Story by: Scott D. Yost
No action by Guilford County government in the last decade has done more to bring statewide attention to the county’s operations than the opening of the Guilford County Family Justice Center in 2015, and that trend continues this week when more than 300 people from around the state come in to the county for the 2019 NC Family Justice Center and Collaborative Communities Conference.
The first Family Justice Center Guilford County opened was in downtown Greensboro and, in October 2018, the county added a second one in the courthouse in downtown High Point. Both centers are one-stop locations where victims of domestic violence, elder abuse and related family violence matters can get everything they need from medical and legal help to protective court orders and aid finding a new place to live.
The 2019 conference will, among other things, showcase Guilford County’s efforts to address these problems and explore what’s working in other parts of the state when the attendees get together for two days on Thursday, Jan. 31 and Friday, Feb. 1 at the Red Lion Hotel on South Main Street in High Point.
On Wednesday, Jan. 30, the day before the conference, an extremely busy Guilford County Family Justice Center Director Catherine Johnson was at the hotel making arrangements for the coming crowd that will include elected officials, community leaders, survivors of domestic violence, national experts and professionals who work in related fields.
Johnson said she’s really looking forward to getting together with people from around the state who are attempting to address the problem of family violence and make their communities safer. She said getting everyone together in one place makes a great deal of sense.
“We believe in the power of ‘we,’” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, having the conference in Guilford County should enhance this county’s efforts in at least two areas: increasing victims’ access to available resources and making certain that offenders are held accountable.
Johnson and her staff are getting plenty of help from the conference co-hosts: Mecklenburg County and Safe Alliance – a nonprofit United Way member agency that helps victims of domestic violence in Cabarrus County.
Safe Alliance CEO Laura Lawrence said this week that the family justice center model is a research-based model that works.
She said it “brings together services for victims in one place instead of expecting them to go from agency to agency all over a community seeking the help they need.”
Lawrence added that by collaborating with other justice centers that are working well – she cited Guilford, Alamance, and Buncombe counties as examples – center officials in the state can develop effective programs to combat domestic violence. She said the same family justice center model can be effective in other places as well.
“It can work in communities across the state,” Lawrence said.
At the High Point conference, attendees will hear from representatives of communities that have implemented multi-disciplinary programs to help mitigate domestic abuse and sexual violence. Some areas of focus at this year’s conference will include identifying and responding to non-fatal strangulation cases as well as using professional networks to effectively spread techniques that address domestic violence.