November is Family Violence Awareness month.
Unfortunately, according to Wetaskiwin Victim Services program manager Petra Pfeiffer, family violence is a crime that her team are starting to deal with a lot during the pandemic.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the unit is also handling cases without the use of their usual pool of advocate volunteers, meaning the three full-time staff are carrying the workload.
“I would say domestic violence calls have increased,” said Pfeiffer.
Based out of the Wetaskiwin RCMP detachment, the unit handles between 300 and 400 case files per year — all call-outs dealing with crime or tragedy.
In addition to Pfeiffer, the unit also has a full-time family violence support worker and an Indigenous outreach specialist who work with clients.
However, thanks to a $2.6 million grant from the Government of Alberta, Victim Services is not alone in their fight to help women and children at risk in the Wetaskiwin area.
The Red Deer-based Domestic Assault Response Team (DART) started operations in the Wetaskiwin hospital emergency room on Mar. 1, 2021, and in the maternity unit on Mar. 15.
As a matter of routine screening, all patients are asked if they are safe at home. If they identify as being in an unsafe situation, the patient is referred to DART.
“Domestic violence can take many forms, including mental, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse,” said Jason Morton, a communications advisor with Alberta Health Services, in a media release.
Once a patient is referred to DART, the team will make contact, either via a teleconference or in-person, help conduct a risk assessment, and depending on the patient’s situation, a plan will be formed to help support the person.
The plan could range from connecting the patient to other support services, such as mental health counselling to helping them find placement in a women’s shelter.
City of Wetaskiwin Coun. Wayne Neilson is happy to see a project like this come to the city, as tackling domestic violence is something that himself and Coun. Gabrielle Blatz have been working on for the last two years, ever since a report came out in 2019 saying that 20,000 Albertans were turned away from women’s shelters.
“The numbers are pretty devastating in that respect,” said Neilson. “There was definitely a perceived need in the community for a women’s shelter.”
Unfortunately, the costs to set up a shelter in the community are high, and have to be either paid for by the municipality or through the community via donation. Only after the shelter is established can the municipality approach the province for further funding.
Neilson sees the establishment of the DART program as a step in the right direction for the community, as it brings a number of services which were not previously offered.