Programs - and people - reach out to women who have been abused. But Americans are in a "punitive, blaming mode" when women use welfare.
Often, they are the same women, according to Ruth Brandwein, holder of the 1996 Belle Spafford chair at the University of Utah School of Social Work.Brandwein hosted an invitational symposium of police, social workers, public officials and others last week to discuss policies that recognize the link between domestic violence and welfare use. Their recommendations will be distributed to lawmakers, conference participants and others.
Between 30 and 59 percent of women on public assistance have been victims of domestic violence. And many women would not be able to flee the violence in their families if they couldn't count, at least temporarily, on welfare while they get their families stabilized, Brandwein said.
Domestic violence is a key factor for one of five homeless women.
Local government officials know the major concern of their constituencies is crime, said Salt Lake City Councilwoman Deeda Seed. "The root of that crime is family violence. Youths learn violence in the home is acceptable."
Welfare programs, for that reason, are crime-prevention programs, she said.
Even Congress sees the link, said Brandwein. One welfare reform measure mandates that case workers consider domestic violence when drawing up self-sufficiency plans for people.
Members of the symposium con-cluded that recently passed three-year time limits for welfare will harm recipients who are victims of family violence because many need to first stabilize their own and their children's lives before they are ready to find work or capable of keeping jobs.
The group suggests that the three-year clock not start until the woman has completed her education and until the trauma of violence has been overcome, perhaps with counseling.
"I was in an abusive relationship for seven years, and it has taken me 10 years to get off (welfare) and find full-time employment, said Annie Boone, JEDI Women (Justice, Economic Dignity and Independence for Women). "Going to the store by myself was a major accomplishment."
Her self-esteem was so low, she said, that the process of applying for welfare was terrifying, as well as just plain hard.
After she left the violence, her children needed more emotionally from her. If she hadn't been able to put them first, things would have been worse.
The group also asks that sanctions not be imposed against women who miss work or training because their abusers are coercing or bothering them.
That's a very real problem, according to Diane Stuart, domestic violence state coordinator, Department of Human Services. Abusive men have been known to turn off the alarm so their partners would oversleep and lose jobs, harrass employers and more to keep women isolated.
Recommendations include a need for adequate, accessible child care for low-income working women who might otherwise return to welfare and specialized child care for children who have witnessed domestic violence, as well as support services.
Women who leave abusive relationships should not have to give up custody of their children so they can receive mental health services, the group said.
The group is also calling for more affordable housing and laws that say when a low-income woman flees, any subsidized housing benefits go with her. They want legal sanctions - with enforcement of tough penalties - against stalking and several other laws.