Kerby joins partnership supporting domestic conflict survivors

Photo by Kerby Centre

Domestic violence is a difficult subject to talk about, let alone address.

Historically, the conversations had on the topic are in hushed whispers, an offered cup of tea to a neighbour we may believe is not doing well or a panicked phone call to police services upon hearing shouts, banging or raised voices coming from close proximity.

That last act is of particular note: it’s not easy to make the choice to involve the police, and some might worry it could exacerbate a situation to get other organizations involved, but it’s often a necessary act.

According to a 2019 report by the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, there were 23,247 incidents of victims being turned away due to a lack of capacity at shelters across the province: nearly double compared to the year previous. Roughly 66 per cent of the women entering shelters are at severe or extreme risk of being killed by their partner, according to the report.

However, Kerby Centre — along with a multitude of partnership organizations — took a leadership role earlier this spring in a new program that aims to partner social workers with police service members to ensure a wraparound level of response to domestic conflict situations.

Andrea Silverstone is the executive director of SAGESSE — a community organization based in Calgary dedicated to breaking the cycle of domestic violence. She also helped head a recent initiative with the Calgary Police Service, creating the Domestic Conflict Response Team (DCRT): a first-of-its-kind partnership between diverse community agencies to tackle domestic violence.

“The uniqueness is a combination of the police working with community partners to give people who have been affected by domestic violence the best service we can,” said Sergeant Glenn Andruschuk, who leads the DCRT. “We see the successes every day… Getting those families in touch with resources they might not have gotten without someone saying “here is this resource.”

The project has been years in the making and Andrea Silverstone has worked tirelessly with consultants and agencies to get it off the ground. Through that work, the DCRT now has a method of addressing domestic violence incidents in a unique and preventative manner.

“When someone calls for police service when they are experiencing a domestic violence situation, one of two things happen,” Silverstone explained. “Either it meets the threshold for charges … or it doesn’t meet the threshold for criminality.”

In the second case, Silverstone said that in the instances where charges aren’t filed, the individuals involved still need support.

“If we don’t intervene, it could escalate and get worse,” she said. “We can’t just leave them hanging.”

The DCRT works to follow up on these cases: a social worker would attend the home alongside a police service member with a variety of goals: everything from putting the individual in touch with various resources available to address the root causes behind the incident.

For a period of time, the DCRT was understaffed, however, with just six constables and two social workers.

In response, a multitude of organizations with different backgrounds for services in the community came together to ensure the program would have the resources and human assets needed to continue.

“We thought, ‘given the fact we’re going into an austerity budget, how do we make sure that we continue this and build upon what’s already there, and make it stronger’,” Silverstone said.

The question was brought to the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective, which consists of over 75 different agencies whose work either intersects or focuses on the issue of domestic violence.

“We pulled together all the key parties that would be interested in this kind of response,” Silverstone said. “We began to hammer out the details of what was needed for a good, robust response.”

This partnership would come to be known as “Equally Safe,” and involved a group of organizations who committed social workers from their own organizations to assist the DCRT moving forward.

In addition to providing the social workers needed, several organizations brought a breadth of experience to match the various unique situations domestic violence incidents bring along with them.

For example, two of the agencies are the Awo Taan Healing Lodge and the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA). Indigenous women and recent immigrants are both more likely to experience violence, so in having these organizations involved, Silverstone said that the DCRT is able to provide more personalized and focused aid.

Kerby Centre is also one of the agencies who has provided a social worker to Equally Safe: as Kerby Centre’s mission caters to older adults, it was uniquely suited to provide a leadership role when it comes to instances of elder abuse.

“Kerby Centre has always been at the forefront in providing much-needed wraparound services to older adults,” said Kerby Centre CEO Larry Mathieson. “I see our partnership with Equally Safe as not only a natural evolution of our mandate but proof that Kerby Centre is able to adapt and innovate.”

“Even when times are tough, we’ll work to make sure that no services are dropped and no one gets left behind.”

Silverstone agreed, saying that Equally Safe can be a model for service agencies moving forward.

“In so many ways equally safe is a perfect example of how to act in the new unfortunate economic climate in Alberta,” she said. “It also speaks to the commitment of the domestic violence centre and the people at the table to ensure that no individual falls through the cracks.”

“It would not have been possible without the way [CPS] approached it and would not have happened without that willingness to work with the community.”