Abstract: Improving Domestic Violence Service Access and Response: Learning from the Texas State Plan (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Improving Domestic Violence Service Access and Response: Learning from the Texas State Plan

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 7, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Leila Wood, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Bethany Backes, PhD, MSW, MPH, Director of Research and Evaluation, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Maggy McGiffert, MA, Research Project Coordinator, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Elyssa Schroeder, MSW, Public Policy Coordinator, Texas Council on Family Violence, Austin, TX
Molly Voyles, BSW, Policy Manager, Texas Council on Family Violence, Austin, TX
Alexandra Cantrell, Policy Coordinator, Texas Council on Family Violence, Austin, TX
Background and Purpose: Services for domestic violence (DV) represent a life line to safety, healing, and connection for survivors and their children. Traditional DV service contexts include emergency shelter, housing, non-residential services and legal support. Little is known about the service access experiences of survivors in the DV agency setting, particularly migrating for safety or from traditionally underserved populations. The following study used data from the Texas State plan to understand the service access experiences of survivors. The goal was to inform agencies to improve high quality, trauma-informed service access to facilitate service use, support, healing and justice.

Methods: The project used a collaborative community action-based research framework. The research team worked with the state coalition on multiple activities inlcuding: 1). Availability of Services Survey:  A survey on the range of programs and services administered to 92 DV programs. 2. Hotline Survey: A survey administered to assess the 85 DV agency hotlines on service availability and access, focused on traditionally underserved populations, 3. Secondary Data analysis: Over 15 data sources were reviewed to understand DV prevalence, communities, service use, and crime rates. 4.  Interviews with Survivors: 150 survivors using DV services in diverse regions of the state were interviewed on their experience of accessing and using residential and non-residential services. DV Agency Staff Focus Groups: Over 100 DV agency staff were interviewed about service availability, access, and need. Thematic analysis was used for qualitative data, and bivariate and multivariate testing in SPSS for statistical analysis.

Results: The vast majority of Texas counties (247 out of 254) are serviced by at least one DV agency, 22 (9%) of which have no physical DV agency presence. Over 150 counties, or 62% have a DV agency with a physical location in the county. A shelter is present in 29.5% or 75 Texas counties. The average rate of shelter requests denied due to lack of space was 41%, with higher rates in major urban areas. Survivors faced several challenges accessing DV services, including a lack of knowledge about services, stigma about service use, and need for education to identify experiences as DV. Referrals often come from informal supports, like friends, family, and other survivors who have used services. Informal supports provide a critical role in reducing stigma and offering information about the process and realities of seeking support. Community barriers consisted of lost opportunities from social service, health, and school-based professionals to identify DV survivors and offer support and resource linkage. Transportation and having to leave the home community for services were additional barriers to service access. Formal supports like law enforcement provided critical service access support but these systems often respond insensitively to DV. Many survivors facilitated their own help seeking through the internet, underscoring the need for a strong internet presence for family violence survivors.

Conclusion: Community and peer education helps to increase understanding DV, especially among potential survivor support networks. Service denial due to lack of space increases danger for survivors. County service coverage without a physical presence minimizes service opportunities.