Leading children from fear to safety (part two)

Find out how our counselors work with children to break the cycle of violence.

This Q&A with Children’s and Youth Services Program Director Pam Krasner is part two of a series. Read part one. 

What sets your staff’s approach to therapy apart?

Pam: Much of what we do is help children feel safe. We do our best to create a non-judgmental, client-centered space. We focus on self-determination at any age – children already only have so much control over their lives and much of that is stripped away under domestic violence, so we work to restore that confidence.

We let the children lead. The topics they bring up, the stories they tell in play therapy – all of that informs our understanding of what is happening. When children are dealing with anxiety and fear, we teach them breathing exercises, just like an adult might try. We talk to them about healthy relationships. We make it clear that the abuse is not their fault.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Pam: Knowing that children can’t protect themselves. For Kasey, Carl, and Joey – the kids I spoke about earlier – when they were at Sanctuary, when they were with their mom, I knew they were safe. But their father still had ongoing visitation, and none of us could be there when they went to stay with him. It was hard to not feel worried about what might happen when he was in charge. This is not uncommon, and it’s why self-care is such a critical part of this work.

Despite the challenges, does this work ever bring you joy?

Pam: Absolutely. Seeing a child like Joey go from being delayed and afraid to laughing, walking and taking my hand? That’s incredible. Working with children, I see my role as helping to stop the cycle. I am working with kids during a time when I can really make a difference, educate, and show them an alternative path forward. That knowledge makes the tough times easier.

Sanctuary recently announced a new Strategic Plan that emphasizes expanding our impact on children and youth. What do you envision for CYSP moving forward?

Pam: First of all, expansion of CYSP is critical. We perpetually have a waitlist. We do not have enough resources to meet the extensive need for children’s domestic violence services in New York City.

Second, we are working on processes to identify the children of clients more quickly, assess their needs more fully, and intervene more effectively. I am proud of how we do all of that now, but as I mentioned, we sometimes encounter barriers to providing treatment, like when parents are resistant to services because they don’t think the children were affected. In these cases, it can takes longer for CYSP to get involved. There is definitely room for improvement.

Finally, I think we do a great job collaboratively and holistically addressing a family’s complete needs – guided by Sanctuary’s model. But we could be working more closely with lawyers, shelter staff, and other individuals involved. This is definitely a priority moving forward.

Pam, thank you for joining us today!

Learn more about the Children’s and Youth Services Program, and take part in all of our Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities. Check back next Monday when we feature a story from Sanctuary’s Rosa Parks emergency shelter.

Leading children from fear to safety (Part One)

Director Pam Krasner shares how the Children’s & Youth Services Program makes a difference.

Pam Krasner is an LCSW and the Director of Sanctuary’s Children’s and Youth Services Program (CYSP), where she oversees 21 counselors and support staff, and 6 interns, who serve over 2,000 children and teens every year. By collaborating closely with other Sanctuary staff, including lawyers, adult counselors and shelter supervisors, Pam and her staff can transform the future for an entire family.

In Part One of this Q&A conducted in honor of our Domestic Violence Awareness Month coverage of children and domestic violence, Pam shares why CYSP’s services are so essential to breaking the cycle of violence.

Thanks for speaking with us today, Pam! First question: what is the biggest myth you have encountered around children and domestic violence?

Pam: Domestic violence is steeped in myths and misunderstandings, and particularly around children. Many of the parents who come to Sanctuary seeking services believe that their children were not affected by the abuse.  They often state the children were too young to notice or believe the children were not impacted because they were not in the room at the time of the abuse.

But in fact, children are perceptive and can be impacted even if they are not eyewitnesses. Even infants can be affected.  Studies show that 80-90% of children living in homes with domestic violence can give detailed descriptions of what occurred.

So how does domestic violence impact children and teens?

Pam: Children and teens affected by domestic violence can experience an array of emotional issues – including guilt, anxiety, anger and fear. Exposure to abuse can result in developmental delays, hurt school performance, bring out aggressive behaviors, and affect physical health. Some children may experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even more startling is research indicating that boys who grow up in violent households are ten times more likely to become abusive themselves.

That said, all of these things are possibilities, not destiny, and there are many remedies to help children and parents address and prevent the effects of domestic violence. This is where CYSP staff can help.

How does CYSP work to remedy these issues? Do you have any real-life stories to share?

Pam: Recently I worked with a family whose story really illustrates all of the ways in which CYSP staff and programs come together to move our clients from fear and abuse to safety and stability.

My colleagues in the Legal Center were working with a woman named Mya on a major custody case. When I met Mya and her children, the oldest girl, Kasey, was 8, Carl was 5, and Joey was an infant, just 18 months.

These kids had witnessed their father horrifically abuse their mother, physically, emotionally and sexually. And the consequences of witnessing that abuse were clear. The older children had various emotional and behavioral problems. Joey was delayed, not walking or talking – he would scream incessantly when his mother left him in the childcare we provide for parents attending appointments.

My team sprung into action. Kasey and Carl were each assigned children’s counselors, LCSW staff who have specialty backgrounds in working with children who have experienced trauma. The family met regularly with their individual counselors, and then the counselors would meet together to check in and plan for how to address the issues that arose. This collaborative process is really critical to making a difference.

Along with counseling sessions, the counselors provided significant case management and educational advocacy on behalf of the children – with the lawyers, ACS workers and teachers and counselors at the children’s schools. We connected Kasey and Carl with tutors through Sanctuary’s Volunteer Program. We worked really hard to support the family from every angle possible.

Last time the family was here, Joey, the baby who once could not walk, rushed into my office on his little feet and took my hand, smiling and laughing all the way. The family overall is less anxious, and happier. It’s incredible to witness these changes.

This is the first in a two-part Q&A with CYSP Director Pam Krasner. Check back tomorrow as Pam reveals more about the work and the challenges faced by the counselors who work with Sanctuary’s youngest clients. 

Updated: read Part Two now.

Speak out during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Join us.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Join us to educate and advocate

Domestic violence is pervasive, and affects everyone. In the United States alone, 15.5 million children live in families where domestic violence is perpetrated.

We recognize that serving children and teens is critical to breaking the cycle of abuse. Check back throughout Domestic Violence Awareness Month as we post updates from our Children’s and Youth Services Program staff about the successes and challenges in serving our youngest clients.

In the meantime, you can take action to educate others about the realities of domestic violence. Join us.

Photos and Highlights from the 2015 Abely Awards

We were proud to honor tireless advocates against gender violence.

Last week, members of New York’s legal, civic and anti-gender violence communities gathered to honor United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Judge Pamela K. Chen and Jennifer L. Kroman, Director of Pro Bono Services at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, at the Nineteenth Annual Abely Awards.

View photos from the event.

Co-hosted with Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and Columbia Law School, The Abely Awards recognize individuals who make a difference in the lives of domestic violence and sex trafficking survivors.

This year’s honorees have each used their distinguished legal backgrounds to provide survivors of sex trafficking with opportunities to live their lives free from violence and control.

We were grateful to be joined by The Honorable Judith S. Kaye, retired New York judge and the first woman to occupy the State Judiciary’s highest office, who with Legal Director Dorchen Leidholdt presented the awards.

While US Attorney General Loretta Lynch could not attend the event, she accepted her award by video, recounting her experiences working with Sanctuary to prosecute traffickers during her time as US Attorney for the Easter District of New York. Watch her full video thanks:

We were also proud to honor Judge Pamela K. Chen, a federal district court judge in the Eastern District of New York, and a true pioneer in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking crimes.

We also honored Jennifer L. Kroman, Director of Pro Bono Practice at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, and a longtime Sanctuary supporter and Board Member. Jennifer leads Cleary’s award-winning pro bono practice and maintains an active docket representing survivors of sex trafficking in vacatur cases.

Since 1997, the Abely Awards have celebrated the life and legacy of Maryellen Abely, a pro bono attorney at Sanctuary for Families’ Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services.

An alumna of Columbia Law School, and an associate at Davis Polk, Ms. Abely was a tireless advocate for the rights of victims of domestic abuse and one of Sanctuary’s first pro bono attorneys. She died in 1995 after a long battle with cancer.

Learn more about the Abely Awards.