As the holiday season approaches, many of us are making plans to spend time with family and friends we love and who love us. It can be a wonderful time of year, when we slow down from our usual hectic pace to truly enjoy all that we have.
However, for a woman who, with her children, has left an abusive relationship, the season can feel anything but festive. While many people assume that leaving the relationship ends the abuse, this is not true. Ontario’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee tells us year after year that women who have been abused are at the highest risk of increased abuse, including lethal violence, during the separation process.
This is when many of them are involved with the family court system. Increasingly, because of ongoing cuts to Legal Aid Ontario’s budget, they have limited or no legal representation. As a result, women must manage their own case while also trying to keep themselves and their children safe from ongoing harassment and intimidation by their abuser.
Doing the work
Luke’s Place provides support to women and their children in Durham Region who have been subjected to abuse. Over the past 10+ years, it has been my honour to work with this dynamic organization that just won’t take no for an answer.
Last year, our tiny frontline staff team assisted 810 women in Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa and outlying areas as they navigated the family law system. Every year at this time, those dedicated workers support women who, instead of travelling to visit family, shopping for the ingredients for a special meal or picking out gifts for their children, are at family court fighting to ensure safe access arrangements for their kids or for the child support they need to pay the bills. Many abusers see the holiday season as a time to threaten and manipulate their former partner, with no regard for the impact this has on their children.
Luke’s Place has created a unique service delivery model, in which frontline staff work closely with lawyers to ensure women, at this most vulnerable time in their lives, have access to wrap-around support. This model has been adopted by other violence against women organizations across the province and beyond. We provide training, resources, mentorship and other supports to those organizations and their frontline workers, who turn to Luke’s Place for our expertise and skills.
Need for our work increases every year, but we continue to operate without annualized funding. This means that we rely on short-term project grants and donations, which is a precarious and time-consuming way to support our important work.
I am asking you, however you celebrate this season, to help us help those women and children for whom this holiday time is filled with fear rather than good cheer.
Putting a value on it
How do you value the sense of empowerment women report after working with one of our Legal Support Workers? What it feels like for a woman to have someone she trusts, who believes her and understands her fears and concerns by her side as she deals with the family court process? The relief that a woman feels knowing her kids are safer because of the safety planning our workers assist her with? The exhilaration of being free from an emotionally and psychologically devastating environment, knowing there is a brighter future ahead?
A donation of $150 will support one woman to attend our Family Law Information Workshops, where she will learn basic legal information to assist her with her case. $250 will pay for one woman to participate in our family law networking group that provides a space for women beginning the family court process to learn from other women who are farther along the process. It will also pay for us to develop and deliver training, resources, education and mentorship for one frontline service provider in the province. $500 allows us to provide legal support services to one woman and her children for a year.
Whatever you can contribute will make a difference. I make you this promise: Luke’s Place will continue to stretch every dollar we receive to help women and children fleeing abuse to be safer during this holiday season and through their entire family court process.