Guest Column: Public Safety Fund will help strengthen services for victims

By Terrelene Massey
Special to the Times

The month of April is recognized as Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Throughout the United States this month, including on and around the Navajo Nation, special events and activities are held to bring attention to preventing child abuse and sexual assault.

For years, and on a daily basis, the Navajo Division of Social Services has also been working on education, public awareness, and providing services for individuals, families, and children impacted by violence, including services for victims of child abuse and domestic violence on the Navajo Nation.

This is one of many duties that the NDSS has been assigned in law, among others, including financial assistance, child care, and foster and child welfare. The NDSS is continuing this tradition of providing services. Most recently by adding a program that will aim to provide expanded services to victims of domestic violence and new services for sexual assault and human trafficking victims.

With the support of President Russell Begaye, Vice President Jonathan Nez, committee chairman Jonathan Hale, delegates Amber Crotty, Norman Begay, Nelson Begaye, Nathaniel Brown, and Herman Daniels of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee, NDSS established a new program, the Strengthening Families Program, on Oct. 1, 2016.

With the recent hiring of SFP’s program manager, Lucy Laughter-Begay, SFP is on track to fulfill its goal, which includes making community education and prevention available by providing much-needed emergency shelter services to victims of domestic violence in the Northern Agency area.

With the support of the president’s office, NDSS is working towards this latter goal and aiming it will be met by the summer of 2017. In the meantime, NDSS has established positions within SFP and started interviewing for those positions in the Northern Agency area adding to the job creation of the president and vice president’s agenda.

For the management team at NDSS, the policy issues regarding domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking services concerns capacity, expansion of services, the need for workforce, and sustainability of the shelter in the long term.

Indeed, NDSS has developed goals for sustaining the upcoming shelter. However, to do this NDSS needs leadership’s continued support and community members. In time, NDSS could also look at expanding these services to areas where shelter services are needed.

For NDSS, the Northern Agency area model will indeed serve as a model to duplicate, especially the support that was garnered by Shiprock Chapter, advocates, providers, and others. NDSS also needs its partners to come forward. Several have, including the Navajo Housing Authority, the Division of Economic Development, and the Division of Community Development.

Although wonderful work is being completed in the area of services by the SFP’s community involvement specialists and the victim witness advocates, more needs to be done to have a greater impact on reducing domestic violence.

Every Navajo chapter is plagued by violence impacting our families, elders, and, most importantly, our children. The trend appears to be that child abuse and neglect cases are on the rise. So is the need for emergency shelter services on the Navajo Nation. Ask our partners who provide beds to victims located in neighboring communities in Page/LeChee, Farmington, Winslow, or the one in Kayenta.

The demand for services means that there will be a continued need for additional funding in the short- and long-term future. This leads to the reason for NDSS’s support for the Public Safety System Fund that has been proposed in Legislation No. 0055-17, sponsored by the chair of the Law and Order Committee, Edmund Yazzie, and co-sponsored by the other members of the committee.

NDSS is supporting this important legislation for the fund because not only will it strengthen the nation’s public safety system as a whole, it will create additional avenues to protect families and children by supporting the establishment of additional domestic violence shelters and other treatment programs.

So far, there are only two domestic violence shelters on the Navajo Nation Ð in LeChee and Kayenta Ð both operated as nonprofits. The legislation would dedicate the $58.4 million the nation received as part of its Ramah settlement to establishing this important and much-needed fund. If passed, this legislation could allow for additional shelters to be established.

This legislation includes funding for other priorities that the many partners in the public safety system have, including the Navajo Police Department, Department of Public Safety, Office of the Prosecutor, the public defender office, judicial branch and the Department of Behavioral Health Services.
Supporting this legislation will not only support the infrastructure, but it will allow the NDSS to provide additional services that are needed on the Navajo Nation.

In the meantime, SFP staff will continue to engage communities in their education and prevention work about domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking, and will also continue to coordinate shelter services for victims with our shelter partners, located on and off the reservation, and NDSS will continue on its path to build its capacity in providing much-needed services for the Navajo Nation. It will also continue to develop its long-term plans for shelter services.

Massey is executive director of the Division of Social Services.

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Categories: Guest Essay