For the victims of abuse: domestic violence advocate and counselor speaks to Monticello Woman’s Club

Ashley Hunter
ECB Publishing, Inc.

The Monticello Woman's Club welcomed in their first meeting of the New Year with a special visit by a member of the Jefferson County Refuge House as a guest speaker for the meeting's program.
Nan Baughman, a Domestic Violence and Child Welfare Advocate for the Refuge House, was the guest speaker during the Woman's Club's Tuesday, January 8 meeting.
Before Baughman began her program, guests and members of the club were able to enjoy hot cups of strong coffee, hot chocolate or tea and help themselves to delicious breakfast desserts and pastries.
The meeting also served as the first collection of food items and funds that will go towards the Woman's Club's spaghetti dinner later in February.
After a brief mingling, social gathering, the meeting began with a recitation of the Woman's Club Collect before the meeting's guest speaker stood to share her program.
“The mission of the Refuge House is to provide direct services to the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and to their children and family – as well as to eliminate such violence through community education and public advocacy,” began Baughman.
One of the more recent enterprises of The Refuge House is the addition of domestic violence and child welfare advocates that work closely with the Department of Children and Families (DCF).
Baughman is one of those advocates, as well as the domestic violence counselor for Jefferson County.
According to Baughman, prior to the integration of advocates within the department, when DCF would receive a report about domestic violence in a home where children were involved, the Child Protective Investigator (CPI) would, more frequently than not, remove the children from the household.
This would include removing the children from the custody of their mother, even if the mother was the abuse victim. Instead, the children would be placed in foster homes.
The certified Domestic Violence Centers in Florida went before the Florida Legislature and worked to have an advocate placed within the DCF offices in order to prevent unnecessary separation of children and mothers.
“Nine times out of ten...it was best to leave the children with the mother, because she was usually protecting them and taking the abuse herself,” said Baughman.
When left within the care of their mother, the children would not be placed under the ordeal of experiencing a foster home environment, which, Baughman admitted, was not always a better placing than their previous home had been.
As a advocate within DCF, Baughman says she is enjoying her new position and the opportunity it gives her to help children as well as abused wives, girlfriends and mothers.
“I really enjoy it, because I get to work with the kids also, not just the survivor,” said Baughman.
Some of the ways she is able to help families is through donations of gift cards that the community has provided for local restaurants and stores.
While gift cards may seem like “little things,” Baughman says, a $10 gift card to a grocery store can help a mother feed her children, or a gift card for a gas station can mean a young woman is able to escape an abusive household.
“A lot of times, it's things like that, that I really need,” Baughman adds.
Other donations that are always in demand are personal hygiene and toiletry items, like toothbrushes, toothpaste, feminine products, or diapers.
Baughman also shared with the Woman's Club members about what the inside of a refuge house shelter may look like.
While the Leon and Taylor shelters are staffed, the women who reside in the shelters are still expected to care for themselves and their own families. This means mothers must go into the kitchens at the shelters and cook a meal for their children and wash their own laundry.
“Each individual does their own thing; we don't do any of the cooking. This is empowering them to stand on their own two feet again,” said Baughman.
While the women are expected to care for their own selves and families, the Refuge House still provides food items, cooking utensils and laundry supplies. Because of this, the Refuge House is always accepting donations of pots, pans, dinnerware, laundry soap and other household items.
Baughman does ask that all donated items be in perfect or near perfect condition.
The two local shelters house a little over 100 people combined, and if a woman comes to the Refuge House who needs to be removed from her environment, they will try to place her in one of the shelters.
“But, if they have really been abused badly and we don't have a bed [available at the refuge houses], then we try to work and get them into a motel,” said Baughman.
The shelters will house a woman or family for up to 45 days, and if they need further housing afterwards, the Refuge House has expanded options.
“If they are really showing that they are trying to stand on their own two feet, if they go out and get a job and maintaining, then we have transitional housing,” Baughman said.
Transitional houses are town homes that are provided to women and families for up to two years if they are showing signs of successfully beginning to lead their own lives separate from their abuser.
In addition, the refuge house offers daycare centers within the shelters for the mothers who are going out and getting jobs.
Sometimes, women don't go to shelters, though.
Even if an abused woman chooses to stay in her own home, or even continue to live with her abuser, the Refuge House is ready to assist her where needed.
“A lot of them stay with the abuser because they can't have money or they can't have transportation. If they leave him, they are going to be homeless,” said Baughman.
While law enforcement will occasionally offer transportation to the women who have been in touch with the Refuge House in order to help transport them to the secret refuge location, the prospect of leaving their home, their community, pulling their children from their school and starting out fresh can be daunting.
But no matter their circumstance or choice, the Refuge House is still available to help them.
Before ending her presentation, Baughman stressed the importance of speaking up and reporting possible abuse, especially in the case of child abuse.
“Don't sit back and think, 'oh, maybe it's imagination'. It's always better for them to send out a CPI to investigate and find nothing, then to not do something and something happens,” said Baughman.
She advised that reports can be sent anonymously through the DCF 24-hour hotline.
After her presentation, Baughman answered questions about donations and potential abuse.
The 24-hour DCF hotline is (1-800) 962-2873.
While individuals are encouraged to report suspected child abuse, those who know without a doubt that a child is being abused are bound by law to report the abuse.
According to the Florida Department of Children and Families: “Legislation, signed by Gov. Rick Scott, requires any individual who suspects that a child has been abused by any person to report that to the Florida Abuse Hotline.”
Allegations of child abuse or neglect by a caregiver will be investigated by the DCF, while allegations of child abuse by someone other than a caregiver will be accepted at the Hotline and immediately electronically transferred to the appropriate local law enforcement agency where the child lives.
“Penalties for those who suspect a child is being abused but fail to report it have been increased from a misdemeanor to a felony,” adds the DCF.