Local Family Justice Center framework used in 40 states.
Story by: CASEY GWINN
In 2002, during my tenure as the San Diego city attorney, we opened the nationally acclaimed San Diego Family Justice Center. For the first time anywhere in America, we brought together 25 agencies under one roof to meet the needs of domestic and sexual violence victims. The results were stunning. During our journey from the very beginning of planning the center through 2008, we saw a 90% drop in domestic violence homicides in the city of San Diego.
Once survivors could come to one place for all their services, our published research confirmed survivors were more likely to participate in the criminal justice system, leave their abuser, and engage their children in supportive services. Because of our early findings, national exposure from Oprah Winfrey in 2003, and support from President George W. Bush in 2004, the Family Justice Center framework took off across the country and around the world. Today, we have centers in 40 states and 25 countries. Published research is replicating our San Diego findings around homicide reduction, increases in hope and resiliency in survivors, and improved victim safety and accountability for offenders. The San Diego Family Justice Center launched an international movement.
In 2004, we created a San Diego County Regional Family Justice Center Plan that anticipated much stronger county government engagement and coordinated centers throughout the County and anticipated co-location of the Chadwick Center for the Children and Families (our Child Advocacy Center), along with many other community agencies on a campus. As elected officials at the city and the county came and went, however, the 2004 plan was never implemented. In the absence of a regional approach, the San Diego Family Justice Center has tried various leadership models including leadership from the Mayor’s Office, the Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office. And while the San Diego Family Justice Center has remained operational over the years serving survivors, it has lost key partners and many other cities and counties have developed more dynamic centers and regional approaches than San Diego.
Today, the leading centers and regional approaches in the country are in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Milwaukee County, Pierce County (Tacoma, Washington), New Orleans Parish, Tarrant County (Fort Worth, Texas), New York City (with a center in each borough of the city), Oklahoma County (Oklahoma City), and Davidson County (Nashville).
Countywide approaches are driving the movement across the country — not isolated, city-centered initiatives. Dynamic campuses are being developed and many counties are bringing together domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse, and human trafficking services all in one place. The city of San Diego launched the original concept but is no longer a national model or leader.
But I have never been more optimistic about the future of our work to address domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, elder abuse, and human trafficking in San Diego County.
First, District Attorney Summer Stephan has called for regionalizing the Family Justice Center framework in San Diego County. She has assigned Chief Deputy District Attorney Tracy Prior to lead the effort. The Board of Supervisors has signaled their unanimous support in a board resolution. Their first goal? Creating a Family Justice Center to serve North San Diego County with the support of Supervisor Jim Desmond — serving a population of more than 1.4 million — a population base even larger than the city of San Diego. Second, county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher has called for a regionalized approach to mental health, juvenile justice, Family Justice Centers and housing. The county has the resources and jurisdiction that the city has never had to expand the Family Justice Center vision. San Diego County as well has become a national leader in collaborative approaches, under HHSA Director Nick Macchione, with their Live Well Centers, co-locating county services and support for families in need.
Community-based agencies, foundations, philanthropists, public opinion leaders, elected officials, and city government leaders from across the region should strongly support the county as they seek to develop a regionalized approach to the Family Justice Center framework. Survivors are waiting for us to get it right for them and once again lead the nation in providing the most comprehensive services in the country for adult and child survivors of domestic and sexual violence.