Local nonprofits unite to address child abuse, sexual and domestic violence in Austin area
Officials of both Austin Children's Shelter and SafePlace say they believe there is power in numbers and partnerships. The two organizations have joined together to form Lift Alliance to strengthen their voice against crimes such as child abuse and sexual and domestic violence, as well as to combine some services to better assist those affected by those issues.
Julia Spann, executive director of SafePlace and co-CEO of Lift Alliance, said the issues of domestic and sexual violence and child abuse have historically been addressed separately, but she feels a more holistic approach to those problems will yield better results and treatment.
"People don't live in silos, and these families aren't split into silos," Spann said. "If we're really going to do something about victimization, we have to talk about it across a full life spectrum for a family, and we have to talk about the various types of violence. All are bad, and all need to end."
Lift Alliance became fully operational in January and provides service to children and adults who have suffered abuse, as well as curriculum for children and teens to help prevent violence. The joint venture has already allowed the the University of Texas — University Charter School, George M. Kozmetsky Campus at SafePlace to also serve the children at ACS and the Teen Parent Program at ACS to be open to clients at SafePlace.
Kelly White, ACS executive director and co-CEO of Lift Alliance, said Lift Alliance has already seen results from the partnership through children wanting to stay in school at SafePlace.
"The immediate success is that some of the kids, when they've gone from the children's shelter on into a foster placement, have requested that they continue going to school at the charter school at SafePlace," White said.
Though SafePlace and ACS have partnered to help battle child and sexual abuse and domestic violence, both will continue to function as separate organizations, having their own programs, boards, donors and events.
Spann and White said both ACS and SafePlace are two established organizations in the community with very strong brands, fundraising and governmental support, and both organizations need that autonomy to continue to function.
"We can amplify our efforts by coming together," Spann said. "We have two well-regarded organizations that are doing amazing work, and partnership can enhance that."
As Lift Alliance gains more traction and experience, officials hope to add more organizations to form a stronger message advocating against all forms of abuse.
"If our goal, which it is, is to really end abuse and violence, then we need to come together and look at a more holistic view," White said.
The partner organizations
SafePlace strives to rid the community of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence through an emergency shelter, legal accompaniment, the University of Texas – University Charter School, George M. Kozmetsky Campus and counseling. In 2010, SafePlace provided 804 people with 36,680 nights at the emergency shelter and answered 12,868 hotline calls.
Austin Children's Shelter
Austin Children's Shelter provides a home and supportive services for children and young adults. The current shelter has 78 beds and provided 19,100 nights in 2011. The average length of stay at the shelter in 2011 was 47 days; the longest stay was 197 days.
Teen Parent Program
One of the first programming changes initiated by Lift Alliance was opening Austin Children's Shelter's Teen Parent Program to young mothers from SafePlace.
The Teen Parent Program was launched in 2010 to teach positive parenting skills to help participants break away from a cycle of abuse and neglect. The program is designed for up to 22 parents with their children.
Kelly White, executive director of Austin Children's Shelter and co-CEO of Lift Alliance, said educating young parents is crucial in keeping families together.
"The best place for a child is with a parent, and through the years, over and over and over again, [what we've] seen is if we can just help those parents learn how to be better parents, we'd never get to the point where we'd have to take a child away," White said.
In 2011, 11 mothers and 14 children were enrolled in the Teen Parent Program.
4800 Manor Road, 512-356-1643, www.liftalliance.org