Yellowknife teacher recognized for work on partner violence

Heather Fikowski.
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A Yellowknife educator and researcher has been recognized for her work on intimate partner violence.

Heather Fikowski was recently presented with a Distinguished Service Award by the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW).

The award is presented every March as part of National Social Work Month to people who make significant contributions in the field of social work.

Fikowski was nominated by her peers for her 14 years of experience in the North, working as a frontline practitioner, educator and researcher.

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See: Association of Social Workers In Northern Canada

More recently though, she’s turned her attention to intimate partner violence, which was the subject of a five-year qualitative research project she worked on between 2011 and 2016.

The purpose of the project, titled Rural and Northern Community Response to Intimate Partner Violence, was to find gaps in services and address some of the challenges women face trying to flee violent relationships.

“Going into the project we knew that intimate partner violence was a problem in the North,” Fikowski told Moose FM.

“We found that survivors are finding themselves in communities that are poorly-resourced which prohibits them from escaping their abusive situation and becoming independently established elsewhere.”

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The NWT was among four jurisdictions involved in the project, alongside Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The territory’s portion of the project was completed by Fikowski, Dr Pertice Moffitt and community partner Lyda Fuller, and was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Fikowski, who’s been teaching at Aurora College for the past seven years, says it’s now time to integrate some of their findings into action plans.

Read: Emergency Shelters Inadequately Funded In NWT, Says Coalition

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Some of those action plans include strengthening collaborative efforts among frontline workers and investigating screening tools that can be used to identify women in violent relationships earlier.

As a member of the territory’s Coalition Against Family Violence, Fikowski also hopes to incorporate some of the project’s findings into the coalition’s action plans as well.

“We want to increase awareness of this issue across the territory and shift this culture of silence and normalization that’s existing,” she said.

“At this point in our project, we’re hoping to investigate and integrate some tangible strategies that will hopefully support change and move us towards non-violence in our communities.”

Fikowski says stable and adequate funding for shelters and death reviews for intimate partner violence homicides would mark a step in the right direction.

So far, she’s presented research findings across Northern Canada, in Edmonton and in Finland.

Later this year, she’ll be sharing research in South Korea at the Joint World Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development.

“It seems like we’re hitting the mark so far and now it’s just a matter of rolling this into some really useful and tangible strategies that will move us towards non-violence up here.”

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