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New Cridge program draws on expertise in domestic violence, brain injuries

Cridge centre has worked with survivors from both groups for more than 30 years
Joanne Linka at the Cridge Centre for the Family in Victoria. "We believe we are uniquely positioned to carry out research in this field, given that we have been providing services to both populations," Linka said of the Battered Brains program at the centre. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The Cridge Centre for the Family has launched a unique program — believed to be the first in Canada — that aims to identify and treat undiagnosed brain injuries caused by violence by an intimate partner.

The Battered Brains program that draws on the Cridge’s 30-year experience in serving both survivors of intimate partner violence and survivors of brain injuries.

“We believe we are uniquely positioned to carry out research in this field, given that we have been providing services to both populations,” said Joanne Linka, manager of communications and fund development for Cridge Centre for the Family. “It was a ‘wow’ moment when we realized the connection between the two.”

The Cridge says about 200,000 Canadian women each year are believed to suffer undiagnosed violence-related brain injuries, and up to 90 per cent of women who have been in a violent relationship have received at least one brain injury at their partner’s hand. Often, the injury doesn’t just happen once — it can happen as often as once a week, or more.

The program has been in development for the last five years, but gained momentum in the last year and a half, with the Cridge working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Toronto’s Acquired Brain Injury Research Lab and the University of British Columbia, Okanagan.

The Battered Brains program includes research, direct service, training, advocacy and prevention, but Linka said most of the focus is on direct service for now.

The Cridge is urging service providers, including front-line health care workers, police and social workers, to take three steps to ensure women are properly diagnosed and receive appropriate supports: recognize the signs of a brain injury, report it the victim’s medical file and refer the individual for further services.

Linka said brain injuries can result in a lifetime of consequences. “It’s a slippery slope, with survivors facing an increased likelihood of mental health issues, addiction, criminality and homelessness,” she said, adding that more than half of those without homes suffer from a brain injury. “In a survey of homeless women, 100 per cent of the women reported that they had been in a violent relationship.”

Funding for the program from the Victoria Foundation has been “just incredible” said Linka. “It has allowed us to lay the foundation work, create videos and provide services to survivors.”

She believes advocacy by the Cridge can help raise consciousness of the issue in the community.

“All too often, when the victim tries to get help, they become stigmatized as too emotional, addicted or homeless, when the root cause can be traced back to brain injuries. We need to work together on prevention to put a stop to the current cycle of violence. Doing so will likely result in a positive benefit to our social system and the number of people living in poverty, isolation and in jail.”

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