LIFT: An Alliance to End Abuse – Message by Kelly White, Austin Children’s Shelter CEO

At least once a week I read the report for a young person being admitted to the Austin Children’s Shelter and there is almost always an eerie similarity; almost all have experienced multiple forms of abuse and neglect; hurt by family, friends, caregivers and the system. What I have seen, and research supports, is that violence begets violence. The vast majority of the children and youth that live at ACS have been removed from their homes because of unthinkable abuse and neglect. Their lives often share a common theme of abuse and violence permeating generations of their families. Victims of abuse and neglect simply do not come to us in simple silos and to make a lasting impact we, as an agency and a community, must figure out how to create programs and systems that change the patterns. Our question – how do we work smarter to end the abuse that has already shattered these young lives?

ACS believes an essential part of the response must be a more coordinated and responsive service delivery system. We are committed to creating healthy futures for our children and, toward this effort, we have joined with Austin’s SafePlace in an alliance to address child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault. LIFT: An Alliance to End Abuse has been created to work together to eliminate child, sexual and domestic violence through the power of our combined voices and actions.

The LIFT Alliance is already being recognized as a national model for addressing the interconnected issues of child, sexual and domestic violence. Both ACS and SafePlace retain their unique corporate, programmatic and brand identities while also realizing the benefits of coordinated planning and systems advocacy. Efficiency is also being gained through combined back office functions, including Finance, IT, HR, Information Systems and Administration. The LIFT Alliance is also being structured in such a way as to allow other victim/survivor oriented organizations to join.

An important question from our community supporters – “Will my donation continue to support the work of the Austin Children’s Shelter?” Yes, absolutely! This structure allows all member organizations to retain their identities and assets. All donor intent will continue to be honored and all ACS assets will be retained with ACS.

A second important question from the perspective of our clients and the community we serve is “Will my confidentiality be kept?” Again, absolutely! Both organizations will maintain separate and confidential client records.

LIFT: An Alliance to End Abuse will be fully implemented by January 1, 2013 but we haven’t been sitting still in the interim. Both ACS and SafePlace are already recognizing enormous benefits. Already we have:

  • Added a charter middle and high school at the SafePlace Campus making it possible for youth from both organizations to attend school K-12;
  • Opened the ACS residential shelter and parenting coaching and support program for young moms to include young families from SafePlace that are deemed to be at high risk for abusing and losing their children;
  • Created redundancy in several key position and departments; and
  • Generated immediate savings of $150,000 in FY13.

Both ACS and SafePlace will continue to be governed by their respective Boards of Directors and a new Board and corporate entity has been established for the LIFT Alliance. The convening Board of the LIFT Alliance is composed of individuals from both the ACS and SafePlace boards, as well as the general community.

ACS has experienced massive change over the past three years. We have moved from two old homes on Enfield Road to our new 7-acre purpose built campus, increased our nights of care from 5,600 to 20,000, more than doubled the size of our staff, our annual budget and our annual fundraising goals while also dealing with a redesign of theTexas Foster Care system and resultant changes in our client population. Seemingly overnight we have evolved from serving primarily babies and young children to instead serving mostly teenagers; teenagers that have often been in the system long term and living in many different foster homes. Our commitment to these youth is absolute. We may be their last and best opportunity to learn and connect and have the opportunities we all want for our own children.

Our work with these youth is at the core of our belief and commitment in the LIFT Alliance. The current systems haven’t worked for these youth and they deserve better. We think it is time to have a vision for real change. As Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.” We don’t want to just do more of the same, we are committed to changing the game for our youth.

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