Doing More Than the Minimum

When the NYC Administration for Children’s Services gets involved in a domestic violence case, the city agency refers the family to an organization like The Child Center of NY for domestic violence counseling. This educational counseling is a vital part of helping such families, but at The Child Center, we do much more to ensure a family — including the children — is truly equipped to end the cycle of abuse and live healthy, fulfilling lives.

Giselle grew up in a home where there was enough money for school clothes and toys for Christmas. There were also frequent arguments and violence. When Giselle got older, she says, “I picked guys like my dad — men who wanted to argue and hit me.”

Last year, one of those men tried to choke her, continuing the all-too-familiar cycle of abuse. Except this time, something different happened: Giselle’s daughter Hailey, the eldest of her five children, called 911, and ACS referred Giselle to The Child Center’s Trude Weishaupt Prevention program, where she received the required domestic violence counseling. But we didn’t stop there. We helped Giselle in both practical and emotional terms, so she wouldn’t feel she needed to put herself — and her children — in a dangerous situation again.

Giselle’s case planner, Vanessa Bryant, helped Giselle get health care and insurance, and affordable child care, since her boyfriend (who fled after the 911 call) used to stay home with the younger kids while Giselle worked. Bryant also helped Giselle develop a structured household, with outlined roles for each child, so the stress of being a single working mom didn’t overwhelm her. Family counseling sessions helped her cope emotionally.

Still, it wasn’t easy. On top of everything else, Giselle recently had been unemployed, and the time without a paycheck took a harsh toll: “We had no more food stamps and had been evicted,” Giselle remembers. “All our stuff was in a storage room that the owner wouldn’t open until I paid the bill. I didn’t have coats for my children. I had never been in that position in my whole life.”

That’s when Giselle almost went back to her abusive boyfriend. Instead, she turned to Bryant, who gave Giselle winter clothes, a gift card for food, and a MetroCard to get her to her new job. This practical help is key to ensuring families can get through a rough transition period without returning to an abusive partner.

Still, we didn’t stop there. Because the effects of domestic violence can cause lifelong suffering for the children who witness it and, as Giselle’s story illustrates, cause the cycle to continue, the staff also worked with Giselle’s children — particularly 13-year-old Hailey, who had become “parentified.” Feeling responsible for her mother’s well-being, she did not have close friends or pursue outside interests. To help with these issues, the staff connected Hailey to a Child Center therapist who specializes in helping traumatized children. Hailey is now building friendships and engaging in age-appropriate activities — and excelling at them. She was even selected to participate in an event at the United Nations and was profiled by NY1.

“My family and I have been through some struggles. It kind of shut me down. But counseling opened me up,” Hailey says. “It was pretty scary, but I helped my family. Now I feel very safe and happy.”

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