At Advocates of Ozaukee, the young members of the children’s support group love the days when Zoey, the comfort dog from Concordia University, comes to play. In addition to Zoey days, the leaders of the children’s group lead activities to help the kids deal with feelings and learn peaceful conflict resolution.
Often, before support group, Advocates even hosts family dinners, enriching the feeling of safety and togetherness for the adults and children they serve.
“Domestic Violence is a hidden crime,” says Mary Knetter, Sexual Violence Services Director at Advocates of Ozaukee, “it is often not reported by victims for a number of different reasons, including concerns about safety of children.”
Advocates of Ozaukee, a program partner of both United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County and United Way of Northern Ozaukee is a 16-bed shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual violence. In addition to the children’s support groups, Advocates offers two adult support groups, case management, community outreach, counseling, and legal advocacy.
Often full or near capacity, Advocates of Ozaukee is the only resource of its kind in Ozaukee County.
Clients start with 30 days in shelter, but Advocates gives extensions when needed so everyone can meet their goals. At one end of the spectrum of success, clients eventually move into their own apartment, feel safe physically and emotionally, and begin the healing process alongside their children.
However, Mary acknowledges that not everyone has the same outcome. “Victims may come into shelter then return to their partner,” says Mary, “When that happens, we look for small successes – increasing education about healthy relationships, creating a safety plan, more awareness of their situation.”
Once clients leave shelter, the relationship continues. Advocates invites all former clients back to participate in support group for as long as they need. “We have long standing relationships with clients,” says Mary. “We always try to stay in touch and encourage clients to continue their counseling.”
Community volunteers help Advocates with transportation needs, and offer babysitting and respite care services so that parents can go to appointments and rest.
For safety reasons, Advocates operates out of a non-disclosed location. Because of this, staff works extra hard to get the word out about their services. “We make sure our information is with the police department, mental health clinics, providers, community agencies, and we encourage clients to spread the word to friends and family members,” says Mary.
Mary and her colleagues also do presentations in local middle and high schools, talking with young people about dating violence and what a healthy relationship looks like.
“Everyone should know that domestic violence exists in every community,” says Mary. “In fact, everyone probably knows someone who has been affected. If you do have a loved one, friend, or coworker who is experiencing any type of abuse, just try and be supportive of that person. Often, as helpers, we try to tell others what is best for them and what they should do, but this is often not the most effective method of support. Provide your loved one with options, connect them with Advocates if they’re ready, but most importantly just be there for them to lend an ear.
“At the end of the day, it is up to the person to decide what they need and what they are ready for.”