Meet Social Science Scholar Alyssa Burns

As part of my SSS project, I am producing a White Paper on both the need for counseling and the lack of access to services available to domestic violence survivors. The White Paper will be given to my representatives, Rick Scott, Marco Rubio and Greg Stuebe. I made contact with Representative Stuebe’s office, who expressed interest in the project. My focus is on domestic violence survivors and their access to mental health services. This population is statistically more vulnerable in every way. It is a diverse population that often lacks financial resources due to the dynamic of control and coercion from an abusive partner. The instability in the life of domestic violence survivor can tax the moral support of friends and family. Often when survivors come into contact with a professional social worker or domestic violence center, they have lost contact with friends and family and it is as a last resort.

While there are programs for abusers, including state-wide Batterers Intervention Programs, survivors have less resources. They may have minimal access to counseling through the Victims Crime Compensation fund. However, that fund is only available if a perpetrator has been arrested and the victim is cooperating with prosecution. Meeting both criteria is sometimes insurmountable for a victim who relies on their abuser for financial and housing stability, especially when there are children involved.

Counseling is a critical component for ending the cycle of abuse. When survivors leave an abusive home, the control continues through verbal abuse and the repeated message that the survivor will never make it on their own.  Outside of receiving an objective point of view coupled with positive affirmation, they will believe that message and return to the abuse.

Domestic violence, or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is listed by the CDC as a public health issue. It affects 25% of the entire United States female population and 10% of the male population. It is especially pernicious in diverse populations who are twice as likely to be murdered by domestic violence partners than in white populations.

As part of my paper, I investigated the viability of funding through the state of Florida for these services, especially in the case of indigent clients who cannot afford them.  There are a number of domestic violence centers that receive funding for mental health services in the Chicago area. I spoke with Kesha Larkins, Associate Director for Connections for Abused Women and their Children (CAWC). This agency is located in the diverse neighborhood of Humboldt Park and has received funding for therapists for over 16 years. Humboldt Park is particularly diverse having large Black, Hispanic and White populations in one area. The continuity of mental health services in Chicago demonstrates not only the viability but the sustainability of providing care.  I believe that we as a society truly want to end the cycle of abuse. I look forward to the opportunity of presenting my paper to Florida lawmakers about the need and the benefit of mental health counseling.

My experience with the SSS program has been amazing in that it reaffirmed my academic and professional trajectory for social work. I was fortunate enough to be part of an inspirational cohort during the chaotic COVID months. Every student came against challenges and found creative ways to both work and around those challenges. I feel fortunate to be part of the 2020 (COVID) cohort!

Alyssa Burns is an interdisciplinary social science major with concentrations in sociology and political science. She has been working with vulnerable populations since 2005 and is now the director of domestic violence programs at C.A.R.E., the certified domestic violence center in Charlotte, Fla. There she counsels victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault and other violent crimes, and attends court on a weekly basis with survivors. Alyssa also oversees all domestic violence outreach programs and staff, including grant writing and reporting. She has been a volunteer mentor for the Take Stock in Children program, a board member for the Charlotte Local Education Foundation and an auxiliary board member for the local Do the Right Thing program. Her passion is helping people and, following graduation, she plans to earn a master’s degree in social work at FSU. 

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