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YWCA’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Team Undeterred by COVID

Learning how to connect over the phone has been the biggest challenge.

Sponsored by YWCA Clark County
Published: December 21, 2020, 6:00am

Madeline Thompson came of age as a domestic violence advocate just as everything in the advocacy world changed. Unlike others on her team, though, she did not have to be retrained to work remotely in the COVID-disrupted role of an advocate.

Thompson is one of five members of YWCA Clark County’s SafeChoice Domestic Violence Community Office Program who provides walk-in advocacy. As the team’s LGBTQ+ Advocacy and Outreach Specialist, she helps those experiencing intimate partner violence.

Thompson grew up in an advocacy household. Her mother, Margo Priebe, joined SafeChoice in 2005, when Thompson turned 12. Thompson moved from one volunteer role to another during her teens, eventually joining Priebe at YWCA in 2013 in a child care role.

But it wasn’t until last April that she joined her mom’s team at SafeChoice. While the work was new to her, the restrictions of providing assistance to abuse victims during COVID were not. Others on the team had to adapt their outreach from hands-on to hands-off. Thompson was trained to advocate remotely.

“I thought I would be doing advocacy in person, but because I joined the team when I did, I was trained to do it remotely,” Thompson said. “Learning how to connect over the phone has been the biggest challenge. You are trying to be compassionate and open and easy to talk to. But there are no social cues that show we are actively listening.”

Priebe agreed with her daughter. “Letting people know they have my full, undivided attention at that moment is crucial to establishing trust. I have to quickly let them know that I am holding space for them in that moment. In person, they can tell I am.”

The advocates were all challenged in their work this year. The ramifications of switching to virtual advocacy meant everyone had to master new phone advocacy skills. They had to take extra steps to maintain participant confidentiality. And they had to be able to stay in touch with survivors they had never met in person, dependent upon phone or online connections that could be unstable.

Meanwhile, incidents of domestic violence have been increasing during the COVID pandemic, according to police statistics. This places greater demands on the SafeChoice team as they moved to remote advocacy.

The advocates’ day starts at 8:30 a.m. Priebe works from her office at YWCA’s Community Office, Thompson from her home office. Calls from domestic violence survivors start to come in at 9 a.m.. Those calls are received by one of three advocates until noon. Pre-COVID, the 9–noon slot was for “walk-ins,” survivors who came to the community office to see an advocate in person. Now, YWCA’s front desk coordinator must manage multiple callers who urgently need to speak to someone.

At noon, calls from survivors are redirected, and the team members spend their afternoons doing follow-up calls with new participants and with previous survivors whose ongoing needs are being met by the team.

Advocates help participants get connected with an array of resources that a domestic violence survivor who is attempting to change her living situation needs immediately. This may include filling out an application for a domestic violence order for protection, connecting them to resources for legal aid, emergency food and clothing, and more.

“Follow-up calls from previous participants have picked up because people find it easier to call us than to come in,” Priebe said. “People appreciate that we are more accessible over the phone.”

But it does increase staff workload in the afternoons. That is also when Priebe and Thompson tend to check in with each other.

“As the new advocate, I feel extra safe asking my mom about things,” Thompson said. “I come to her with a lot of questions, especially because I’m new and people bring a lot of experiences to me that I am unfamiliar with.”

For Priebe’s part, Thompson offers a fresh perspective-—as well as a younger person’s technical expertise. “Madeline helps me with those kinds of things I’d be embarrassed to ask someone else for help with,” she said. “I’m glad to have her on the team and super proud of all she is doing for others.”

If you’re interested in learning how you can support a survivor of domestic violence in your community this holiday season please contact Brittini Lasseigne at 360-906-9123.

YWCA Clark County

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