The Center for Family Safety and Healing is on a Mission to End Domestic Violence

The nonprofit subsidiary of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and its president, Lynn Rosenthal, focus on prevention and community education while supporting victims of abuse.

Peter Tonguette
Lynn Rosenthal has been president of The Center for Family Safety and Healing since 2019.

In various incarnations, The Center for Family Safety and Healing has been a force in fighting domestic violence and abuse in Central Ohio for more than two decades. For the last 2½ years, it has been led by a woman who, at the national and local levels, has devoted her life to helping those facing such issues.

Lynn Rosenthal became president of the center in March 2019, bringing national experience that included serving as the full-time White House advisor on violence against women from 2009 to 2015 and working with then-Vice President Joe Biden.

Rosenthal, a 62-year-old native of Miami, Florida, studied social work at Florida State University in preparation for a career that also included stints at the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the National Domestic Violence Hotline. She was drawn to Columbus in part due to the center’s uniquely comprehensive approach.

“Very few organizations in the country look at family well-being in the way we do—from childhood experiences, teens and young adults, domestic violence situations, to our home visiting program, where we’re on a prevention side of family well-being,” Rosenthal says.

The Center for Family Safety and Healing’s broad charge comes from its distinctive history. The organization was created from the 2011 merger of two separate entities: the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, which was founded in 1998, and the Center for Child and Family Advocacy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, which started in 2002. “It just made sense to bring these organizations together,” Rosenthal says. “There was so much overlapping work that needed to happen [and] such a connection between family violence and child sexual abuse.”

Today, the center, a nonprofit subsidiary of Nationwide Children’s, employs 160 people and operates on an annual budget of $10.8 million, which is derived from state and federal grants, private donors, the hospital and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Among the programs and services provided by the organization is teaching community members how to identify and deal with suspected abuse. “For example, we worked with Scotts [Miracle-Gro] to train their managers and supervisors about how to respond if you have an employee in the workforce who seems to be experiencing domestic violence or some other kind of family violence,” says Rosenthal. The center also trains those in the health care, legal and social service sectors to better understand all types of abuse.

For children, abuse can take many forms, says Dr. Kristin Crichton, a pediatrician at the center. It can include physical neglect, in which a child’s housing or food needs are not met, or medical neglect, where health issues are left unaddressed. Other areas of concern include accidents caused by a lack of parental supervision, instances of which spiked during the pandemic. “Parents [were] pulled in a lot of different directions while children were home from school,” Crichton says.

A big focus of the center’s work is sexual abuse. At its Child Advocacy Center, an average of 1,200 young people are seen annually; some may have experienced physical violence or been exposed to family violence, but most are there because sexual abuse is suspected.

The CAC’s multidisciplinary approach, in which physicians, social workers, law enforcement and children’s services representatives are on-site, aims to make an inherently stressful situation less so for victims and their families. “We’re not revictimizing the child by asking them over and over again about the abuse,” Crichton says. “We can get it done [at] one time.”

The “one-stop” process differentiates the center from comparable institutions. “Many child advocacy centers have that forensic interviewing on-site, but then the family still has to go to another facility, including the emergency department, to get the full medical examination,” Rosenthal says. “Instead, that’s done right here. … From the minute you walk in the door, you feel, ‘These are people who care about me.’”

To provide a victim and his or her family with comprehensive care, an additional social worker can be assigned. “Maybe the child has known that this abuse has been going on for days, weeks, months, years, but the parents or caregivers are just finding out about this and it’s going to be a fraught time,” Crichton says.

Rosenthal compliments the community for being attuned to the problem of family violence and abuse, particularly Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence founder Abigail Wexner and her signature event, The New Albany Classic Invitational Grand Prix & Family Day, which raised more than $32 million for the coalition and the center over its 20-year run. “How many people became exposed to the importance of addressing family violence through that event?” says Rosenthal.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital CEO Tim Robinson also appreciates the efforts put forth to help young people through such challenges. “I think the fact that the community has come together to support the center, to support the hospital and the work that we’re doing in this area, says something about this community.”

But both leaders see room for improvement. Family violence is not a topic people like to talk about, Rosenthal says, and funders can become discouraged when results are not quickly or easily attained. “Some of the big corporate funders [say], ‘We’ve invested in this for five years, but we aren’t seeing rates going down. In fact, we’re seeing numbers going up,’” she says. “For us, we’re still in a point on this issue where numbers going up of people coming forward for services should be considered a success—we’re still there in the underreporting.”

Despite the challenges, there’s no place Rosenthal would rather be.

“Being at the local level, in a community like this, makes a big difference,” she says. “Everything I’m doing here in Columbus is just as important, if not more so, than the work I did in the White House.”

This story is from the Winter 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.