Editor’s note: Part of a series on the rise in domestic violence amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The need for domestic violence services escalated with the onset of the pandemic two years ago while a key source of federal funding to local agencies dwindled.
Advocates for domestic violence victims say the number of referrals to their agencies increased dramatically with the arrival of COVID-19 in early 2020.
Meriden-Wallingford Chrysalis Inc. saw the number of services it provides quadruple over the past three fiscal years, which run from July to June.
Chrysalis provided 14,726 services and had 4,803 client contacts in the most recent fiscal year. By comparison, in the year that ended in June 2020, the organization provided 3,635 services and had 1,920 client contacts. The numbers also represented significant increases from the last pre-pandemic year, in which Chrysalis provided 2,111 services and had contacts with 1,376 clients.
The types of services provided included safety planning, counseling, crisis intervention, legal and other support.
Safety planning, which includes emergency shelter placements and rapid transitional housing, is one of the areas where Chrysalis saw its largest increase in need. In the most recent fiscal year, the agency conducted 4,126 safety planning responses.
Two years earlier, the agency provided 650 such services.
But while Chrysalis and similar agencies across the state continued to see the need for services increase, federal funding declined.
The “significant” loss of funding through the federal Victims of Crime Act — known as VOCA — prompted an open letter to Gov. Ned Lamont in December from seven statewide victim service organizations, including the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, urging the state for help.
According to the letter, recipients of the federal funding would see more than a third lost “at a time when the need for these critical services is increasing as a result of the pandemic.”
VOCA funding is maintained through the collection of fines and fees imposed for federal crimes. The funding “is at an all-time low due to an issue that redirected those fines and fees to the General Treasury for the past few years,” the letter stated.
“The loss of funding would be devastating for the services provided,” said Meghan Scanlon, president and CEO of CCADV. “It funds really critical services for victims navigating life during and after their requests for services.”
Scanlon said the next two years are very uncertain as far as funding goes. “We are facing an uncertain future. We’ve asked the state and the legislature to help us fill that gap with state funding and hopefully ARPA dollars funding them,” Scanlon said.
The groups were already underfunded even before the pandemic, Scanlon explained.
“We’re running into an issue where we’re trying to do more each year with the same amount of money for the past 10 years,” she said. ‘Crisis point’
In Meriden, Chrysalis leaders turned to the city for help. The agency applied for $618,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds, which the City Council authorized last month, to enable it to maintain its current level of services over the next three years.
Linsey Walters, the agency’s executive director, said domestic violence doesn’t just include intimate partner violence. She described domestic violence as a “large umbrella” that includes family violence caused by tension between adult children and parents. That type of violence might not receive the same type of attention as intimate partner violence.
Chrysalis is not alone in seeing services and referrals increase. Scanlon, of CCADV, said all 18 of the regional agencies the coalition works with have seen similar increases.
“On top of that, the situations individuals are finding themselves in are much more complex and take more time to address,” Scanlon said.
CCADV’s emergency shelter system had been stretched over capacity even before the pandemic. The shutdown of businesses and other services, which left individuals and families homebound and unable to escape their abusers, stretched the system even further. Often, victims were unable to access services.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said domestic violence had already been a devastating problem before the pandemic. He was among the leaders of a push by federal legislators to replenish VOCA funding to support local agencies. Lawmakers are also looking to increase other funding streams, including funding authorized through the Violence Against Women Act.
The increased prevalence of domestic violence and the decline in funding have created what Blumenthal called “a crisis point.”
He said the increase in domestic violence has “been aggravated by the isolation and anxiety the pandemic has caused.”
Blumenthal said he has met with leaders of local providers, like Chrysalis and others across Connecticut, relaying similar concerns.
“Housing is one of the biggest challenges for a woman who decides to break with an abuser,” Blumenthal said, echoing concerns aired by local and statewide agency leaders. “It takes incredible coverage to walk out of a house, and to seek shelter, often with children accompanying them.”
Housing costs, the senator noted, are “more expensive than ever during the pandemic. It is a huge challenge and addressing it is a real necessity.”
Republican Themis Klarides, who is challenging Blumenthal for Senate in the upcoming election, could not immediately be reached for comment.
A fix signed into law last summer by U.S. President Joe Biden should correct the federal funding problem, but advocates say it will be a few years before funding is fully replenished. The legislation provided Connecticut with $11.3 million in the last fiscal year, Blumenthal said.Concern within parish
Other community leaders are concerned about rising domestic violence.
The Rev. James Manship, pastor St. Rose of Lima Parish in Meriden, is among them.
In particular, Manship and other leaders are concerned about the impact of domestic violence on children who bear witness to it. He has sought out the assistance of mental health professionals who can help teach St. Rose of Lima parishioners how to provide mental health first aid to their own family members in the time of a traumatic incident.
Manship attributed the increase in domestic violence over the past two years to “the pressures of being cooped up, the pressures of the economy, of the job. The pressures of taking care of children.”
“All of this has just increased the stress in our families,” he said. “And unfortunately in some cases, brought out the worst, both in physical and emotional, psychological trauma.”
If you or a loved one is a victim of domestic violence, resources are available through Meriden-Wallingford Chrysalis’ 24-hour hotline. Call 203-238-1501 or 888-774-2900 for English or 844-831-9200 for Spanish.
Other resources can be found through the Connecticut Domestic Violence Resource Hub. Visit CTSafeConnect.org or call 888-774-2900 for more information.