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Domestic violence fund assists children of abuse
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Domestic violence fund assists children of abuse

Audrey Gaelen gift supports expansion of JFS services

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Founded to address the needs of battered women, the Rachel Coalition has received a $100,000 endowment to enhance the quality of life of their children.

The Audrey Gaelen Rachel Coalition Children’s Services Fund will underwrite a range of activities and services for children exposed to domestic violence, from after-school activities to summer programs, meant to augment the therapy and other services already provided by the coalition.

The gift, received in July and named in honor of its donor, is part of an expansion of services offered by Jewish Family Service of MetroWest and its affiliated Rachel Coalition, both beneficiary agencies of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.

“For years we saw only the victims of domestic violence, not children,” said JFS executive director Reuben Rotman in a meeting at the new office space in Livingston that will be used primarily for children’s and adolescent services.

Rachel Coalition started to work with children exposed to domestic violence within the last three years, said Rotman.

The Gaelen fund will subsidize activities, like sleep-away camp, that fit within an already established treatment plan. It does not subsidize the treatment itself or the therapy the children and their families are receiving. Those are supported by grants from the federal government, from the state, and from private foundations.

“The Rachel Coalition answers needs so necessary on all levels — women, children, families,” said Audrey Gaelen. “Wherever there is a need, they answer it. I’m happy to give whatever I can to help.”

A Short Hills resident, she has helped support the Rachel Coalition since its inception in 1997, she said.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she volunteered for a National Council of Jewish Women hotline that was part of the WISH — Women in Self-Help — project.

“In those days, we didn’t know about abuse,” she said. “We’d hear from these women and after talking for a while, it would come down to the fact that their husbands were abusing them.

“We would try to offer suggestions for where they could go for help, but there was no place they could go. Nobody was doing anything for them. When the Rachel Coalition was founded, I said, ‘Aha. This is an organization answering Jewish women’s needs.’”

This summer, the fund helped three children go to overnight camp.

“Most of these kids don’t have any friends; or if they do, they are very superficial. The kids can’t talk about what’s going on at home, and they can’t bring friends home,” said Tricia Stern, coordinator of children’s and adolescent services at JFS, which includes the Rachel Coalition’s Children’s Services program. “Summer camp allows them to be normal and have a normal, healthy experience.”

One of the campers, a 12-year-old from the local Jewish community, was able to attend a Jewish camp.

When she returned, she told Stern, “I reinvented myself.”

The youngster, said Stern, “got to be away and that was good. She could just go and be a kid and not worry about what was happening at home, and she could engage with kids in a way she otherwise could not.”

The funds have also been used to send a younger child to a theater program that offered a creative outlet for her emotions.

Administrators expected the demand for funding to pick up as the school year got under way. Rotman anticipates funding activities like child care for a parent who must bring an older child to therapy and leave a younger sibling at home.

Expanding services

Rachel Coalition’s rapidly expanding Children’s Services program began just two years ago.

It is one of just two non-shelter programs in Essex County for children exposed to domestic violence, according to Stern. Essex County has the highest rate of domestic violence, domestic violence murder, and restraining orders in New Jersey. The other program, called Dreams, is part of Family Connections, an Orange-based nonprofit. It sees a limited number of children in the period after the parents separate.

Stern and the manager of Dreams, Michal Milow, served as cochairs of the Essex County Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Committee; they conducted a needs assessment in 2010.

According to Stern, the biggest need discovered was for services whose providers — pediatricians, teachers, child-care workers — “understand what these children have been through,” so they are not misdiagnosed with conditions like attention deficit disorder. Because of the way trauma affects children, it can mimic the symptoms of these more commonly seen disorders. Another need the survey elicited was for therapists who can work effectively to improve the relationship of the child with the parent victim.

These needs exist, and not only in inner cities.

“Domestic violence cuts across all socio-economic groups,” said Stern.

Based on the results of the survey, JFS and Dreams agreed to share the caseload — those from urban areas would go to Dreams; those from the suburbs would go to JFS.

“We’ve been flooded with referrals,” said Stern. When they started, she thought they might get seven for a support group; instead they got 11 and had to put four on a wait list. When individual counseling for younger kids was offered, it drew over 40 participants.

“This service really isn’t available elsewhere, in suburban communities especially,” said Stern.

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