Grant aims to curb domestic abuse
(Jan. 9, 2004)
A $10,000 state grant will enable an East Carolina University professor to continue to help pregnant women and their families in eastern North Carolina avoid the cycle of domestic violence.
Sheila Bunch, an assistant professor in ECU's School of Social Work, was awarded the grant last fall to assist the state's Northeastern Baby Love Plus program. Offered by North Carolina Healthy Start, the program provides pre-natal care to women in need of health services.
"A few years ago, North Carolina had very high rates of infant mortality," said Bunch. "Through the state's Healthy Start program, the Baby Love Plus program provided more services to expectant mothers, particularly those who were at risk for low weight or premature babies." The counties of Gates, Halifax, Hertford, Nash and Northampton are among the state's poorest, a factor that researchers believe contributes to a high infant mortality rate. In 1996-1998, for example, the region's infant mortality rate was as high as 14.1, compared to the state rate of 9.2.
The grant, now in its second year from the state Department of Health and Human Services, will allow Bunch to continue to train public health officials in these counties to identify signs of domestic abuse in pregnant women. It will also enable her to coordinate outreach efforts and heighten awareness about domestic abuse. The outreach component of her contribution will target those who typically support pregnant women: fathers and churches. "We need to support women, but what about men? We have to help the men become better men, better fathers and to become role models," Bunch said. A support group, designed especially for fathers, is now underway through the Baby Love Plus program.
The social networks provided by the faith community, Bunch said, can also play a significant role in helping men and women overcome the silence that often surrounds the issue of domestic abuse. She hopes a more public discussion about domestic violence will help to curb it.
"In many rural areas, churches are often the pulse of the community," she said. "Getting churches involved may help to decrease domestic violence."
While the overall goal of the Baby Love Plus program is to decrease infant mortalities, the health and well-being of expectant mothers play a large role in infant survivals, she said. "The aim of the grant is to assure babies are born healthy. If the mom is experiencing violence during pregnancy, that puts them both at risk," she said. "Training health professionals to know what they're looking for is an important part of this."
Bunch also assisted state health officials in revising the state's public health manual on domestic violence. Connecting to fathers and the faith community, she added, provides researchers and health care providers with valuable information about how they can best work with this at-risk population.
"Once you do that, you know where you have to target," said Bunch. "There's a lot to be done."