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COVID-19 Commissioner holds virtual panel on supporting abuse survivors
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Due to the significant increase in calls to the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Cook County Commissioner Kevin B. Morrison ( 15th district ) hosted a virtual panel May 29 focused on supporting survivors of domestic violence and child abuse.

Morrison also moderated the event. Panelists included WINGS Program, Inc. President and CEO Rebecca Darr, Life Span Policy Director Jennifer Greene and Children's Advocacy Center of North and Northwest Cook County ( CAC ) Clinical and Prevention Services Assistant Director Carrie Estrada.

The discussion focused on how the pandemic has impacted survivors of domestic violence and child abuse, the ways service providers have adjusted their outreach and where services and resources can be found during this shelter-in-place period.

Darr said that WINGS has continued to operate during the pandemic with the addition of moving hundreds of people into hotels and from hotels into housing since the safe houses they usually utilize are breeding grounds for viruses like COVID-19.

Greene spoke about her organization's 40-year history of providing counseling and legal services, including family law and immigration cases.

Both Darr and Greene said this has been a difficult and interesting time to be doing this work helping domestic violence survivors as they adapt to provide services while also practicing social distancing due to COVID-19.

Estrada said children often get left out of domestic violence conversations and "that has to change." She added that CAC utilizes investigators who specialize in interviewing children who are victims of child abuse in all its forms and serves 38 communities from the Cook County side of Evanston to Elgin.

According to Estrada, COVID-19 has impacted the CAC in many ways including a 44 percent reduction in hotline calls to the organization since Jan. Estrada said this is because 75 percent of the calls are from mandated reporters with 57 percent of them coming from school officials. She added that in homes where domestic violence occurs between adults, the risk is 15 times higher that children in those homes will experience physical abuse.

When Windy City Times asked how these organizations are helping LGBTQ domestic violence and child abuse survivors especially during this pandemic, Estrada emphasized CAC's inclusive cultural competency training and its partnership with the Kenneth Young Center ( KYC ). KYC is a multisite non-profit that fosters healthier communities in many ways, including counseling; substance-use prevention and recovery; and the establishment of an LGBTQ center for youth and young adults at the Schaumburg office, which is temporarily closed. ( Other offices are in Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect and Hoffman Estates, although only the Elk Grove Village spot is currently open, presumably because of the coronavirus pandemic. )

Greene said there are many staff members who are a part of the LGBTQ community and they are working with Howard Brown Health to provide healthcare access for LGBTQ domestic-violence survivors, adding that said individuals sometimes feel unsafe going to other healthcare providers and hospitals due to sexual orientation/gender identity-related issues.

Darr spoke about designing community shelters so LGBTQ domestic-violence survivors feel safe while they are there as well as court advocates who are aware of the specific issues within the LGBTQ community. She added that WINGS also has LGBTQ staff members.

As for survivors who have tested positive for COVID-19 and how each organization has responded, Darr said WINGS was one of the first organizations to move people out of their safehouses into hotels. She added that, despite some early scares, there have been zero positive cases among the approximately 250 people they have helped during this pandemic.

Other questions focused on how bystanders can help, the ways their organizations assist undocumented domestic-violence survivors, what CAC is doing as child care centers are re-opening in terms of mandated reporter training and safety planning during the pandemic.

Greene encouraged people who are in danger to call or text the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline at 877-863-6388. She said there has been an increase in texts to the hotline during the pandemic.

Estrada said it is important for a community response to occur when they see child abuse happening, especially during this pandemic. Darr added that non-technology methods of reporting domestic violence are also important to have at ones fingertips because of fears that perpetrators will access survivor's cellphones.

See, and .

To view the full panel, visit .

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