By Deborah M. Walker
October was domestic violence awareness month. To shine light on the hidden and often ignored problem Oasis Family Center in Lansing hosted an open house on Friday October, 24 2014 to bring awareness to the public and share resources with the community.
Often times in domestic violence situations there are conflicts and confrontations during the exchange of children when parents are sharing custody of children or during visitation said Kimberly Steed-Page, Program Coordinator for Chance at Childhood Program at Michigan State University (MSU). Steed-Page is also the Project Director for Oasis Family Center and said if a parent has safety concerns during this time Oasis Family Center can help.
“Oasis Family Center is 100 percent dedicated to families who have or still are experiencing domestic violence,” said Steed-Page. “This is a place where they can come to do an exchange of children when the parents are sharing custody of children.”
There are several different ways a person can be referred to Oasis Family Center explains Steed-Page. A court referral, a victim’s attorney or a self-referral are some of the ways a victim can be referred to the center. A victim can also be referred through a number of agencies including End Violent Encounters (EVE), MSU’s Safe Place or any number of domestic violence shelters.
“Once they are referred here, Cheryl Petterson, our coordinator, will complete an intake with them to see if they qualify for services. Our funder gives us a very liberal definition of domestic violence so the idea is that families who feel that there are safety risks would be able to utilize the center,” said Steed-Page.
Steed-Page defines domestic violence as violence between partners. This includes former or current husband and wife, partners who live together or even boyfriend and girlfriend.
According to Steed-Page, Oasis Family Center is all about safety. The parents will enter through designated doors. It does not matter who the custodial parent is, participants at Oasis Family Center must always go through the designated doors.
There are other safety precautions at Oasis Family Center. Security cameras are located at each door and doors are locked at all times says Steed-Page. Guests of Oasis Family Center must be buzzed in. In addition, non-custodial parents must come alone or give an advanced notice if he or she is bringing someone.
There is also a separate waiting area for both parents. According to Steed-Page, the mother usually chooses to leave during the visits, but that is not always the case.
“Some mothers want to stay because they have some concerns about what might be going on during the visit but they’re not allowed to be in the room. They don’t necessarily want to be in the room because dad is in there, but they like to stay on the premises. We do allow that,” said Steed-Page.
The visiting area is designed for the non-custodial parent to have an enjoyable visit during this time says Steed-Page. There is a dining area at Oasis Family Center so parents can bring in food. Video games for adolescents of all ages are available as well as a DVD player and even a computer.
“It is a time for that mother or father to actually parent their children. So if they need to do homework during that time, if they are talking about school or friends or catching up we try not to be involved,” said Steed-Page. “We would intervene if there was a concern about maybe inappropriate conversation or safety concerns, but ideally the monitor is kind of off to the side. The monitor can hear and see everything that is going on but the idea is to allow the kids and mom or dad to have a chance to spend time together and interact in a safe environment.”
According to Steed-Page Oasis Family Center’s main priority is the safety of the children and the adult victim survivor. She said that usually the mother is the victim so a lot of emphasis is on the mom, but that is not always so.
“In this area about 98 to 99 percent of the cases that is the case, dad has been the perpetrator of violence and mom has been the victim, but that’s not to suggest that dads have not been victims of violence. Primarily what we see is the mom as the victim and dad as the perpetrator,” said Steed-Page.
Oasis Family Center not only supervises visits of non-custodial parents, in situations where parents share custody the center acts as a mediator between parental exchanges informed Steed-Page.
“So let’s say they have a schedule and dad gets the kids from Friday at 6:00 p.m. until Sunday at 6:00 p.m. So mom will bring the kids maybe at 5:45 p.m. on Friday, we’ll bring the kids out to dad, he goes on his way. So in that arrangement parents are sharing custody. The court has ordered the exchanges,” says Steed-Page.
There are many reasons a parent can end up on supervised visits explained Steed-Page. Substance abuse, mental health issues that have gone untreated and criminal activity are some of the causes informed Steed-Page.
To use Oasis Family Center there must be domestic violence between mother and father, although the domestic violence allegation does not have to be formally documented as in a police report said Steed-Page.
“If a family were to call and say I want to use the center I’m a victim of domestic violence, we use an assessment tool,” says Steed-Page. “It does not have to be formal documentation such as a police report or personal protection order. Our risk assessment is mom says yes to any number of questions about being threatened, any physical violence, emotional abuse, financial abuse. There is a whole list of things that fall under the definition of what domestic violence is. If she says yes they’re in.”
Steed-Page said it is important for people to know that domestic violence is not just physical. There are many ways a partner can victimize someone in a relationship.
“Financial abuse is actually a huge one where they don’t allow, usually the mom, to be employed for example. So maybe it seems like they made a decision as a household that mom would be a stay at home parent, but perhaps he is controlling the finances, maybe he gives her an allowance so to speak every week,” said Steed-Page.
To battle this dilemma, Steed-Page says her focus is to work with the victim to assess all of her needs.
The reaction to Oasis Family Center by the fathers has been a positive one. According to Steed-Page, some fathers have complained about wrongful allegations of domestic violence being brought against them. Oasis Family Center ensures both parents receive fair treatment.
“Dads have told us anecdotally that they like that because sometimes there has been allegations of dad causing trouble which may or may not be true. For him he feels like okay I’ve got a third party witnessing that all I did was come here and pick up my kids,” said Steed-Page.
Oasis Family Center exists to help both parents navigate parental responsibilities. According to Steed-Page, some fathers feel alienated and attacked by the legal system. Treating fathers with respect is what Oasis Family Center is an important mission.
“We really believe that you have to treat fathers respectfully regardless of what brought them here,” said Steed-Page. “Rather it was domestic violence or substance abuse. They deserve an opportunity, until the court says otherwise, to interact with their children.”
“We want dads to feel this is a place for them as well not just for the moms,” said Steed-Page.
Steed-Page says most moms agree with fair treatment for fathers. According to Steed-Page most mothers want the father to be involved they simply want the abuse to stop and to be safe.
“Most moms that I talk to who have been victims of abuse recognize the importance of a father in the lives of their children,” said Steed-Page.
The best way to end domestic violence is to prevent it. She added those who were abused as children are at risk to grow up to be perpetrators of abuse. Getting help at an early age is the best way to avoid aggressive behavior.
“One of the things that families can do is be open,” said Steed-Page. “There often shame around domestic violence and it’s seen as a private family issue. So substance abuse, as an example, untreated mental illness, those are not excuses or causes of domestic violence but they add to the problems in the family.”
Another way to prevent domestic violence is for the victim to reach out to resources explained Steed-Page. There are a number of organizations aimed at helping victims of domestic violence, getting involved with any of these groups can help.
The Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) has annual informational fair where participants can get information about various services offered in the Lansing area. There are other resources that can be found ,as well, by calling 2-1-1 or logging on to www.211search.org. Free and confidential information and referrals regarding help with counseling can be found by dialing 2-1-1. Other issues that may arise from domestic violence such as the lack of food, housing, employment and health care can also be provided.
A woman experiencing a domestic violence situation should contact a shelter directly explained Steed-Page. At the shelter the victim is not only provided safe refuge, the victim is also given counseling as well as safety planning by a domestic violence advocate.
One of the most dangerous times for a victim of domestic violence is when she is preparing to leave or decides to leave. Steed-Page says the perpetrator may start to use violent tactics to prevent the victim from leaving. To prevent this from happening it is important for the victim to undergo safety planning and communicate with a domestic violence advocate.
Safety planning requires the victim to open up and trust someone. For many victims this may be difficult at first but could be life-saving.
“Domestic violence is about power and control. So if a perpetrator feels like he is losing control over her and losing power that ups the risk for her. It is extremely difficult to trust when the person you love and trust the most has betrayed you through violence. So for her to want to reach out and do that and bring other people in can be very difficult,” said Steed-Page.
It is also important for victims of domestic violence to not only seek help for themselves but to protect the children as well and prevent them from falling into the cycle of abuse. Even if they were not physically abused themselves witnessing ongoing cycles of abuse with their mother causes delays in school, developmental problems and behavioral problems.
“Children are growing up, who’ve been witnesses to domestic violence, and possibly become perpetrators or victims of domestic violence themselves,” said Steed-Page.
Steed-Page says Michigan is at the forefront of the fight against domestic violence. According to Steed-Page Michigan has the largest number of facilities like Oasis Family Center compared to all other states.
“We don’t see that as because there’s more violence in Michigan, but really Michigan has been on the cutting edge of trying to get the community involved and keep families safe,” said Steed-Page.
Steed-Page says she would like to see more communities involved in the Oasis Family Center such as East Lansing, Haslett and Holt and expand services to these areas.
To find out more information about Oasis Family Center Contact Kimberly Steed-Page or Cheryl Petterson at (517) 887-4668 or stop in and visit 5656 South Cedar Street Lansing, Michigan 48911.
This article was printed in the November 16, 2014 - November 29, 2014 edition.