The Times West Virginian

September 29, 2013

Victims of Crimes Act grant provides boost to three Marion County agencies

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Thanks to a state grant, three Marion County agencies have received funding from the state Victims of Crimes Act (VOCA) to continue their work in helping victims of violent crimes.

CASA, HOPE Task Force on Domestic Violence and the Victim Advocate program of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office received a total of $194,039 from the Division of Justice and Community Services.

 CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) received $22,487.

The agency stands beside abused and neglected children age newborn to 18 years, and helps guide them through the circuit court system, said Kim Baker.

The money will be used to provide direct services to child victims of abuse and neglect, she said. It will pay for case management; volunteer recruitment, supervision and support; and direct service mileage for volunteers.

“We are a proactive program,” she said. “Children are our most precious commodity. If we can provide a child in crisis with one caring person who will be with them from the beginning to the end of the case and develop a true caring friendship, they can overcome the obstacles they are handed.

“They didn’t ask to be involved in the child welfare system. But they’re faced with the unknown now, and they’re not sure of what the outcome will be.

“We are involved in all aspects and advocate for that child.”

The entire community benefits from CASA, she said.

“We help break the cycle of abuse in true times of crisis.

“Many children are placed with extended family members, such a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or noncustodial  parent ... sometimes without much preparation for an additional family member in the home. This can bring a financial burden and unexpected stressors.

“We provide (that family) an extra layer of support in a system that can be unfamiliar.

“We are there to help the child remain with the biological family. Anything that the child would need to create a safe, caring environment.

“We’ve seen an increase in child neglect (due to) substance abuse. There’s got to be an answer somewhere. We’ve never seen it that bad,” Baker said.

While the VOCA funds are more than welcome, they’re not guaranteed, she added.

“It’s a competitive grant. We apply for it and do the reporting. A lot of factors got into getting it year to year.

“We are grateful for it. It allows us to continue to provide advocacy to this special group of children who are truly in crisis.”

CASA has helped about 90 children in Marion County so far this year, she said.

“Fostering Futures” is a special program being set up statewide to help the older children from age 13 up.

“They flounder in the foster care system until they’re 18,” she said.

“We’re training a special group of volunteers to prepare them for adulthood. Whatever happens, we want them to know there’s a CASA volunteer there for them. We’re failing that population of children as a state.”

The Victim Advocate program received $28,098 to “protect victims of violent crime, to stand beside them to make sure nobody bothers them,” said Kim Hawkins, victim advocate with the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.

All of that funding will go “directly to the victims,” she said.

Services include counseling and medical attention for the victims, “especially if they’re victims of violence crimes,” she said.

It also covers her salary and any special training she might need, such as the workshops by the Division of Justice she attended in Charleston that focused on drug-endangered children and child victims of sexual assault.

There, she heard victims’ stories, “exposing me to all the different kinds of crimes,” she said. “We don’t always run into every one in Marion County. The meeting with others who were affected gives met the training when I do encounter them.”

The Victim Advocate program “is essential. We give the victims a voice. All too often, they’re lost in the shuffle if someone isn’t standing up for them. They may not know their rights.

“They may be scared. They don’t choose to be a victim. This entire process may be new. It’s essential to have someone to tell you the process and what each step means.”

HOPE Inc. received $143,454 to continue its mission of providing shelter, counseling and referrals to victims of domestic violence and abuse.

That seems like a lot of money, but executive director Harriet Sutton said it all goes to good use.

“It pays for the salaries of a full-time family therapist, and case managers for Marion, Lewis and Harrison counties, and a portion goes to the salaries of case managers for Doddridge and Gilmer counties, and victims’ advocates for Marion and Harrison counties.”

Those are different from the Victim Advocate program at the Prosecutor’s Office, she said.

HOPE provides a shelter in Marion County, outreach offices in other counties, a 24-hour hotline (304-367-1100), professional counseling, legal advocates, and prevention education in schools and other community education “to help people see these victims have needs,” she said.

HOPE is there for anyone needing its services.

“You may not need it now, but in the future you might,” she said. “Police will tell you that most of the situations they deal with involve domestic abuse. We spend a lot of money on the results of that violence.

“If you work in a large company, chances are there are quite a few people you work with who go home to violence.

“And just for human decency and kindness, you should care. You never know if it’s going to be you.”

She remembers, when she was a professional counselor and before she came to HOPE, speaking with one woman in particular.

“She told me about this guy she was going to marry and related incidences of abuse.”

Sutton said this troubled her.

“I thought, ‘Why are you thinking he will be kind when he was abusing you before you married? It will only get worse.’

“And that’s what people need to know. An abuser can be very kind during courtship, but so many of the people at HOPE tell us, ‘He didn’t use to do that. He’s not like that.’

“That doesn’t mean it’s OK to hit or abuse somebody,” Sutton said. “As some of our bumper stickers used to say, ‘There’s no excuse for domestic violence.’”

HOPE has received a VOCA grant every year it’s applied for it, she said.

“The amount can go up and down. We don’t always get the specific amount, but it’s one of our largest funding sources.

“You can imagine what kind of situation we’d be in if we didn’t get it. It looks like a large sum of money, but probably not too many other places take that money and put it to so good use as we do.

“We’re very honored and pleased to have the grant. And it’s because of the victims that we deal with. They are the ones who benefit from it.”

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.