it, through cross training.”

Representatives from eight organizations signed the inter-agency agreement on Tuesday. Wendy Loomas, chair of the task force says the agreement “spells out how each agency will handle shared cases and how they will train each other so that they can better respond to their clients.” Loomas is also the injury and violence prevention coordinator at the Pinellas County Health Department.

“The major improvement to this 2009 version is a training component where each agency has agreed to train the staff of the other agencies about their procedures ... As this training becomes fully integrated in all aid agencies the coordination of services for families affected by violence will improve even more.”

George Steffen is a major with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office investigations operations bureau. Major Steffen says that the Sheriff’s Office has daily dialog with the other task force groups because of their domestic violence law enforcement cases.

"Well, it impacts us for a number of reasons. One, obviously we’re the … largest law enforcement agency in the county. But we’ve - for the last ten years – had the responsibility with the Department of Children and Families to investigate abuse, neglect, and abandonment here in Pinellas County – next month will be ten years. So it impacts us because we deal with families obviously, and children, who have been affected by domestic violence.”

Eckerd Youth Alternatives is “the lead agency for child abuse and neglect in Pinellas and Pasco County,” according to Ron Zychowski, their vice president of operations. He says that 75% of abuse and neglect calls to the state hotline are associated with three causes.

“One is domestic violence, the other is substance abuse – and many times they go hand in hand. And then a small portion of that 75% is severe medical or physical abuse of children. So domestic violence is a significant issue in our community statewide as well as here in Pinellas County and accounts for a lot of the reasons that children and families bump into the child abuse and neglect system.”

The case load of Gulf Coast Community Care has dropped from 2200 to 850 children recently. Their president, Michael Bernstein, attributes that, in part, to increased communication and working with other agencies.

“I think what it does is solidify the fact that we want to prevent a bureaucracy. We want a seamless system of instant communication because every moment counts when a child might be running away, when a child might feel they’re in danger, when a child might be at risk. And we read about these horrific stories every day throughout the country. So it’s essential to have a system that avoids bureaucracy by having instant communication, knowing who to call and being proactive in calling.”

Linda Osmondson is the executive director of CASA, Community Action Stops Abuse. Among other services, CASA provides shelter for abused women. Last month Osmondson received one of the inaugural WMNF Peace Awards.

“I think all the child abuse people thought the domestic violence people didn’t like children. And the point that we’ve had to make is that we’ve always worked with children. And we think that the way to make the children safe is to make their Mom safe too.”

Department of Children and Families’ Nick Cox says the agreement facilitates treating the ultimate cause of the problem rather than just dealing with the immediate crisis.

“A lot of these other groups that we have here are really the people that are treating people with therapy, with mental health, with substance abuse issues. … Hopefully we can provide them together as a family as opposed to just providing it to the one person. I think that’s the critical factor because we need to treat the family, not just the individual. That’s what most of these people do. When you have us, you have the Sheriff, you have Eckerd [Youth Alternatives], we’re bringing a lot of the people to the table, specifically the children, who are the victims of this. … But then these other people can help us with the actual treatment and therapy.”

Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force

CASA

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