Family Safety Center furthers effort to aid victims of violence

May 23, 2012 

The one thing we can always count on is change. Yet change is often difficult for people and organizations.

In 1985, it was common for a child-abuse victim to be interviewed many times in many places. Then one child said something during one of these interviews that would change the response to child abuse forever: “Don’t you all talk to each other?”

This question formed an idea to create a place for child victims to be interviewed and receive services in a child-friendly environment. Professionals go to this place to collaborate as a team, coordinating services and reducing the number of interviews.

Commonly referred to as child advocacy centers, these places now exist throughout the country and are widely considered the best practice for responding to child abuse. In Thurston County, Monarch Children’s Justice and Advocacy Center serves as a shining example of how collaboration and co-location improves services for child victims.

Several years later, that same idea was proposed for responding to domestic violence. The vision: Victims are better served if professionals collaborate and co-locate services in a place designated for that purpose.

In 2002, the first Family Justice Center opened in San Diego, and since then these centers have swept the country, just as child advocacy centers did. The model is a natural evolution of the community-based domestic violence movement and was recently named one of the leading life-saving, community-based policing strategies in the country.

There are currently 84 fully operational centers serving victims in urban and rural areas, with 120 more in development.

At its core, the Family Justice Center model is about creating a collaborative victim-centered environment for victims to receive effective, efficient, and compassionate services, along with a coordinated effort to hold offenders accountable. Public and private professionals work together to create a synergy that far exceeds what any one agency can do alone.

Operational protocols protect confidentiality when necessary. Documented outcomes include reduced homicides, increased victim safety and fewer recantations. Most important, survivors consistently report a substantial improvement in their own experience with these services.

In 2010, a two-year grant from the Office on Violence against Women funded the start of a co-located service center in Thurston County now called the Family Safety Center. A team of professionals from the Sheriff’s Office, Prosecutor’s Office, Clerk’s Office, Northwest Justice Project and SafePlace began working together in early 2011 providing coordinated services to victims at the Family and Juvenile Court Building.

Recently, an application was submitted to renew this grant to continue development of the center. Plans are under way to re-locate to the Family Support Center in downtown Olympia. No new construction is needed. Sheriff John Snaza, Clerk Betty Gould and I will lead a strategic planning process that will include survivors, social service providers and other community leaders to guide this effort.

SafePlace has chosen to withdraw from further development of the Family Safety Center. I have personally and professionally supported SafePlace’s work for many years. As a community, we should respect and honor SafePlace and continue to support its work for survivors in the future.

But we know from experience that there are too many victims for any agency to serve alone. I realize the Family Safety Center model is a change in the way we respond to domestic violence, just as Monarch was for child abuse.

Change like this can be uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I remain convinced that the Family Safety Center model is one of the most important innovations in our ongoing effort to improve victim services and ultimately end domestic violence in Thurston County.

Jon Tunheim is the Thurston County prosecuting attorney and a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. He can be reached at prosecutorsoffice

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