Ronnie is in a unique position: she’s the first community-based support worker to be housed in the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD). Often times a woman’s experience of violence brings her family to the attention of Child Protective Services. Many women fear that their children will be apprehended as a result. It’s Ronnie’s job to bridge the fear and mistrust so that women access the supports that are available to them through MCFD. Women understand that Ronnie is there to protect their interests, so they confide in her. “I remember one woman who came to me; she didn’t tell the police about her partner’s violence, she didn’t tell her social worker about his violence – she told me.” Ronnie is the line of communication that helps women trust their social workers, “The reality is that everyone involved just wants to keep women and their children safe in whatever way possible.” Sometimes that means supporting a woman if she chooses to leave, but sometimes it simply means helping to make her safer if she chooses to stay.
It is widely recognized that separation is the most dangerous time for women and children fleeing violence. Abuse often escalates during this time, particularly if there is intervention from police or Child Protective Services. Following the infamous Oak Bay murders, a report by the Representative of Children and Youth looked at how to better protect children living with domestic violence. The report suggested that child victims of domestic violence frequently fall through the cracks, or are re-victimized by the very systems that are designed to help them. At this time, it was clear to all involved that a more integrated and collaborative approach was needed to address family violence.
Ronnie’s role at MCFD was inspired by these insights. She brings together her own work and the work of Child Protective Services in a way that protects the needs and safety of women and their children. In her early days working at MCFD, social workers sometimes came to Ronnie in frustration when a woman went back to her abusive partner. Ronnie knows that it takes strength to stay when the alternative is being unable to keep your children fed or a roof over their heads. “By sharing my experience, I helped them see that for many women, the choice between staying or leaving is a choice between being beaten or starving.” This is the stark reality of many women’s lives - a reality that Ronnie has become all too familiar with during her years as a support worker at Surrey Women’s Centre.
Ronnie brings this knowledge with her to the MCFD offices. “We’re all experts in our own ways – especially the women who we work with. No one understands a woman’s experience of violence better than she does. My job is simply to make sure that the pieces we do to keep her and her children safe work together.” Ronnie and her partners at MCFD work in collaboration with a woman to develop a safety plan that fits her life and situation. Together, they see that no detail is overlooked. “Often it’s something simple: keeping gas in the tank so you can get away or charging your cell phone so you can call for help.” Of course, even once a file has been closed Ronnie continues her work, connecting women to the supports and services that help them find freedom from violence. The collaboration between Surrey Women’s Centre and MCFD has seen incredible success. “By partnering together we’ve created a whole team of people who work behind a woman to keep her and her children alive. If we can keep just one woman safe, then it’s all worth it.”