Over the last few months, our communities have been inundated with never experienced before pressures. Stress came from not being able to spend time with people we care about, not able to find toilet paper, not knowing how to help our children and our seniors, and not knowing how COVID would impact families in our communities. And yet, while these pressures grew, so did the beauty around us. Neighbors helped neighbors, people we have not heard from in decades reached out through social media just to see how we were doing, and the uninterrupted time that we were able to spend with our immediate families are just some of the sparkle we experienced. That same beauty was experienced by the MSCFV team as we worked to navigate the new world created by the pandemic. From the pressures of COVID came Diamonds of Hope and Support.
The first glint of a sparkle came when it seemed that everything in the world was closing down and it became a priority to make sure victims of relational abuse knew that MSCFV remained available to help and that the courts were open for protective orders. The automatic expectation that our hotlines could be reached 24/7/365 disappeared with the announcement of mandatory quarantine. We needed to find creative and safe ways to let victims know that we were here for them no matter what time they called and regardless of what else was happening in the world. It took only a week for an out-of-the-box (almost literal) solution to come our way. We began contacting restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses that were still open, and asked them to put up fliers, yard signs, and to put stickers with our Hotline Number on their To-Go containers and bags. It didn’t take long for businesses in our five counties to say they wanted to help us, with Classic Pizza in Stevensville the first business to sign on. They were quickly followed by Pupuseria Kent Island and almost 100 other Mid-Shore Businesses. Businesses began contacting us to see what else they could do, including 1800 bank in Easton that put a sign with our hotline number in their Teller Window, and Whole Note Coffee that did a fundraiser to help meet the needs of our clients. These relationships will not end with the pandemic as so many of these new outreach partners have asked to keep this sparkle going, and to help spread the word about services to help end the violence.
That was just the start of the twinkle in our hearts. More diamonds appeared when the MSCFV team was developing a process to identify and meet the changing needs of existing and potential clients during the pandemic. Once Governor Hogan announced the quarantine, MSCFV Case Managers began contacting all existing MSCFV clients to let them know we remained open to help them and to find out what unique needs each client had. Then, with the support of donors, including United Ways, Women & Girls Fund, the Caroline Foundation, the Nora Roberts Foundation, the Banfield Foundation, and the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services, we were able to shift resources to meet the increased need for food and pet supplies, and to change our support services to meet the new restrictions. Other partners provided us with daily updates on services for children, food banks, testing sites, personal funding opportunities and other valuable resources that we were able to share with all of our clients and to our social media followers. These partnerships expanded further, creating joint fliers that were shared through school newsletters, food bank pickups, and COVID testing sites (Thank you Dorchester County DSS!). These relationships, diamonds in our network, are moving beyond the pandemic and are working with us to identify more streamlined processes to connect community members with the services they need from all of our agencies.
At the start of the pandemic, calls to the hotline pretty much stopped. However, once things started to open, the call numbers increased above last year’s numbers, and the calls coming in were asking for different kinds of help. MSCFV, of course, had calls from people wanting to end their abusive relationships, and calls from people who just wanted to know what we had available in case they decided to leave the abuse. But we started receiving many more calls from people that were experiencing domestic abuse and were asking for help ending the abuse while staying with their abuser. This was an area of support that MSCFV had not been very involved in prior to COVID, but with the harsh economic realities and the remaining school closures, the MSCFV team realized that we needed to find a way to help these individuals. MSCFV Case Managers, diamonds in our crown, identified areas of program changes that were needed to help these individual and developed new/expanded processes to meet these challenges. This included adding questions to the Hotline Intake Process, creating alternative methods of communicating with victims, and expanding the Safety Plan process to include scenarios for staying with the abuser. These changes and the programming for victims staying with their abusers will continue as part of MSCFV’s Continuum of Care program.
Figuring out how victims could safely communicate with us while constantly in a home with their abuser was a discussion that required great amounts of creativity, ingenuity, and growth for MSCFV. In March 2020, in preparation for serving clients during quarantine, MSCFV quickly developed a chat feature on the MSCFV website, www.mscfv.org, so that victims that were trapped at home with their abuser had another method of talking to us without having to speak out loud. Unfortunately, our website platform did not allow for an easy to use chat feature, so we had to alter our site to make the chat work. It wasn’t pretty, but victims began using the chat feature the day it was launched, and the chats continue. Working with our community partners, social media was used to promote the new chat feature in addition MSCFV’s existing emergency email and hotline services. For clients working with MSCFV Case Managers, texting became an optional form of communication in addition to phone calls and socially distanced in-person visits. These communication tools served as the settings and clasps needed to help the diamonds show their brilliance.
What is MSCFV going do with the diamonds, the clasps and the settings that have gathered over the last few months? Create a bejeweled masterpiece, of course. In an effort to continue the program developments started out of COVID necessity, MSCFV created a new website to provide safer access to the MSCFV team, current information on the impact of domestic violence, and resources to support the different stages of a person’s journey from victim to survivor. This site includes:
- An Easier to Use Chat Feature
- Direct Call to Hotline from the site
- An Emergency Escape Button that provides better protection from prying eyes
- Information for victims in different phases of creating their abuse-free futures, including information for victims choosing to stay in their relationships, and connections to other agencies that provide services that victims may need
- Resources for community partners
- Resources for other domestic violence agencies on implementing an Empowerment Model and supporting victims towards long-term self-sufficiency
- Stories, images, and quotes from Domestic violence survivors that worked with MSCFV to support and encourage others considering leaving the violence behind
The website will continue to grow and change as new diamonds of information are identified and programs are created. It will include the gems of wisdom gained by survivors and advocates, and will be set together the invaluable MSCFV team members.
In years to come, when we are reflecting on the challenges and pressures experienced in 2020, we know we’ll remember with sadness the people we lost, we’ll think about the struggles of lost jobs and opportunities, and we’ll laugh when we consider the months of empty aisles where toilet paper and cleaning supplies were supposed to be. But we will also smile when we consider that it was this time that diamonds of partnerships were created, and we will celebrate as we examine the way these relationships became the long-term network of support that helped eliminate relational violence from our communities.
Here’s to hoping you see the diamonds while experiencing the pressure.