A growing number of women and children are seeking help from the Central Alberta Women’s Shelter during the ongoing pandemic.
Executive-director Jacquie Boyd reports that client numbers have risen across the board — at the shelter, in its outreach programs, and in calls to the crisis line.
Crisis calls to the shelter rose to 3,526 from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30 in 2021, from 2,761 during the first 11 months of the previous year.
Children are now making up nearly 40 per cent of the shelter’s clientele — and Boyd considers this “very tragic.”
Recent studies have shown intimate partner violence can even impact unborn infants, whose brain development is affected by their pregnant mother’s level of stress hormones, Boyd added.
She noted that shelter workers are regularly assisting kids with counselling and other resources to try to prevent the impacts of domestic violence on a new generation.
According to shelter statistics from January through November 2021, 376 people stayed at the shelter, including 146 children. This is up from from a total of 359 people (including 147 children) from the same period in 2020.
Annual stays during the pandemic are still lower than in 2019 when 558 people sought refuge at the shelter.
But outreach cases have grown. Boyd said 251 individuals were involved with shelter programs as of Nov. 30. This compares to 163 people involved in Nov. 30 2020.
Alarmed shelter workers are still reporting a higher level of violence being experienced by their clients, including more cases of choking, said Boyd.
She can’t explain this ramping up of violence, except to suggest that rising frustration and financial stress during the pandemic could be causes. “It’s definitely a high concern.”
At this time, more women could also be feeling isolated, due to COVID-19 protocols, said Boyd. She, therefore, wants to make the public aware of one red-light indicator of problems behind closed doors.
“Coercive control” is when a partner tried to dictate exactly how a woman and child should behave and spend their time. “I really want to stress that the community — friends, neighbours, family members — need to become very aware of this, said Boyd, and try to reach out to see if these women need help.
“We all must be kinder and more observant.”
Despite a difficult year, the shelter has had some success stories.
Boyd said one abused woman who fled domestic violence stayed longer than usual at the shelter because of many challenges: She had no legal status as a permanent immigrant so was unable to work or receive any financial assistance. Shelter workers helped to secure her a work visa, and the woman now has a job, is renting an apartment, and can pay for child care for her son.