Over HELP USA’s 30 year history, families and victims of domestic violence have been at the center of our housing and supportive services.

El Diario, a Spanish-language publication based in Brooklyn, recently featured HELP USA’s programs and services for families provided in partnership with the New York City Family Justice Center in Brooklyn, particularly trauma-informed care for children and families who suffered domestic violence.

The full translated version of the published article is available below, or visit www.eldiariony.com to read the complete Spanish-language article online.

El Diario Logo

Brooklyn Family Therapy Offered to Victims of Domestic Violence

By Ana B. Nieto | June 15, 2017

Victoria Morales - El Diario - 6.15.17

Mexican Victoria Morales during a meeting at the Brooklyn Family Justice Center. (Photo Credit: Mariela Lombard / El Diario NY)

“If you have a library and a garden, you have everything you need.” The phrase is attributed to the Roman orator Cicero and in the center of Brooklyn acquires a new and therapeutic meaning.

At the NYC Family Justice Center in this county there are books for children and mothers traumatized by domestic violence to find a space they have never enjoyed reading, to read, to discover their artistic gifts, to talk, to share, to dine in Family and play. It’s not a garden but “it’s a place to be safe”. This is defined by Charlotte Bednarsh, director of children’s services for this center, a branch of the City Hall, to combat domestic violence.
Bednarsh launched in 2009 a program of help and therapy for families who are victims of domestic violence, which lasts eight consecutive weeks (meet every Monday), to provide family quality time in addition to interest and curiosity about reading. Each year, since then, two cycles of sessions of these therapies have been done, in which eight families are attended, with a total of 25 or 28 people of different ages. It is a unique and pioneering therapy program that falls within the free services that this office provides, in English and Spanish, to survivors of domestic violence regardless of their immigration status.

This expert in children realized that the children of those who suffered domestic violence did not know how to turn the pages of the books “and that is something they normally learn from their parents since they are very small when they sit on their lap to read or play together”. But Dr. Hayley Carrington, program director at  HELP USA / HELP ROADS, who works with this program, explains that mothers who are beaten do not want to have their children in their arms to protect them. “Their priority is not to teach them to read or care for them, but to protect them and often to be close to them can be dangerous for the little ones. The priority is to protect them. ”

This coming Monday marks the end of the Spanish-language cycle that has been under way this year and in which the Mexican Victoria Morales, 28, has found an emotional oasis for herself and her five- and eight-year-old daughters. “They are helping to read the children and how they tell it is so beautiful,” explains this woman living in the Bronx. “These Mondays have benefited me a lot and they are helping my daughters psychologically.”

Art exercises, BFJC

Art exercises done at the Brooklyn Family Justice Center. (Credit: Mariela Lombard / El Diario NY)

Morales has an enviable curly eyelashes, which however do not hide a problem with one of his eyes. It is one of the side effects that has left a tumor in the head that has for three years and although it has been operated to reduce it, could not be totally eradicated. The tumor, which has not grown, also causes problems in one arm and one leg. The father of his daughters took care of these while she recovered of the operation but “two years ago he began to be late and to end the love that we had”. Morales believes that he began to deceive him and explains that he was always angry with her. “It was a change that surprised me but I think she saw the woman with a disability and she stopped loving me”

And after the arguments and angry came the blows. Morales says that he pulled her out of the hair and slapped her twice but on one occasion, the last one did so with the girl’s backpack loaded with books and hurt the wound of the operation. The girls did not witness the beatings because they were sleeping but they know the screams and the anger.

Morales left the relationship in 2016 and spent 10 months in a shelter, where he was referred to this program. Now he has his apartment, he has gained in confidence, he wants to improve his English, and to get ahead. “I have to go ahead half-lame and half cross-eyed but I can not retire, all for my daughters,” he says.

Carrington explains that there are children who arrive with problems of socialization that in the course of two or three sessions begin to join the party of reading or music or manual activities. There are many volunteers who help and in addition to Atticus, the dog with which children play, there is a bilingual police officer who participates in the activities and shows the children that it is okay to call the police if they need it and do not worry about their Immigration status, which has recently added concern to many participants.

Alice Hawks, director of the Family Justice Center in Brooklyn with Hayley Carrington, program director for HELP USA / HELP ROADS.

Alice Hawks, director of the Family Justice Center in Brooklyn with Hayley Carrington (right), program director for HELP USA / HELP ROADS.

Alice Hawks, executive director of the Center for Family Justice, explains that given the situations that many children see they become adults very quickly, take care of their siblings, translate for their parents, “they have adult responsibility without the tools they have to overcome the anxiety.”


The service is comprehensive for surviving families of domestic violence, also open to people with disabilities such as the spectrum of autism. And they are helped to have a plan and provide other services they need, such as free legal assistance or library card if they do not have a stable address (live in shelters). The program is referred to and there is a waiting list but the services of the center can go when you need it to receive help.

Some of those benefited by these therapies come back for visits. One of those who returned was a young woman who turned 15 in this program in 2011. They gave her the dress, the crown, the shoes, prepared a cake and had a surprise party. “It was very important to her because she had never been able to celebrate even her birthday,” recalls Berdnarsh.

“We want to give quality family time and embrace art and creativity. We treat them as family, mothers and children or other family members interact as they did not at home and we see the growth of all, many mothers come out of the shell that are built to protect themselves and begin to do creative things, “says Nancy Pérez, of the children’s services of HELP USA / HELP ROADS.

Morales apologizes when he remembers that Monday the 19th will be the last of the therapy. It is the first day to do home exercise page turn.


“We believe in the resilience, adaptability of humans and that helps us work here,” explains Alice Hawks, executive director of NYC Family Justice Center in Brooklyn. “It’s a lesson to see what people suffer and get ahead.” Both she and the rest of the team participating in this program say that there are times when they see mothers wearing sunglasses and bruises. “It’s kind of hard to watch,” he laments. Charlotte Bednarsh, says that the women who come to the center are very brave and “our hope is that when they leave here they go to a better future, we keep our fingers crossed because they still deal with violence and trauma.”

Some families are still exposed to perpetrators of violence, but the program is designed to commit to the entire eight week period and treat trauma to relatively safe families. Hawks says that when dealing with a family that suffers violence they can not be imposed more control “telling them that they have to change that situation, we can not advise them to leave but to talk about options and empower them to make the best of decisions.”