40 Stories for 40 Years: Debra Mitchell-Ibe

by Emily Roberts | May 24, 2018

“I have had a career that most people would have to move around to several agencies to have,” says Debra Mitchell-Ibe, who has been at The Family Place for more than 30 years.

Debra started at our emergency shelter as a counselor, and then became Hotline Manager, Assistant Shelter Director and Shelter Director before becoming Program Manager for our Outreach Counseling Program. There she was a part of the creation of our Latino Program and our expansion into the Metrocrest after a domestic violence death in the area.

“We originally developed our community-based counseling program because statistics showed that African American victims were utilizing our shelter but not counseling services,” she says, “so we also started a counseling program in South Dallas.”

The START family violence education program—now called the Be Project—also began during Debra’s time as Program Director when a staff person saw a need to reach high school kids. Currently she is Senior Director of Training and Education and is passing on her extensive knowledge to our entire staff.

“I loved all the positions I have been fortunate to have,” she says. “My favorite part has been the educational aspect of working with families, staff and the community to educate, empower and end domestic violence. I think I had the most fun assisting in the creation of events to reach families impacted by domestic violence.”

“I have had the great fortune to have wonderful staff and mentors. I carry the stories of victims who have shared their experiences and educated me about how to help,” she says.

One of the most memorable clients was a woman who came to the shelter badly beaten on Christmas Day.

“It was heartbreaking to think at a time when we celebrate peace on earth that we do not have peace in our homes,” Debra says.

Another unforgettable client was during her time supervising our children’s program. A four-year-old boy came into counseling after he had been expelled from school for a second time. Using “coloring book” therapy, he began to tell his story. Debra always asked children what they learned in school. Children of this age would often say things like the ABCs and how to count, and Debra would add that they also learned how to line up and walk in line to lunch, the library etc. At this little boy’s school, the walk to the cafeteria went by the front exit of the school. During therapy, he told Debra that he ran out the door because he needed to find his mother.

“At four he knew that going out the door would cause a chain reaction that included his mother being called and summoned to the school. Then he would be sent home with her to think about his behavior. What no one in the system asked was why did he have a need to find his mother,” Debra says.

Through the pictures drawn, Debra learned that the boy’s father would strangle his mother until she passed out, making him think she was dead. Being away from her at school caused extreme anxiety. He wanted to make sure his mother was still alive, but he couldn’t verbalize it. No one at school was looking further than calling his mother and sending him home with her, she says.

The hardest counseling session Debra remembers involved a 12-year-old boy who was brought to counseling by his grandmother. His father had killed his mother in front of him and his sister and had shot him.

“It was so hard to listen to the pain of the grandmother receiving a call at work that her only child and two of her three grandchildren had been shot,” Debra says. “The children were taken to one hospital and her daughter to another. She had to make the hard decision to go to the hospital with her grandchildren while her daughter died before she could make it to see her.”

“I have so many success stories I could tell,” Debra says, “but these difficult ones are the ones that remind me why I do what I do—because adults and children should not have to suffer in this way!”