By Bob Jacobson
Julia Caplan deals with a problem that has increased substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She has been a social worker in the Veterans Affairs’ Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Program since 2014, when the Baltimore VA was selected as one of six pilot sites for the program. Caplan, as well as others, advocated for its expansion to the entire country; Congress has since funded the program at all 170-plus VA sites. Caplan’s expertise led to her recent selection as Community Engagement and Partnerships program manager in the VA’s regional Office of Suicide Prevention, covering Maryland, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia.
Caplan, 35, grew up in Baltimore, first in the Lauraville section of the city, then Pikesville. She now lives in Timonium with her husband Bryan and daughters Amelia, 5, and Madeline, 2.
Can you identify any experiences that led to your choice of career?
My family has a tradition of social service and social justice advocacy. One of my great-grandfathers was a community organizer and worked for the Jewish Welfare Board during World War II. One of my grandmothers got her master’s degree in social work during World War II. My parents did a lot of protesting from the 1960s to 1980s. My stepmother is a therapist. Helping serve others and speaking out for justice were the norm in our family.
While I was an undergraduate at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, I spent time in the Dominican Republic, teaching English and sharpening my Spanish skills. I also volunteered in a university community service program with a business teacher who helped people develop skills to grow their fledgling businesses. He was part of the community, building relationships with people and working alongside them. I saw how you can teach simple skills and get tangible results. I was inspired and thought that I could do something like that.
Please tell me more about the Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Program and the changes you have seen during the pandemic.
We provide individual therapy, group therapy, advocacy, case management and care coordination for people experiencing violence and using violence. For instance, I meet with a woman who wants to leave a relationship but cannot do so financially. In that kind of work we have a great community network of service providers, such as the YWCA in Annapolis and CHANA in northwest Baltimore.
The VA has led the way in seeing beyond the picture of a male perpetrator and female victim. We screen all genders, and our interventions are available to all.
When the pandemic hit it was pretty scary at first. We knew that homes would get exponentially less safe. Losing a job is a huge risk factor for violence. We also worried about being able to talk to people in a safe place, like we could in a hospital or clinic. We switched to a lot of emailing. On the plus side, video visits have made it easier for some people, who no longer have to deal with the stresses of downtown traffic and parking, to get our services. We have been able to provide group therapy online, including people from multiple states. After the pandemic we will continue that for some veterans who live far away.
What do you do for fun?
We used to travel and go camping with the children. Now we do a lot of walking and make a lot of trips to the zoo. We are spending time with friends and family. We used to go to Orioles games, but we’re not ready yet.
Bob Jacobson is a freelance writer.