How the Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace work together now

Kelly-White SAFE AUSTIN children's shelter
SAFE austin alliance
Kelly White and Julia Spann lead the new SAFE.

Perhaps you’ve been wondering what’s been brewing between Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace. It seems like a year ago, they’d merged…? Changed their name…?

Today, Kelly White wants you to know that SAFE, the new alliance between Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace, is not a merger. It’s much more complicated than that. But at the same time, the new organization is more adept at serving the survivors of child abuse and neglect, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence — and disrupting the cycle.

The two organizations have been collaborating and supporting thousands of clients for years, helping them escape and recover from neglect and abuse. But this new structure indicates a major shift in the way they perceive, talk about and work with victim/survivor services.

“Both organizations do continue to operate with separate 501(c)(3)’s and tax identification numbers. We maintain many separate contracts and licenses that are essential to our continued functioning,” says White, the new CEO of SAFE and the former CEO of Austin Children’s Shelter. “We call ourselves an ‘operational merger’ because it’s easiest for folks to understand.”

“We formed a partnership two-and-a-half years ago and began increasing our effectiveness and efficiencies almost immediately,” says White. “So while ACS and SafePlace continue to address the unique aspects of different forms of violence, we also seek out and support joint action wherever possible. And it isn’t always possible – thus the need to maintain the ACS and SafePlace brands and governance.”

Each of the nonprofits are funded by a complicated mix of philanthropy, grants and public/government funding.

LEARN MORE SAFE“That’s why we maintain separateness in our corporate, financial, governance functions,” says White. “It is very important because of the more than $10 million dollars in governmental grants and contracts that support the work of ACS and SafePlace. And it’s obviously important with philanthropic contributions. If someone gives to SafePlace thinking they are supporting a ‘merged’ agency and the full mission of SAFE, that isn’t so. Contributions to SafePlace are designated to SafePlace expenses and contributions to ACS are designated to ACS expenses.”

Says White, “This alliance is the most important thing I have ever been a part of. I have done the work of addressing violence and victimization for way longer than I want to acknowledge (decades), and we have to stop addressing it in silos.”


“People might want to wrap all our services under one umbrella and that might be domestic violence of child abuse and neglect or sexual assault,” says White. “But they’re all intertwined. You can’t address one without coming across another. That’s why we’re doing this.

White says there has been a significant surge of clients from SafePlace services to ACS services – mostly families addressing domestic violence that also could benefit from child abuse prevention programs – and not the other way around. “As I have said to our board, we don’t want to see kids that have been abused growing up to become perpetrators and victims. We have to stop the cycle.”

But traditionally, services to address issues of sexual assault and exploitation, child abuse and domestic violence, have evolved separately as concerns in the public arena. They are typically addressed through different and sometimes contradictory governmental and service systems – including funding and regulations. Increasingly, however, research and systemic responses are recognizing that these issues often exist simultaneously or sequentially in the lives of people who have experience abuse and violence.

“Child protection, in particular, is a highly regulated service area and it isn’t always possible to seamlessly coordinate services. But wherever possible we are certainly doing so – particularly as relates to our prevention and community-based programs.”

“With this alliance we are changing the narrative, breaking down the silos, and addressing violence and abuse in a more holistic and coordinated way,” says White. “And the examples of what we are doing are boundless – and heartwarming.”

Among the SAFE programs that address the causes and realities of these intertwined issues, White lists the following:

Fathers involved with the Strong Start program provided by Austin Children’s Shelter that voluntarily participate in the SafePlace Fatherhood Initiative – desperately wanting to learn the skills to be caring, nurturing, involved and supportive dads and husbands.

Young women entering the SafePlace shelter with their young children that have been able to move into the ACS teen parent program so they can receive intensive parenting support and education while also in shelter.

The siblings in the SafePlace shelter who, when removed from their mom who had been living at the SafePlace emergency shelter, were then placed into the ACS shelter where they continued to attend the Kozmetsky Charter School on the SafePlace campus – with their same teachers and friends, never missing a day. In June, ACS and SafePlace staff celebrated one sibling’s graduation from Kozmetsky High School.


SafePlace and Austin Children’s Shelter will continue as separate non-profit corporations operating as supporting corporations to SAFE. But combined, the new SAFE has about 320 employees, about 850 direct service volunteers, a 2015 budget of $18 million, owns or leases 22 acres of land, and operates 20 different buildings comprising hundreds of thousands of square feet of space.

The highest priority will continue to be the safety of all victims, survivors and at-risk individuals and families. This includes the Campus-Based Intervention Services historically associated with Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace facilities: on-campus emergency shelter, 24/7 Hotline, various types and levels of supportive housing, counseling and therapeutic services, and survivor advocacy.

With White and Julia Spann assuming new and broader responsibilities across the entire SAFE organization (Spann’s previous title was CEO of SafePlace and she’s now President of SAFE), two existing vice presidents of SAFE will take over as executive directors for their respective agencies: Stacy Bruce for Austin Children’s Shelter and Melinda Cantu for SafePlace.

All prevention and community-based programs will become the responsibility of SAFE Vice President, Coni Stogner. These programs include: Care Academy, Expect Respect, Strong Start, PlanetSafe, Deaf Services, Disability Services, the Forensic Nursing and Advocacy Program (and Eloise House), Volunteers, Community Advocacy, Community Education, Legal Advocacy and Life Skills training.

Bringing Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace together as SAFE has been a monumental task. All finance, IT, human resources, facilities, communications, information systems, development and fundraising functions are merged and operate under the SAFE umbrella, resulting in increased efficiency and effectiveness.

It’s important to note that while you can still donate to either ACS or SafePlace, you can also donated to SAFE, which will enable to organization to direct the money to the programs and concerns that need it most. Also, you can explore volunteer opportuities with ACS and SafePlace to fundraise, raise awareness and work with families and children. Learn more about volunteering here.

More information on programs and services are available at the organization’s new website.


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