It’s been more than five years since Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace, both long-standing and respected human service agencies in Austin, began intensive discussions about how, together, we might better address the complex issues of violence and abuse.
As of Jan. 1, 2017, Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace will merge to become The SAFE Alliance, or SAFE.
We came together with a deep commitment to the people we serve – an abused child victimized as an adult, a little boy who grew up to beat his girlfriend after years of watching his dad beat his mother, a battered woman who loses custody of her children because of abuse by their father – and the myriad examples of the epidemic of violence that is transferred person to person. We came together because of our shared commitment to ending the cycles that too often devastate across lifespans and generations.
With this merger, we continue our journey toward a more unified approach in addressing sexual assault and exploitation, child abuse, and domestic violence.
Historically, victim services have been segregated by the type of violence perpetrated or the age of the victim. This creates ineffective, artificial silos. Governmental regulations and funding have been constructed over the years based on these silos, further fragmenting service delivery systems and complicating our efforts to create a more seamless process.
The already difficult job of merging two large nonprofits was tremendously complicated by the processes of aligning the regulatory and funding frameworks already in place to address each victim service area as distinct and separate problems.
What we knew from our years of work with survivors, and what research is beginning to support, is that addressing issues as multifaceted and interconnected as violence and abuse through fragmented frameworks only produces myopic systems and programs, resulting in splintered and diminished resources, capacity, expertise, and funding.
In 2012, SafePlace and Austin Children’s Shelter came to the table determined to create a more coordinated and integrated victim service model designed to provide effective, meaningful and long-term solutions. We knew we could do better for the individuals and families we serve.
Know the facts
Violence and abuse are an epidemic in our country and our city. This epidemic can be deadly in the moment, but it can also lie dormant, waiting to erupt insidiously through another pathway. Survivors often experience multiple forms of violence and abuse in their lifetimes. Research has shown that victims of one form of violence can face double or triple the risk of experiencing other forms of violence.
We also know that one of the best predictors of future victimization is past victimization. In fact, two of the most consistent factors associated with future violent outcomes (as victim and/or perpetrator) are child abuse and exposure to domestic violence.
According to the Centers for Disease Control:
- Children who experience abuse or neglect are two to three times more likely to experience violence and abuse as adults
- Children who witness intimate partner violence are six times more likely to experience violence as adults
- Youth who are violent toward peers are more likely to be violent toward their dating partners
While this does not mean that violence and victimization are inevitable, it does strongly reinforce the importance of understanding the interconnectedness of the multiple forms of violence and abuse. Increased efforts to address these issues and their related traumas as interrelated problems would yield dramatic gains in preventing violence.
About the merger
Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace first came together in a structured alliance, both agencies maintaining their separate nonprofit corporate statuses and maintaining distinct lines of services. However, just as we know that sexual assault and exploitation, child abuse and neglect, and domestic and family violence are part of a larger interconnected web, our program services also began to meld more closely.
As we have grown into SAFE, we found it ever more difficult to draw distinct lines between programs and services. For example, families at SafePlace supportive housing are often enrolled in the ACS Strong Start program and may be receiving counseling through ACS therapeutic services.
In addition to program synergies, we began to see how each founding agency could infuse their particular strengths and skills into the DNA of the other and increase operational efficiencies. The sum quickly became greater than its parts.
Austin Children’s Shelter brought its expertise with philanthropic fundraising and SafePlace brought its expertise with governmental grant funding, both resulting in significant increases in support for critical services. We were also better able to track outcomes and design programs that demonstrated success.
Perhaps most importantly, we amplified our voice, impacting public policy related to our issues.
The staff at The SAFE Alliance were named “Real Life Super Heroes” by the Austin Chronicle in 2016 because of their successful advocacy to increase funding from the City of Austin to address the backlog on DNA testing of sexual assault kits.
Combined, SAFE now has an annual budget of more than $20 million, more than 350 employees, thousands of volunteers, and prevention and crisis programs operating across multiple campuses and in the schools, hospitals, courts, county, and district attorney’s offices.
We are drawing a line in the sand in Austin. We are committed to ending violence and abuse, and our community stands with us. Together, we can stop abuse for everyone.