OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – October is domestic violence awareness month. While it often signifies a time to mourn lives lost to domestic violence, it’s also an occasion to celebrate progress and connect with others to make change.
At least one in 15 children are exposed to domestic violence each year, according to the National Coalition of Domestic Violence, and the effects can last for years.
For the past week, KFOR has focused on Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services, shedding light on chronic problems in the system.
One recent conversation with a young man who passed through the system highlights how domestic violence victims are often put through an overcrowded system.
Jaden Alexander was one of thousands of Oklahoma kids who ended up in state care because of an unsafe home environment.
“My stepfather [was] physically, sexually, emotionally and verbally violent towards me,” he said.
Jaden spoke out for help, but change took time.
“I went to my school, I called DHS a couple of times and they told me everything was fine,” he said. “They came out and did an investigation and allowed the abuse to happen.”
Finallt, Jaden says he ran away, experiencing homelessness along the way.
“I don’t know where I would be. I would probably still be eating out of trashcans [if I didn’t finally get help],” he added, saying case managers were able to get him on track with resources and out of the dangerous home situation.
His story unfortunately is not unique.
According to the 2022 Annual Report for the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board, a number of domestic violence cases involving kids happen at the hands of family members, including fathers and step-fathers.
In a phone call with KFOR Wednesday, a former child welfare specialist for the state said the system was and still is overwhelmed by all of the kids that need help.
“A majority of the cases that I had [were] either [due to] drugs or domestic violence…the kids were taken away because they witnessed domestic violence and it got out of hand,” said Jessica, who said she resigned after challenges.
That conversation puts perspective on stories like Jaden’s – who needed help to transition from being a victim to a survivor.
He finally got his fresh start after relocating to OKC from Tulsa and getting help from resources geared to those who age out of the foster care system.
He’s currently working towards his high school diploma, is employed and is also taking advantage of a transitional housing program in OKC.
He says he is no longer in contact with most of his family.
“If I didn’t leave [the] situation, I would still be where I was. But you have to leave a situation and just keep moving forward,” he said.
Jaden recently started a non profit for teens and young adults experiencing the same things he did.
He says Compassion Action Youth Services: Changing Lives, One Act at a Time is an opportunity to empower youth through mentorship and education.
” Imagine a world where every child’s potential is nurtured, where opportunities aren’t just dreams but daily realities,” he said.
“We [want to] provide mentorship, education, and resources to ignite the spark of greatness within every young heart.”
Moreover, one local resource, Palomar Family Justice Center in OKC regularly helps families impacted by domestic violence.
“Aside from really severe, horrendous physical wounds for the most part they heal from the physical abuse, but the emotional and psychological toll of being isolated, not being able to trust people of grappling with the grief of the complexity of someone that you thought loved you hurting you are things that take a really long time to heal from,” said community advocate Hillary Burkholder, the CEO of Palomar.
The organization is dedicated to providing a safe and supportive environment for survivors, and access to essential services that help with healing and recovery, including legal and medical resources, spiritual care and access to practical resources for food, clothing and employment.
“Up to 49% of women and up to 40% of men in Oklahoma specifically can experience domestic violence in their lifetime. And so that truly means that we all know someone and so we all have a role in looking out for each other and helping communicate those resources,” she added.
There are a number of ways to help the organization, whether through volunteering, donations or