Highlighting Putnam County Domestic Violence Community Partnerships
At Legal Aid of WV, one of our priority areas is providing civil legal aid to domestic violence survivors in West Virginia. There are several ways we can help those experiencing domestic violence (DV), but our services are often part of a long process that touches on many aspects of a survivor’s life. For the immediate safety of anyone experiencing abuse, there are other organizations we count as community partnerships across the state that help survivors with non-legal needs and supports. An exemplary wraparound service approach can be found in Putnam County, where service providers stay in constant communication with each other and their clients.
Putnam County, like many other WV counties has a STOP Team (an acronym for Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors). The STOP Team is a part of the Department of Justice’s STOP Program, which “promotes a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to enhancing advocacy and improving the criminal justice system’s response to violent crimes against women.”
The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office heads up the STOP Team for their county, where they create goals and work diligently to be the thread tying DV service providers together.
“The majority of the time, the Sheriff’s office the first point of contact,” says Lt. Tony Craigo. “We are a gateway to a lot of service providers. We make people aware of the services that are available like Branches or Legal Aid of West Virginia.”
Branches is Putnam County’s Domestic Violence Shelter (also with offices in Mason, Wayne, and Lincoln counties) that provides numerous resources to DV survivors, including housing assistance, legal advocacy and referral, and counseling. All of their services are free of charge, and they also have a case manager who serves on the Putnam County STOP Team.
When someone experiences domestic abuse, their first line of help often comes by way of the police—a friend, neighbor, or the person being abused calls the police because of signs of domestic violence. In Putnam County, they have a designated Special Investigative Officer who works on domestic abuse cases.
“We are lucky in Putnam County to have an officer designated to this role,” says Lt. Craigo, who worked in the role himself for almost 10 years. The investigator’s role was created to place a higher emphasis on safety and follow-up for domestic violence cases. “The investigator serves petitions, reviews DV cases, responds to calls, and works directly with victims by answering questions when they call and giving them information on resources. She also tries to establish a safety plan with them and works hand-in-hand with service providers.”
For those experiencing abuse, referrals connect them to life-saving resources and legal options. If there’s proof of abuse (a crime), the Sheriff’s office will work on the criminal side of pressing charges against the abuser, but it’s not always a quick or easy process. Civil law offers Domestic Violence Protective Orders (DVPOs), and Lt. Craigo and his team often explain these protective orders and their benefits to those who have been abused.
The Sheriff’s office and Branches can both make referrals to Legal Aid of WV to help survivors get help with the DVPO process. Additionally, Branches and Legal Aid of WV often make referrals if staff identify an area where the other organization may be able to help.
Branches has been helping West Virginians experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking since 1981. They welcome a broad group of clients from all backgrounds.
“At Branches, we fulfill our mission by embracing a trauma responsive advocacy approach that focuses on empowering survivors to live a life of dignity, free from abuse,” says Danielle Mathes, Branches Case Manager and member of the STOP Team. They do this by meeting clients where they are. “I work with clients to develop a service plan that will help them live a life free of violence. A service plan can consist of working towards housing, obtaining mainstream benefits, finding employment. No two service plans are the same; it’s developed to best suit the client’s needs.”
Services plans are constructed based on the most urgent needs first and progress from there: many clients need emergency shelter, which is available at Branches’ facility. Case managers can then help with housing assistance, food and clothing needs, job assistance, safety plans, counseling services, and of course, legal advocacy. Even if Legal Aid of WV handles a client’s DVPO filing, Branches will often have an advocate attend hearings for to support the survivor.
Branches’ goal is to ensure clients’ safety and dignity are at the forefront of their services. According to Ms. Mathes, Putnam County’s wraparound approach has fostered a successful environment for that approach to flourish.
“Since it is a community collaborative approach it gives the survivor a team of experts to empower them in living a life free of violence,” she says. “As a team we are able to discuss the options that may be better suited for the client.”
In taking this wraparound approach, the STOP Team and its organizations, which include many community partners, are able to more effectively combat Domestic Violence than with any group’s efforts alone. During Domestic Violence Awareness Month especially, we want to recognize the outstanding work that these collaborations have done for our communities.
If you are interested in learning more about any of the resources available, you can visit the Branches Domestic Violence Shelter, Putnam County Sheriff, or Legal Aid of WV website for more information.