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ACS To Expand Domestic Violence Program, Will Offer More Help To Both Survivors And Offenders

Close up of two people holing hands

SI Live
By Jessica Jones-Gorman
August 31, 2022

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — After a recent positive evaluation, the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) has announced the expansion of “A Safe Way Forward” — a prevention services program that provides support to survivors of domestic violence, as well as the persons who are causing them harm. 

“In our mission to protect children and support families, ACS and our partners are working to address the root causes of family violence while we help survivors and children stay safe,” said ACS commissioner Jess Dannhauser. “I’m pleased by the results of our recent evaluation, which suggests that “A Safe Way Forward” is having a positive impact on families affected by intimate partner violence, and I look forward to expanding the program to three boroughs: Staten Island, the Bronx and now, Brooklyn.” 

Originally launched in 2019 as a demonstration project for families in the Bronx and Staten Island, the program, which provides services to survivors and the children in their household, enjoyed many positive outcomes, according to an evaluation by ACS officials. 

 Survivors described increased self-esteem and increased confidence in their ability to execute a safety plan, and make decisions that would keep their family safe. And the interventions for the persons causing harm resulted in many behavioral changes, oftentimes ending the cycle of violence. When asked how the program was helping them to make progress toward their goals, both survivors and persons causing harm praised the program’s “concrete assistance and clinical work,” and showed appreciation for a staff that “helped them by listening, being understanding, offering suggestions and advice, and just being there.” 

“More than half of the persons causing harm said that the people around them had noticed a positive change in their behavior since they began participating in the program,” ACS noted in a statement. 

In a review of the program, one person causing harm said: “[Two members of the Safe Way Forward staff have] been like a brother and sister to me, because…we’ve had so many emotional conversations that I feel like these people…I can actually call them part of my family because they’ve been there, and they haven’t…thrown me to the side. They never said to me that, ‘You’re the fault of this or this is the reason why things are going wrong.’ They never made me feel like I was small. They always made me feel like there was something better that you can do and you can improve instead of just saying, ‘Well, you know what? You just failed…’ or something like that.” 

Given these positive outcomes and reviews, ACS is now contracting with three providers and will expand the program to also serve families in Brooklyn. Safe Horizon will continue to offer the service to families in Staten Island, while the Children’s Aid Society will cover the Bronx and MercyFirst will launch the program in Brooklyn. 

“We know that domestic violence and child abuse frequently co-occur,” said Liz Roberts, CEO of Safe Horizon. “Safe Way Forward offers an innovative and holistic response to families in which domestic violence presents serious risks to children. In this model, we provide trauma-focused care to the whole family, including the person who has caused harm, while maintaining an unwavering focus on safety for both adult survivors and children. ‘A Safe Way Forward’ responds to longstanding gaps in care for families affected by domestic violence, and we welcome this expansion. We are proud to be a partner and service provider for this important program.” 

ACS, which administers over 135 programs and helps more than 15,000 families each year with supports like family therapy, mental health counseling and substance misuse treatment, says the goal of this particular program is to promote behavior change and protect the safety of the survivor and children, interrupting the intergenerational impact that intimate partner violence can have on families. 

“I have always said that I don’t know what would have become of me if they hadn’t helped me,” one survivor noted during an evaluation of the program. “So, I would recommend them and I would say that what helped us the most was that they provided us with counseling, which was what helped us to get ahead. So, I think their objective is that the families do not feel alone, that despite what they went through there are more people who can look out for them.” 

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