Violence Increases Under Holiday Pressures


Local domestic violence calls increase 20 to 25 percent during the holidays, Sgt. Bob Birgam, a 20-year-veteran with the Gila County Sheriff's Department said.

"The majority of the disturbances involve money," he said.

People get depressed -- they don't have the money they feel they need. Spouses blame each other, argue, and turn to drugs and alcohol.

"We do have more during the holidays," Birgam said.

Gina Elliott, program director with the Time Out Shelter, agreed with Birgam.

She said the family crisis shelter receives more calls than usual during the holiday season.

Women who are victims of domestic violence, are controlled emotionally, physically, and/or financially, are reluctant to leave their homes with their children, she said.

"It makes a difference for the victim," Elliott said. "They're removing (the children) from what they do have at the holiday season."

There are currently four women and seven children living at the Time Out Shelter.

"We try real hard to make it as home-like as we can for them," she said. "Domestic violence victims have a difficult choice."

Elliott said she will probably get more calls at the shelter next week -- after the holiday.

"These women are doing what they have to do to keep their children safe and taken care of. It's no job, no money, no presents a lot of times. We still stay close to full around the holidays."

Grace Newman and Yvonne Harris of Child Protective Services showed the mural on the reception room wall at the Department of Economic Security in Payson Village Shopping Center. They laughed as they hugged "Mr. Gorilla," a stuffed animal they keep on hand for children who are put in their care, and they, too, see an increase in the number of children brought in during the holidays.

"You've got to laugh sometimes -- otherwise you cry in this office," Harris said.

Bright Disney-like characters painted by a foster mother, Vera Eccles, oversee a room full of toys and stuffed animals. It's a place made less difficult by its cheerfulness and signs of caring.

"It's hard enough for children to have to come in," said Newman, supervisor of the Child Protective Services Unit for Northern Gila County.

She said the stress of the holidays combined with financial problems leads to depression and often to increased drug and alcohol use.

"The biggest need, unfortunately, is the treatment for drug and alcohol abuse," Newman said.

"Statewide, 80 percent of parents of children involved with CPS are involved with drugs and alcohol. It's probably more like 90 percent for us."

For the children who are taken from homes where parents are either abusive or unable to care for them, Newman said CPS has found excellent foster parents.

"We have also found relative placements so they can be with their own family -- and that's preferable."

For young families and parents who hold minimum-wage jobs, Newman said the Payson community can be a difficult place to live.

The calls that CPS gets for help from day-care centers, schools, neighbors, family members, doctors and nurses go to a hotline in Phoenix.

"We run between 15 to 16 a month," Newman said, "and for this unit, it's quite a bit. I have three intake workers who investigate families."

A Family Preservation Team does crisis intervention in the area to try to keep children from going into the CPS system.

"We do have some good programs that are more proactive than reactive," Newman said. "That's the way you get the problem resolved -- you try to head it off at the pass. A great deal of caring goes on -- not only at Christmas, but all through the year."

Anyone with a problem can call Rim Guidance Center at 474-3303.

There are other listings for marriage, family, child and individual counselors in the yellow pages of the Payson phone directory.

To report child abuse or neglect, call 1 (888) 767-2445.

Victims of domestic violence can call the Time Out Shelter at 472-8007, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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