Linsey Vanover

The Coffee County Drug Court Foundation plans to launch a new program called Safe Families, which will work with individuals who have a history of committing domestic violence to change their behavior. Linsey Vanover, coordinator for the drug court foundation, is currently working on earning a certification that would allow the new initiative to launch.

Safe families program to focus on post-crisis healing, recovery

[Editor’s note: This is the ninth installment in a multipart series about domestic violence. The following story may contain graphic details that some readers may find disturbing.]

Tackling domestic abuse requires not only serving the victims but also addressing abusers and helping them change their behavior.

To focus on perpetrators, the Coffee County Drug Court Foundation plans to launch a new program called Safe Families.

The new Safe Families program would join a slate of programs currently managed by the foundation, including Mental Health Court, Safe Baby Program, Veterans Court and Recovery Court, also known as the drug court.

Coffee County Drug Court Foundation Director Mike Lewis said Safe Families will offer a multipronged approach to promoting healing and recovery after crisis. In addition, it will provide offender management, monitoring and accountability courses.

To fund the initiative, the drug court foundation has applied for a grant of $545,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.


Treating perpetrators

The new initiative will be a valuable addition to the foundation’s already existing programs, said Linsey Vanover, mental health court coordinator for the Coffee County Recovery Court.

Vanover is currently working to earn a certification that will allow her to treat men who have committed partner violence. She said she hopes to complete the necessary requirements that will allow the drug court foundation to launch the Safe Families program soon.

“I am working on getting a certification,” she said. “We would love to help abusers with treatment.”

Currently, she said, there is no such a program in Coffee County.

“I will help [perpetrators] with some services to get the treatment they need,” she said.

The issue for the abusers is often multi-generational. Because of the way they were raised, Vanover said, abusers may have deep-seated anger issues. Discovering the root of that anger and understanding the cause is the way to find a solution to the problem.

“They may not realize the harm they are doing,” Vanover said.

Vanover hopes the Safe Families program will help perpetrators better manage their anger and aggression. Through the new initiative, she can recommend certain classes that would address those issues. For example, perpetrators may be directed toward an anger management or batterer’s intervention course.

“We’ll try to not just Band-Aid the problem but actually help the respondents get to the root of what causes them to want to be physically, emotionally or mentally aggressive,” Vanover said.

Often, that root is the emotional or mental damage with which the perpetrators themselves are struggling to cope.

“There is something going on – you don’t just, generally, want to be an abusive person,” Vanover said. “There is probably substance abuse and pain. Generally, there is pain, and they are trying to mask that pain.”

Focusing intervention efforts solely on the victims doesn’t solve the problem, she said. If an individual manages to escape from an abuser, the perpetrator will likely find another victim.

“It’s a lot like substance abuse – you may trade one for another,” she said.

That’s why the vicious cycle has to be stopped.


Need in the community

“Each year, domestic violence impacts hundreds of local families and children, and reports of domestic violence have trended steadily upward since 2012,” Lewis said.

Within Coffee County, there is just one domestic violence shelter and there are no formal services enabling supervised therapeutic visitation for children in broken homes.

Orders of protection are regularly awarded, said Lewis. However, Coffee County spans 435 square miles, and “too often, escalating, repeat victimization occurs.”

While domestic violence affects individuals of all social classes, victims and perpetrators often deal with poverty, drug abuse and lack of adequate education.

“Fueled by substance abuse, extreme poverty and a lack of community resources, domestic violence is a severe and pervasive issue in Coffee County,” said Lewis.

In looking at key socioeconomic indicators, including education and income, Coffee County ranks much lower than most other counties in Tennessee, according to Lewis.

Coffee County has a population of 53,623, according to 2016 U.S. Census estimates. Nearly 17 percent are considered to be living in poverty.

Coffee County has been referred as “ground zero” for methamphetamine production, according to Lewis.

In recent years, law enforcement officials have identified and raided more than 500 home-grown meth labs in the county equating to one meth lab for every 108 Coffee County residents, said Lewis.

Additionally, in Middle Tennessee, the rate of calls for opiates and heroin is 10 to 15 percent higher than in the rest of the country.

The drug court foundation will work closely with Haven of Hope, an agency providing support for domestic violence victims, said Lewis.

And, if it becomes a reality, the Safe Families program will complement existing domestic violence programs to help tackle the issue.

Elena Cawley may be reached via email at