Listening session target family violenceWisconsin Department of Children and Families Secretary Reggie Bicha stopped in Superior on Monday to kick off a three-day listening tour of Douglas, Ashland, Bayfield and Sawyer counties.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Secretary Reggie Bicha stopped in Superior on Monday to kick off a three-day listening tour of Douglas, Ashland, Bayfield and Sawyer counties. He spoke at the Douglas County Courthouse about the importance of teaming up to protect children and families throughout the state.
Bicha and Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, then followed up with a roundtable discussion on domestic violence in northern Wisconsin – the unique challenges faced and local programs aimed at helping victims.
“We mostly want to spend time listening,” Bicha said. “What’s working well, what’s not working so well.”
The Superior Police Department fields an average of 350 domestic violence reports a year, according to Sgt. Donna Andrews. And children are caught in the crossfire.
Kelly Burger, executive director of the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse, noted that the organization has seen a 20 percent increase in the number of families with children served over the last three years.
“What we’re seeing at child protective services is an increase in families experiencing domestic violence,” said Steve Siebers, deputy director of the Douglas County Human Services Department. And, he noted, “very, very few are isolated incidents.” By the time the health and human services department is involved, he said, the family has experienced a series of violent incidents.
Siebers said the economic downturn and job losses have led to a greater economic dependence for some domestic violence victims. It has also given rise to situations where a number of families live in the same home because of financial reasons. When violence erupts in a crowded multi-family home, he said, there are usually more victims, often children.
One of the unique responses to domestic violence in Superior was the introduction of an officer who investigates such incidents full-time. Funded partially through a one-year American Recovery and Reinvestment grant, partially through some shuffling of police duties, Superior Police Investigator Michelle Lear focuses solely on families in the throes of violence. She has been doing so full-time since March 1.
“So far it’s been a great benefit,” Andrews said. A goal of the grant was for Lear to do follow-up work – interviews of victims and witnesses, collection of information about past abuse incidents etc. – on at least 50 cases.
“She has already exceeded that in the first four months,” Andrews said.
The work Lear does strengthens possible court cases and makes positive connections with victims. That was key to Bicha.
“It’s about trust,” he said. “You spend time, build a relationship and get information that could save a life.”
The Department of Children and Families, created two years ago, has saved taxpayers more than $45 million by cracking down on fraud and abuse in the Wisconsin Shares program. Bicha thanked legislators, in particular Jauch, for giving the department the tools needed to stop those who were scamming the system. Jauch mentioned trying a similar approach to abuses in the social service program.
Bicha also commented on the YoungStar program, approved by the Legislature last week. When it begins a few months from now, YoungStar will offer Wisconsin Shares day care providers with the training and technical assistance to increase the quality of care. There are currently 56 providers in Douglas County eligible to volunteer for the new program. For more information on YoungStar or the Department of Children and Families, look them up online at http://dcf.wisconsin.gov.