Last month, three children were killed in a house fire, in a blaze apparently begun by their father. The incident strengthened our resolve to expand local efforts and to tap into more resources to prevent and address family violence.

Dr. Trashanda Grayes, who has a doctorate in psychology and human behavior, is the Executive Director of the New Orleans Family Justice Center. Last year, the Center saw 2,293 adult survivors and 750 children who suffered from violence. Her staff works closely with survivors to address risk factors and build their abilities to heal emotionally and to live safe, healthy lives.

Arthur Hunter, a former New Orleans Police Department officer and judge at Criminal District Court, serves on the New Orleans Family Justice Center board. In 2019 while he was presiding over a domestic-violence murder case, he asked, “When, as a community, do we develop a comprehensive holistic plan and commit the resources to address domestic violence?”

Three babies were killed in our city, caught up in the chaos of domestic abuse and violence.  We are righteously justified to be angry, show sympathy and have vigils. But we also need to come together as a community to work toward solutions. Here are some ways we can do that.

1) We need to identify “cracks” in all systems to ensure that no one continues to fall through them. For example, every day, alleged or convicted perpetrators in family-violence cases are released. But on Wednesday, October 25, the VINELink (victim-notification network) went down. On that day, survivors whose perpetrators were jailed in Orleans Parish were not notified; therefore, unaware that they needed to take extra precautions because their perpetrators were being released/bonded out. We are trying to determine backup procedures for any future system failures.

2)   We have to establish better response times to address mental health issues that have been caused by the effects of trauma. There is not enough funding for mental-health providers to provide ongoing services. While we are advocating for more money for counseling and trauma treatment, we also need to better promote what has been implemented. For instance, the city of New Orleans has launched a new mobile-crisis intervention unit to respond to 911 calls with a mental-health component. People in need of mental-health help can reach on-call clinicians 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the crisis line: (504) 826-2672.

3) We have to believe survivors. Too many times, survivors are being forced to go back to abusive situations because no one believes them. If a survivor says that someone is going to kill them, this should not be taken lightly. Survivors are the primary victims and have first- hand knowledge of what their perpetrators are capable of.  We as service providers need to re-examine how our systems treat domestic-violence cases.  The New Orleans Family Justice Center will continue to offer on-going trainings to police officers, judicial officials and other service providers to aid in understanding this. 

4) We need to talk publicly about what good relationships look like – and don’t look like. Love does not require isolation and control. We need to expand our group of trauma-sensitive schools, which give children tools to build healthy bonds with others and work through disagreements. And when children go through abuse, we need immediate emotional help for them, to work through the trauma.

5) While cases are pending, assign all family-violence cases to the Domestic Violence Court within Criminal District Court. This will ensure consistent and coordinated responses: ensuring protective orders are in place – in coordination with Family Court in Civil District Court – along with monitoring alleged abusers and offering swift and appropriate treatment and resources to survivors and children.

The question from 2019 remains unanswered. Now, in 2023, we have another question. “As a community, are we going to allow three babies to die in vain?