A program to prevent woman abuse could be on the cutting block if the province doesn’t come up with the $70,000 to fund it. Photo illustration by Michael Swan

CFS-CCAS collaboration against woman abuse could face the axe

By 
  • May 9, 2015

TORONTO - A simple idea that has helped hundreds of women who face domestic violence and abuse is down to its last few weeks unless Ontario’s provincial government comes up with $70,000 per year to keep it going.

For the last three years Catholic Family Services has placed one of its employees at Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto headquarters so she can respond to cases of domestic abuse.

“If the kid is being abused, more than likely the mother’s abused,” said Catholic Family Services executive director Lucia Furgieule.

Furgieule’s intuition spurred a one-year pilot program three years ago. At the end of that first year an outside auditor wrote a report verifying that in fact, by having Catholic Family Services follow up on reports to Catholic Children’s Aid, they were catching a significant number of cases of woman abuse.

But, instead of making the program permanent, the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services extended the trial for another year, resulting in another report. Now approaching the end of its third year, the choice before the province is to either make it permanent or shut it down.

As of the beginning of May, Furgieule had yet to hear about the future of the program.

“We look forward to seeing the outcome of the pilot program as the results will help inform some of our work under the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan,” a Children and Youth Services spokesperson told The Catholic Register in a May 4 e-mail. “We will continue to work with the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the agencies involved to explore future funding options.”

It’s not that complicated, said Catholic Family Services program manager Shereen McFarlane. Violent and abusive men are a danger to everyone in the house.

There are cases where husbands or boyfriends target the children but not the woman and vice-versa, McFarlane said. But if children are seeing their mother humiliated, degraded or even beaten that constitutes child abuse. If mothers have to watch their children suffer that constitutes woman abuse.

“Parents are the protectors of children,” McFarlane said. “If we’re not protecting the mother, who is the nurturer of those children, then we’re not protecting children.”

In an average month the Catholic Family Services worker at Children’s Aid follows up on 30 cases. Rather than the blunt instrument of the law when the police are called, the CFS has a variety of tools for helping a couple in crisis.

“The biggest thing is developing that safety plan (for the woman),” said McFarlane.

The Being a Dad program and couple’s counselling are all options when the abuse has not yet turned to physical violence.
Unlike the laws around child abuse, there is no mandatory reporting system for woman abuse.

“That’s why it was imperative to bring the two sectors together,” said McFarlane. “We don’t have those (legal) capabilities to be the strong arm for immediate intervention.”

Not every contact between Catholic Family Services and an abused woman results in the woman taking action. Studies show that on average a woman endures six or seven outbursts of abuse before leaving. But by making contact and providing information about everything from shelter options to counselling, the CFS-CCAS collaboration project is providing women with the tools they need to extricate themselves from impossible situations, said McFarlane.

“Every scenario is a reminder that somebody has to reach out to these women,” McFarlane said. “As people of faith we always should be reaching out to people.”

The project with Catholic Children’s Aid is just one of a growing number of ways Catholic Family Services is responding to woman abuse, said Furgieule.

“You know who has been wonderful on this has been our Cardinal (Thomas Collins),” she said. “He’s been such an ally. He’s really shown great leadership on this.”

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