Janesville25.6°

Shelter life can challenge students

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
December 3, 2007
— Most kids don’t give it a second thought when they are asked to write down their home addresses on forms at school.

But kids who live in domestic violence shelters do.


That’s why 11-year-old Diana—not her real name, to protect her identity—gets “kind of scared” when she has to share private information.


But the first teacher she told about her living circumstances reassured her it was OK.


“He said it was just our secret,” said Diana, who believed him.


After that, Diana was able to trust other teachers.


But the popular sixth-grader is less trusting of friends and classmates.


“They’ve never asked to walk home with me,” Diana said.


“If they did, I’d say no.”


That’s because Diana doesn’t want them to know she lives at the YWCA of Rock County’s Alternatives to Violence program shelter, where she has been living since early September with her mother.


Diana also fears if she confides in her closest friends and they ever would have a social conflict, they’d tell others she lives in a shelter for battered women.


So Diana said she keeps a distance between herself and them.


Diana has even gone so far as to think carefully about how she’d respond to a question by friends wanting to go home with her.


“I’d say I’m on punishment and can’t have company for the rest of the school year or for months,’’ she said.


A fellow student also lives at the shelter with his mom, but Diana doesn’t worry about him saying anything.


“He’s old enough to not jeopardize our privacy and secrecy,” she said.


Diana is allowed to spend time at her friends’ homes if there is an adult present and her mother approves.


However, she is not allowed to bring classmates or friends to the shelter.


She understands the policy.


“It’s too much of a risk,” Diana said.


Even more than that, “it’s a confidentiality issue,” said Marilyn Lensert Harris, director of the Y’s Alternatives to Violence Program.


Diana’s mom is thankful the YWCA is able to house them. But she reminds Diana the shelter is not their home.


“It’s just somewhere we’re staying temporarily. And when we get more stable, she’ll be able to have friends spend the night.”


YWCA Child/Youth Advocate Shannon Phillips meets with shelter residents to discuss domestic violence safety, Lensert Harris said.


The YWCA shelter always is housing school-age children, Lensert Harris said.


“I can’t think of a time when we didn’t,” she said, noting as of Monday there were six school-age children there.


And that creates challenges, Lensert Harris said.


“We had one young man who wanted to bring friends here (to the shelter), but he couldn’t,” Lensert Harris said.


“We try to get moms to let their children know they shouldn’t identify where the shelter is,” Lensert Harris said. “We don’t know who is out there looking for them. We encourage kids not to tell other kids.”



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