We're talking about domestic violence, we're looking at trauma, we're looking at information, and we're equipping our participants with tools to not only navigate healthy relationships, but really to navigate the world.
In the latest episode of our podcast series, our host Juan Carlos Areán from Futures Without Violence speaks with Lisa Nitsch, Director of Training and Education at House of Ruth in Baltimore, and Tamaris Princi, Director of Abusive Partner Intervention Programs at the Urban Resource Institute in New York about holistic wraparound services for abusive partners. They address issues surrounding accountability, understanding the motives and needs of abusive partners, and centering survivor voices in developing these programs.
The following is a transcript of the podcast:
JUAN CARLOS AREÁN: Greetings. My name is Juan Carlos Areán, Program Director in the Children and Youth Program at Futures Without Violence. We partner with the Center for Court Innovation on the Abusive Partner Accountability and Engagement Project, an initiative funded by the Office on Violence Against Women. We provide training and technical assistance to communities across the country to help them enhance their abusive partner intervention and engagement strategies.
We are producing a podcast series focusing on innovations and trends in abusive partner intervention programming, also known as battering intervention. And today I have the great pleasure to be joined by Lisa Nitsch, Director of Training and Education at House of Ruth Baltimore, and Tamaris Princi, Director of Abusive Partner Intervention Programs (APIP) at the Urban Resource Institute in New York. They'll be talking with us today about holistic wraparound services for abusive partners. Thank you both so much for joining us today.
LISA NITSCH: Thanks, Juan Carlos. Pleasure.
TAMARIS PRINCI: Thank you for having us.
AREÁN: So my first question before we start on the actual topic is could you share a brief general overview of your work and your organizations? Let's start with Tamaris.
PRINCI: The Urban Resource Institute in New York City offers innovative, client-centered services throughout the five boroughs of New York City and Westchester County. We work to transform the lives of domestic violence survivors and homeless families with the focus on communities of color and other vulnerable populations.
We have one, APIP and then we have programming called PALS, which integrates families who have experienced domestic violence, into the shelter with their animals, allowing them to escape violence with their families intact. So we're just really proud of the services that we provide. We strive to, again, be innovative, client-centered, and trauma-focused.
AREÁN: Wonderful. Thank you so much. What about you, Lisa.
NITSCH: So I'm representing House of Ruth, Maryland, and we are a comprehensive service agency serving those who are impacted by intimate partner violence. We were established in 1977. And today, we have 13 service locations throughout the state of Maryland. But our primary service center is Baltimore City. We provide emergency shelter, transitional housing, and rapid rehousing. We have counseling services for survivors and their children, we do lots of legal representation for peace and protective orders as well as divorce and custody, as well as just overall case management.
In addition to those survivor-centered programs, we also are focused on creating a safer world for those survivors to live in. And most of that work is what falls in my wheelhouse. So that includes our intervention programming, for those who have used violence toward their partners, as well as our training efforts that make sure that our staff have lots of professional development opportunities, as well as providing community education, about how to recognize and respond to intimate partner violence, as well as providing more formal technical assistance programs.
AREÁN: Great. Thank you so much. So both of your organizations offer what I will call wraparound services. For abusive partners which is quite unusual in the field of APIPs. So, can you explain what that means? Wraparound or holistic services. Let's start with Lisa this time.
NITSCH: Sure. So those services for us at House of Ruth Maryland include screening, referral, and co-location of supportive services focused on employment, everything from resume support, all the way to employment, as well as substance abuse counseling, mental health support, parenting by peer-led parenting program, as well as co-locatingtheir supervision. So their probation agents can come on-site, and they can do their check-in with their supervising agent before or after they're attending their group. So this whole idea of creating a one-stop shop environment for all of the most relevant programming that our participants identified that they need.
AREÁN: That's wonderful. So you're saying that when someone goes to your program for their group, there's someone representing probation and someone offering employment services and substance abuse. How does it look like?
NITSCH: It's not a perfect alignment where all services are available all times of the week. However, when somebody comes into the program, they're automatically screened for all of these services.
Most of the probation agents try to make arrangements that meet their supervisees' schedules. So they're a little bit more flexible, they drop in when they know that their supervisee is going to be on site. But the others, it's more on a rotating basis. So they may come here on Tuesday for their intervention services, but come back on Thursday for parenting support.
AREÁN: Okay, got it. Thank you so much, Lisa. How does it look for you, Tamaris?
PRINCI: Sure. At our Harlem location, we are fortunate enough to be fully funded through the District Attorney of New York. And we're able to provide holistic case management. In addition to providing information and referral services to similar programs, as Lisa mentioned, substance abuse, mental health services, and other supports, we provide one to one coaching and supports around lifestyle choices, employment choices, motivational opportunities, recreational opportunities. Our case managers are in contact with our participants at least two to three times a week, and really talking to them and trying to understand what they're looking for in life and what can improve their perspectives and their family's lives as well.
We also are able to offer individual counseling, and that is very different, I believe in the APIP world. In addition to the group counseling in Harlem, that is two hours, we're able to offer our participants an additional hour of individual counseling. And we have clinical staff, as a part of our program.
In our Westchester County program, that looks a little different. We're co-located with probation. So we're offering holistic case management and so, we're able to collaborate with probation in a way that allows them to be more trauma-informed. We do a lot of cross-training, and so we're able to impact the system in that way.
AREÁN: That's great. So both of your approaches are very much in line with one of the principles for the abusive partner accountability and engagement project. This principle states that “interventions and engagement strategies for people who use violence ought to respond to the needs and strengths of those people.” From your point of view, why is it important to do this? And how does it connect with the services that you just described? So we'll go with Tamaris first.
PRINCI: Sure. I think we have a few philosophies that tie into this question. I think that, first and foremost, we believe that abusive partner work is victim work. We believe that by helping abusive partners, we help heal them. And we hopefully stop them from using violence and creating more victims or further victimizing past survivors.
We also believe that hurt people hurt people. And looking at our statistics, we have found that to be true across the years, with upwards of 80% of our folks having experienced some type of serious physical or sexual abuse in childhood or at some point in their lives. And so, we believe that as part of healing and bringing them to accountability, we need to offer understanding, forgiveness, and resources so that they could realize their full potential. And their full potential for us includes them becoming fully accountable for what they've done.
AREÁN: Thank you. How about you, Lisa?
NITSCH: So I feel really lucky to be part of an organization that sees the two pieces of our mission like one about serving victims and directly and providing them the services that they need to rebuild their lives is important. But critically, an equally important is the work that we need to do to change the world around those survivors. It's parallel work, it's equally important work. And as Tamaris was saying, this is survivor-centered work when we're talking about engaging abusive partners.
I've had the luxury of, my career starting at House of Ruth in 1998, has always had Dr. Jackie Campbell at the table, she's on our board. And now she's a dear friend of mine. And so, I was professionally raised on the danger assessment that she created. And I very quickly came to understand how little control survivors have over the lethality indicators that impact them. And so much of that really is focused on the abusive partner’s behavior, whether you're talking about them being unemployed, or addicted, or their controlling and possessiveness, that all of that work around improving the safety of survivors really is about engaging their abusive partners.
It’s always struck me how the basic principles of adult learning haven't been applied in the intervention field for so long. This idea of understanding the motivation behind their behaviors, and potential motivations for change is something that we do in all kinds of adult learning realms. And I just don't think it should be different when we're talking about abuse intervention work. That we need to appeal to their motivations, and that might not be what we want them to be at first, but we'll get them there eventually.
But this whole idea of helping them understand that they too are harmed when they're using violence against their partner, that they are a product of potentially a harmful generational cycle, that part of a community that supports patriarchy, and entitlement, and oppression. And helping them appreciate that is really important. I find it's really uniquely important here in the work that I'm doing in Baltimore City with predominantly Black men who have low incomes, and that they certainly understand systems of oppression, in the way that they experience it when they're on the bottom of that oppressive hierarchy.
And so, turning that on its head, listening to them, listening to their experiences, and then being able to look at them genuinely and say, "Why would you perpetuate that type of a system in your own home?" is really eye-opening, and it is a great compassionate way to get them engaged in a change process. It just seems far more effective than some of our traditional approaches to the work.
AREÁN: It's fascinating. I like to hear more about the journey that took both of you to this point or your organizations. So again, Lisa, how did you decide, it is time to offer an extended array of services for abusive partners? What was the journey to get there?
NITSCH: I wish I could say it started from a more compassionate place than it did. But in fact, it really was about serving people who couldn't pay the fees that our agency was charging. Because of the lack of availability of public funding for us, we really have always been dependent on a fee-for-service model. About a third of our operating budget is generated from client fees. And so when participants couldn't afford them, no matter how low we made them, we had to get creative. And so we started making referrals to a local employment program.
So we made a deal with our participants, said, "If you enroll in this employment program, we'll waive your fee for the three weeks it takes to do that plus two weeks until you're actually actively employed." And we worried that maybe that would overburden our participants. That coming to an intervention program, as well as participating in this employment readiness program was going to be too much. But in fact, we found just the opposite. That people who were engaged in both of those programs were not only more likely to complete our intervention programs successfully, but they were also had better outcomes in the employment program.
So it really was a win-win all the way around, especially when you add on top of it that employment reduces lethality. And they're now in line with their probation order and a victim feel safer whether it's just because lethality is reduced or because she's got eight hours a piece a day. So all that was happening around the employment piece. And that was great.
At the same time, I had the wonderful Dr. Oliver Williams serving as a mentor to me, particularly, and people can't see me on a podcast, but I am a white leader of a nonprofit, working in a community of color. And so, it was really important for me to find people like Dr. Williams, who really encouraged me to listen to the unique experiences of Black people and other people of color in this country when it comes to traditional services and systems.
Same time, Jacque Boggess, at the Center for Family Policy and Practice was doing incredible listening work with Black survivors of intimate partner violence talking about how they would like to see more supportive services available.
NITSCH: So we were learning about how women of color recognize that their abusive partners also are victims of oppressive systems, that they don't necessarily want to be responsible for subjecting another person to the traditional criminal legal system. That was all happening. And on top of that, I was also working with Jill Davies and her great work talking about how survivors may stay in contact with abusive partners for all kinds of really practical reasons.
And part of it may be economic interdependence. And that we can help survivors by getting their abusive partners employed. And we don't have to get lost in the conversation about whether unemployment causes violence to recognize that a survivor benefits when their abusive partner is employed in many different ways. So all that was happening for us at the same time as we were building out this model.
AREÁN: I'll pivot to Tamaris with the same question.
PRINCI: So we actually had similar beginnings. The program was started at an agency that had primarily been serving individuals with disabilities. And at the time, I was working in the minority outreach department as the director of that department. We were offering empowerment and motivational type workshops and employment readiness workshops through a partnership with Access, a New York State-based agency that offers monies to individuals who qualify and are pursuing education or vocational goals. We were able to offer some employment readiness workshops to people who were on probation.
And what we noticed was that our workshops were now starting to be filled with individuals who were impacted by the criminal justice system, and we noticed that it was as much of an obstacle for them as it was for somebody who, for example, had to use a wheelchair at a place of employment.
So, we began a more thorough, a more deep, I should say, partnership with probation. And over probably about the course of two or three years, really looked at abusive partner intervention programming and work.
After about two and a half years of development, we launched the first version of the abusive partner program in 2011 again, under a separate agency. We ran that program successfully in Westchester County, again, with the partnership of the county Probation Department, until 2016, where the agency that housed us at the time really saw it as too much of a departure, I would say, from their own mission statement. And we were lucky enough to find a new home with the Urban Resource Institute.
In 2016, we were then fortunate enough to receive a grant from the District Attorney of Manhattan. We had been offering the program in Westchester County for a period of 65 weeks, which was really special and unique for abusive partner work, which is sometimes limited to 26 weeks, or even 16 weeks.
So we had the real fortune of developing and learning in an environment where we were able to be with our participants for a significant amount of time, where we were able to learn from our community partners who had a significant amount of involvement with our participants. We had access to survivors through the survivor work with the Department of probation. So we had such great resources at our fingertips.
We then launched the program in Manhattan not too long ago, about a year and a half ago now. It also allows us to work with the New York City based survivor resources in a very different and meaningful way. Whenever possible and whenever our survivors agree, we have contact with them. We're able to provide them as much information in terms of compliance and attendance, as they're looking for.
We're also able to gather information from them, which is very important and special for us. We believe that if we're able to get their perspective, not only through the assessments, but through conversations with them. We're able to ensure that they're even safer, and that when there are concerns that we come across in program, that we're able to communicate those concerns and provide interventions that keep our survivors safe. We believe that we've intervened and saved several survivors.
AREÁN: Fascinating. I was going to ask about funding and you already told me, Tamaris, that you're fully funded by the Manhattan DA and probably you will be the envy of all the APIP directors that listen to this.
PRINCI: That's right.
AREÁN: As you know it's so difficult to find funding. I find fascinating that this initiative has been sponsored by the DA.
PRINCI: We were lucky enough to get this grant through the district attorney's office because they were able to get a really large sum of forfeiture funds through an international banking case that they had been a part of prosecuting. And so, this funding is not here forever. And so, we are always looking for ways to create a program that's sustainable, that is able to be funded by different funding sources.
We at our agency do an amazing job, I think at raising private funds and partnering with other different sources of funding, but we're always looking for opportunities through channels like DCJS, the Department of Criminal Justice Services, and other partners in the criminal justice system. We definitely struggle with funding in Westchester County. We won't open until post-COVID. But we're soon to be offering services under [Raise the Age] funding. But aside from that, it's not funded. And so, that's something we struggle with, and I think that's something a lot of APIP struggle with.
AREÁN: Thank you. So what about you, Lisa, where have you folks found funding for this?
NITSCH: One-third of our client fees supports the operating budget. We have one-third that is grant funding, much like Tamaris was saying, a lot of our grant funding is focused on those criminal justice funding opportunities and reducing criminal recidivism focus. And then a third is dependent on our general operating funds. So that's private funding and donations and things received specifically through the agency.
But the supportive services model itself, really, we don't provide the additional services. And that's really been key for us, it's not been much of a budget burden in that sense. And that, being in Baltimore City, serving a large population, we serve 5 to 600 individuals each year, many of our community partners are eager to have access to such a large population with need. And so, we're very fortunate that this is mostly a partnership model and a collaborative model with other agencies throughout Baltimore City that are already providing these types of supportive services. We're really just creating the location for them to be co-located. So we created this space. And that was through a capital campaign we launched, we opened a new facility in 2018 for our 40th anniversary, it was our birthday present to ourselves was a Community Engagement Center that created that space so we could have those services co-located.
AREÁN: Yeah. I had the pleasure of visiting. It's a beautiful place. I also find interesting that both of your agencies are agencies that serve both survivors of domestic violence, and also abusive partners, which as you know there's some APIPs that do that, probably the majority don't. So I'd be curious, and maybe you spoke about this a little bit, but how did this inform your decision to offer wraparound services? Lisa, what would you say?
NITSCH: In Maryland, in order to be eligible for certain state funds, you have to have emergency shelter beds, you have to have a 24-hour hotline, some counseling services, and uniquely, an intervention program. And I know that's very uncommon throughout the country. But when I first started here in 1998, under a different agency leadership, that program was really limping along. It was minimal funds. It was the stepchild of the agency. It was what we called, many organizations refer to as the unfunded mandate. You had to have it but you didn't say how much you had to pay and how much you had to contribute to it in terms of your agency's budget. Since then, I would say in the past 20 plus years that I've had the pleasure of working in the program, we have really seen the commitment to this work grow and I think that is tremendously in part due to voices of Black women and communities of color for us here in Baltimore City, that their leadership, talking about and amplifying the voices of survivors of color and how they cannot necessarily depend on traditional services, or the criminal legal system to be the resource that it is for more privileged communities and particularly, mainstream white communities.
That's really been important. Partly, and Juan Carlos, you had something to do with this in is some work that we did with Casa De Esperanza, where they challenged us to do some listening sessions with our community, we've replicated that model over and over again. And what you hear from Black women, and Latinx women, and other women of color, who are survivors of intimate partner violence, over and over again, they talk about how their partners need to be engaged in different ways and in supportive ways. And that many of the people that we're serving are simply perpetuating cruelty that they've experienced. Not necessarily, I wouldn't go to a clinical level of it's a mental illness necessarily, but, I'll borrow the concept of the River of Cruelty from Steve Halley and Topeka, Kansas, the idea that you don't become cruel until you experience cruelty firsthand. And I certainly see that true here in Baltimore City.
And so that's been critical that intervention services with abusive partners are about the most survivor informed service that we've ever offered because that's what they've been asking for. Since the day we started serving victims, they've been asking for help with their abusive partners. We know that many of them would love to stay in their relationships if they could do it safely. And so that's really what we're doing, listening to the community we intend to serve.
AREÁN: Thank you, Lisa. What about you Tamaris?
PRINCI: I think Lisa hit the nail on the head. In listening to our survivors, over decades of providing the services, we know that our survivors want their abusive partners to be engaged in supportive services and to have resources available to them, whether they choose to remain with them or not, many of our survivors, again, as Lisa said, would stay in the relationship if it was safe for them. Many of our survivors, if they were leaving the relationship still have to co-parent with their abusers, and with our participants.
And so, we are looking to offer our participants a different perspective, I think, on the world. We offer services using the cognitive-behavioral approach. And so, we're talking about domestic violence, we're looking at trauma, we're looking at information, and we're equipping our participants with tools to not only navigate healthy relationships, but really to navigate the world, to navigate conflict, and to empower them to advocate for themselves in appropriate ways to give them an exchange where they once used violence or anger, they can use different tools, and we try to equip them with that. So, we believe that everybody who's impacted by domestic violence deserves resources and services to move past the violence. Because again, as Lisa said, many of our participants have experienced cruelty and trauma and they deserve healing too. We balanced that with accountability, and that's why we believe in the program.
AREÁN: Well, that's wonderful. I remember years ago someone saying, "I don't coddle batterers" those were her words. But I think you have made the case. This is survivor-centered services. So thank you both for that. So my last question is, what would be your advice to other APIPS who would like to do wraparound services. I'll start with Tamaris this time.
PRINCI: Funding will help. But aside from being well-funded, I think that there's a lot of opportunity, as we do in Westchester, as we do as a member of the high-risk team in several different locations, I think there's opportunities to partner. I think that if you partner in really smart ways, and you find partners that are dedicated to reducing violence, to making your participants’ lives more fruitful and positive so that they can become more accountable and change their behavior. I think it's a win. I think that it's important to have employment readiness services, it's important to have a partner that can deal with benefit counseling to resolve, for example, Medicaid issues, which can be common for some of our participants, it's important to have resources, again, that are connected to survivors, it's important to always, I think, stay in touch with survivors.
I think that maybe from the outside, one of the challenging things can be having compassion for our participants. But I think that when you're doing this work, when you hear these stories, I think that you're in these rooms, it's easy to have compassion for them. What you have to balance that with is the survivor voice, is the accountability portion. And so, it's a very fine line at the intersection of accountability, and compassion, and trauma-informed clinical work, where we want to hold the hurt and the pain of our participants. But we also want to hold the hurt and the pain that was caused by our participants, and that of the survivor.
And so, we always try to have the survivor voice in the room, whether it's through a roleplay or a victim impact statement. We're always reminding ourselves as staff and reminding the participants that there was a consequence to their actions. And really remembering that any violence, whether it be verbal, emotional, or obviously, physical or sexual, has a long-lasting impact.
AREÁN: Thank you, Tamaris. Lisa, what was your advice to other agencies?
NITSCH: So I know, I struggle with the word accountability and whose role it is to hold abusive partners accountable. But I just always think it's about listening to the people that you intend to serve. We had already decided we were going to offer employment support to our participants because again, that was like a fee-based driven motivation on our part. But when we started thinking about what else we might co-locate at the space, we literally took a week where we asked every one of our groups, what services do you use? What would benefit you? And while we had already thought about Substance Abuse and Mental Health, because of the lethality implications that had on it, we were really surprised when they asked for parenting support. That came from them, that came from the group.
And just the conversation of saying to our participants, where do you spend your time outside of here? What could we co-locate here that would be helpful to you? Immediately shifted the room and told our participants that we see them as whole people. This is really about removing the barriers for them to be able to fully engage in your program.
I would say, also be prepared for the skeptics.
I remember we introduced this idea just internally in our own agency, and people were very skeptical. But I'll tell you, the proof comes. And think about it in terms of your removing the excuses that abusive partners have used for many years to justify their violence, that they're overwhelmed because they're unemployed, that they're overwhelmed at work, that they are struggling with subs, and so they hurt their partners. We have partners that are engaging around these other issues. That was an important piece of our model was separating our role and making sure that we're making a collaborative relationship with others who were going to help them with the other thing. That was really important for us.
AREÁN: Well, that's really wonderful. Is there anything else you would like to add any of you, I guess?
NITSCH: I would just say be creative. I know when I first started in this work, everything was so prescriptive, and it was like this is the model that you shall live and die by. And while I wholeheartedly believe in curricula, I also wholeheartedly believe in intentional creativity and being led by the community that you serve, that you should always be listening to the community about what they believe, listening to the survivors that you intend to serve, what would make them safer?
A great model for this, I think, is Project Mirabal out of the UK that Nicole Westmarland's been working on, the idea of what do survivor say would make their lives better? And how can we get focused on that? Listening to survivors and truly being driven by their voice. And I think it's going to organically lead you to this place of being more creative, being more engaging, being more compassionate to the people who have been abusive. It's just a natural process that happens.
AREÁN: This has been such a wonderful conversation. I want to thank you for your wisdom, for your boldness, and for your incredible work, Lisa and Tamaris, and for joining us today. If you like this podcast, we invite you to listen to others we have produced as part of the series. We have covered several topics related to abusive partner intervention, including working with a trauma-informed perspective, Native American responses to domestic violence, victim-centered approaches, working in faith communities, and other culturally relevant work. To find the rest of our podcast series, you can visit our National Clearinghouse on abusive partner intervention programming at courtinnovation.org/abusive-partner-resources. You can find other resources such as the Project Mirabal that Lisa was mentioning. There's a lot of other resources there. So I hope that you can visit us.
And to learn more about our project or request technical assistance, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And to learn more about these wonderful organizations for House of Ruth Maryland, hruth.org, one word, and for the Urban Resource Institute, urinyc.org, as well as futureswithoutviolence.org and courtinnovation.org. Thank you so much for listening, and so long.