Since the 1970’s, Domestic Violence Services and awareness has dramatically grown, from being virtually non-existent to being an issue that is a priority for many politicians, including President Bush. In addition to naming October Domestic Violence Awareness Month, President Bush allocated $20 million to the establishment of Family Justice Centers in communities across the United States. Family Justice Centers are aimed at bringing Domestic Violence providers together, in one location, to enhance and streamline services to victims. This concept is based on the Family Justice Center Model established by City Attorney Casey Gwinn in San Diego, California.
Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey is committed to the establishment of Family Justice Centers in every community in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This project investigates the relevant issues, and frames the questions surrounding the Family Justice Center concept in Massachusetts.
A literature search was performed of domestic violence prevalence, services, attitudes, etc. Criminal Justice Policy Reports were reviewed. The bulk of the information was attained through key informant interviews and site visits. These interviews were with City and District Attorney and their Assistant Attorneys, Attorney General’s office, representatives from the Police Departments, and representatives of multiple community based service organizations. Several interviews were conducted with representatives from governmental agencies. These include interviews with Department of Transitional Assistance, Massachusetts Office of Victims’ Assistance, Child Advocacy Centers, Department of Social Services, and others. In addition, healthcare providers and a forensic medical unit were interviewed.
Issues surrounding Family Justice Centers are enormously complex and defy simple sound bite solutions. Care must be taken to ensure the inclusion of all stakeholders, including services to vulnerable and immigrant populations. The actual FJC partners may differ from community to community.
At a minimum, the core participants of an FJC must include state-funded, comprehensive domestic violence programs and rape crisis centers, law enforcement (including campus police, local police and State Police), prosecutors and victim advocates. In addition, the full array of community and government programs available as points for entry for, identification of, or services to victims should also be included. Such programs/providers include but are not limited to the local: certified batterers’ intervention programs, child care providers, civil-legal services providers, Department of Social Services workers, Department of Transitional Assistance workers, existing roundtables or intervention providers groups, faith leaders and faith-based programs, medical professionals (including physicians, dentists, osteopaths, chiropractors, physical therapists, and others), mental health providers, probation officers, schools, senior citizens groups, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE nurses), substance abuse treatment providers, specialized programs for immigrants, refugees or non-English speakers, visiting nurses and others.
Recommendations and Conclusions:
Before the establishment of a Family Justice Center in a community, a community-wide needs assessment should be performed, followed by a feasibility study. The process of collaboration should activate cross- agency, honest, and often difficult discussions among stakeholders who are committed to improving services through a victim centered, holistic philosophy. Community based organizations should be involved early in the process.
The Family Justice Center itself should be victim-centered and community specific. One model may not apply to all communities and each Family Justice Center will be unique, responding to the needs of the community in which it resides.
Co-location is an ideal model, depending on the location, but is not imperative.
Each Family Justice Center will strive to be linguistically and culturally competent. Ideally, each center will have an immigration specialist to work specifically with immigration issues, accessing services without jeopardizing immigration status.
Family Justice Centers should support and/or fund outreach programs to communities of color and immigrant communities. Family Justice Centers should be used as a tool for advocates so that those people who would not enter the facility can access services.
Family Justice Centers should ensure the financial viability of partners, not usurp funds, as collaboration is only as successful as its components.
There should be no requirement for formal reporting to the police. There should be no criminal background check or immigration status check upon arrival to the Family Justice Centers.
In Massachusetts, Family Justice Centers should include services to victims of sexual assault and child abuse, as well as male victims.
Marilee Kenney Hunt, Executive Director of Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Sexual and Domestic Violence