On behalf of the dedicated board of directors and staff of the Family Justice Center, please allow a moment to set the record straight. The Family Justice Center model is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice as a “best practice” in addressing the issue of domestic violence.
It’s a simple concept — bringing all of the services a victim of domestic violence might need into one safe, friendly location.
With everything in one location, the victim has to get up the courage one time to get all of his/her needs met instead of having to build up that courage over and over again for every needed service. It’s also safer this way, with services at the FJC provided behind bullet-proof glass and walls, so the victim does not have to go place to place, exposing him/her to danger from the abuser.
It’s very clear that there is no duplication of service; instead the Family Justice Center promotes the efficient and effective use of limited resources. Less than 7 percent of those coming to the FJC were linked with shelter; most were able to be safe and move toward a healthy future without the disruption of going to a shelter. With about 20 programs all working together as one team, the victim was able to get everything needed in a manageable way.
In order to house staff from a variety of agencies and programs, the FJC chose a location on one of the busiest bus lines in the county that was large enough to provide space for staff.
The results of the Family Justice Centers across the country are indisputable. Lives are saved and batterers are more likely to be held accountable. There are more than 80 in the United States, and almost 140 worldwide. Every one of the U.S.-based Family Justice Centers is completely or primarily funded by their county government. These communities recognize the importance of providing the FJC’s infrastructure for public safety, knowing that domestic violence is not only dangerous to the victim and family, but also to law enforcement and innocent bystanders.
The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County was the Family Justice Center’s largest funder for several years. Last year, the Children’s Board shifted its funding to primarily support agencies working with children up to age eight, which cut their support to the FJC by half. This cut resulted in a one-third shortfall in the annual budget.
FJC worked to make up that difference by reducing expenses as much as possible and doubling fundraising from the previous year.
In early June, there was a meeting with elected officials that resulted in a plan to shift some funding to the Family Justice Center. That plan was presented to the County Commission on July 17.
Instead of approving the funding measure, a motion was made to have county staff study the FJC finances and come back with a report within 60 days. As the FJC clearly would not survive another 60 days, supporters pleaded at the next County Commission meeting to award additional funding to the FJC, and were once again turned down. Five weeks later, the county staff presented an error-filled report to the County Commission; however, by that time, the FJC had closed and the Children’s Board had re-allocated its funding to other agencies.
Contrary to news reports that there was “mismanagement” at the Family Justice Center, the FJC staff and board were responsible in the use of funds. The Family Justice Center saves lives and should be funded by county government.
Nikki Daniels is executive director of the Family Justice Center.