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Women's Mental Health Conference at Yale Sponsors Fundraiser for Family Justice Center

September 01, 2020
by Jordan Sisson

The Women’s Mental Health Conference at Yale is fundraising to support survivors of gender-based violence during COVID-19 with the HOPE Family Justice Center of Greater New Haven (HFJC).

There has been an increase in distress calls to domestic violence helplines since the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this year, with requests for help increasing up to 30% in some areas. Survivors are at a higher risk of serious violence because they are quarantining with abusers and resources are increasingly difficult to access.

The inspiration for the fundraiser came out of a desire to connect the WMHC’s mission of improving care for women to community outreach efforts, said Varuna Srinivasan, a member of the WMHC planning committee.

“Sometimes when women go seek help, there so many moving parts when women seek justice for themselves,” Srinivasan said. “Some survivors leave the house with almost nothing. The HOPE Family Justice Center is basically a one-stop shop where survivors can come and get the help they need in one place.”

HFJC is a New Haven-based program that provides multidisciplinary and bilingual services for survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). HFJC follows the Family Justice Center model, a victim-centered, survivor-driven philosophy that has been identified as a best practice in the field of domestic violence intervention and prevention services by the federal Department of Justice. The center offers free services in a trauma-informed environment, including advocacy and legal assistance, housing, on-site childcare, the opportunity to meet with police officers or prosecutors on-site, and connections to clinical and sexual assault services.

During the pandemic, HFJC has fielded a record amount of calls and referrals and is working to keep up with requests for housing, food, clothing, and other services to its clients. The GoFundMe online fundraiser has a goal of $5,000. The WMHC will match donations if that amount is reached, for a total goal of $10,000 raised for the center, Srinivasan said.

“We are truly blessed that the Yale Women’s Mental Health Conference is organizing a fundraiser for the families we serve,” said Paola Serrecchia, Site Manager at HFJC. “During these difficult times our victims have been confined and isolated at home with perpetrators and their children without reprieve. This has affected their well-being and safety.”

Serrecchia said there has been an increase of severe injuries, hospitalizations, difficulty accessing resources, mental health symptoms, substance abuse, relocation from other states, housing needs, and other basic needs for infants and children. HFJC has been able to continue serving victims remotely by coordinating with community partners, she said.

“We have created a resource hub not only for victims, but also providers to receive most updated information of resources in the community and contacts for our partners to best serve families. We want our families to know you are not alone and we are here for you,” Serrechia said.

Also in partnership with HFJC, the WMHC will sponsor three seminars in September focused on best practices for clinicians in caring for victims of domestic violence. Seminars will be led by Serrecchia and moderated by Srinivasan. The first is scheduled at the Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC) on Sept. 9. The other seminars will be held on Sept. 16 and 22.

Planning committee member Isabel Torres said the goals for the seminar are to provide information for clinicians about gender-based violence broadly, including information about local resources they can utilize and integrate in their care practices, and to offer an opportunity for individuals to ask questions.

"The inspiration for the seminars came, in large part from clinicians themselves working in the New Haven area who expressed that they often aren’t sure where to refer patients experiencing domestic violence," Torres said. "Our partnership with HFJC and Paola provides a great opportunity to close that gap by providing information about local resources that clinicians can begin immediately integrating in their day-to-day work. We are also excited to have the opportunity to highlight HFJC and the wonderful care they provide right here in the New Haven community."

For more information regarding the seminars, visit the Community Involvement section of the WMHC website.

The WMHC was founded in 2019 by Yale Psychiatry residents Stefanie Gillson, MD, and Sofia Noori, MD, MPH, and aims to invest in women’s wellbeing by bringing inspiring and leading advocates, researchers, and clinicians together to share knowledge with health trainees and the greater New Haven community. The 2021 conference is scheduled for Friday, April 23, 2021.

For more information about the WMHC, visit their website or find them on Twitter and Instagram at @YaleWMHC.

Submitted by Jordan Sisson on August 31, 2020