Carrie Plover is the Coordinator of Family Services at Barrier Free Living. A licensed master social worker, Carrie performs clinical family assessments to obtain social, family, and developmental history for all children staying in Freedom House, a crisis shelter for victims of domestic violence.
In February 2020, I spoke to a coworker about how COVID-19 might affect operations at the domestic violence shelter where we work. We wondered aloud how we would admit new people into shelter, how we would meet with our residents, and what would happen if a resident or staff member got sick. We shuddered and decided to keep our fingers crossed, hoping that COVID would spare New York City. Unfortunately, we weren’t so lucky.
As Family Services Coordinator at Freedom House, I’m tasked with providing family therapy, play therapy, and individual therapy to children and adults who fled violent situations. All of my clients have experienced significant trauma due to domestic violence and displacement. Often, that trauma dates back to their own childhoods. During in-person conversations with my clients, I always made sure that my body language and tone came across as non-threatening and non-judgmental.
I realized that my job would radically change when my supervisors announced that my fellow social workers and I would work remotely. That spelled the end to the dog and dance therapy groups I ran for children. I could no longer invite a survivor into my office and sit by their side while they confided in me. The play therapy I was doing with four- and six-year-old children had to move to Zoom.
Writing this in August, I’m proud to have risen to the challenge of developing rapport with survivors who have never met me in-person. Even as I struggled with my own COVID-related anxiety, I have counseled children about their sadness about school closures and offered support to immunocompromised residents.
My role has even taken on a public health dimension: when in contact with our approximately 100 shelter residents, I have made sure to offer accurate, topical information about COVID while encouraging social distancing and mask-wearing. COVID has made the already-challenging job of a social worker even more complex.
The Effects on Domestic Violence Survivors
Affordable housing and access to food have taken on additional urgency in the context of COVID. Many survivors of domestic violence work in fields like retail, home health care, and maintenance, so they do not have the privilege of working from home. As a result, many are jobless or furloughed. Leaving domestic violence shelters, survivors must often live in homeless shelters because of the enormous challenge of finding affordable housing in New York City. The City offers vouchers to low-income families trying to find housing, but those vouchers are notoriously far below market rents. I’ve noticed that local food banks are struggling to keep up with the demand from hungry families.
I encourage Vassar’s alumni community to promote housing and food justice by attending protests, lobbying members of government, and donating to organizations like mutual aid groups and food banks.
Reflecting on Vassar
My experiences in Vassar history and sociology classes, in addition to my work with the fieldwork office, inspired my interest in social work. Both inside and outside of the classroom, I had challenging, inspiring conversations with my peers. Those exchanges encouraged me to reflect on the advantages I was born with. Leaving college, I felt strongly about pursuing a career where I could continue learning every day while advocating for others and promoting the development of a more just world.