Ten years ago when we opened the San Diego Family Justice Center we never imagined what would happen. This was just the natural evolution of our journey in San Diego. We had created a coordinated community response in the late 1980’s. We had created specialized investigation and prosecution units in the early 1990’s. We had a strong Domestic Violence Coordinating Council. We had begun co-locating professionals from five different agencies in the prosecutor’s office in 1990. We were committed to an evidence-based prosecution approach. And we had close working relationships among all the community and governmental agencies. Bringing everyone together under one roof was an idea whose time had finally come by 2002. Survivors wanted to come to one place for all their services and we had the support of local government to fund the location where this exciting public safety initiative could happen for all the participating agencies. It was our local vision. We simply did not want victims to have to go from agency to agency and place to place to get all the help they needed. But we never imagined where it would all lead.
We never imagined that in January 2003 Oprah Winfrey would profile the model, I would spend two days on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and it would go around the world. We never conceived of President Bush creating a federal initiative to replicate the model in many communities and asking us to help lead the effort. We did not know Family Justice Centers would become a purpose area in the federal Violence Against Women Act in 2005. We had no idea that within five years we would host site visitors from more than 70 countries. We never imagined that our co-location of professionals from 25 agencies under one roof would later be surpassed by Centers and similar collaboratives with 30-50 onsite partner agencies. We never imagined that so many communities would take our ideas and make them better, bigger, and even more effective.
But big ideas, good ideas, and powerful ideas do take on a life of their own. The Family Justice Center was such an idea.
The San Diego Family Justice Center has now served more than 50,000 survivors and their children since 2002. The Center played a major role in the 50% drop in homicides in the City of San Diego since it opened. And the Center, today, is a shining beacon of hope for thousands of victims and their children in San Diego County. But the big vision has done so much more. Since the second Family Justice Center opened in New York City in 2005, far more than 250,000 survivors have come through the doors of a Family Justice Center in the United States. Major homicide rate drops have been reported in New York City, Alameda County, and other Family Justice Center communities. Family Justice Centers and similar types of multi-agency service Centers have spawned innovative programs such as: Video teleconferencing from the Centers to the courts; Forensic Medical Units for domestic violence victims; Camping and mentoring initiatives; Specialized multi-agency civil legal services models; VAWA-compliant, coordinated, multi-agency intake processes; Coordinated lethality assessments and formal safety plan processes for every victim; Services for both male and female victims; a VOICES Committee model to engage survivors as advocates for local Family Justice Centers; Coordinated housing and multi-agency onsite services; Trauma-informed services for both survivors and their children within a coordinated criminal justice response; and a host of other innovative ideas.
The National Family Justice Center Alliance, which grew out of the San Diego Family Justice Center, has now helped develop more than 80 Family Justice Center models in tribal, rural, suburban, and urban communities. The Alliance has become the comprehensive technical assistance provider to all federally funded Centers. The Alliance has launched the National Strangulation Training Institute to help train professionals on handling the most dangerous domestic violence cases – cases where the victim has experienced non-fatal strangulation at the hands of her abuser. Locally, the Alliance has launched the Family Justice Center Legal Network which provides civil legal assistance to approximately 800 clients per year and recently partnered with Thomas Jefferson School of Law to host the Center for Solo Practitioners which will provide additional pro-bono and comprehensive legal services to clients of the San Diego Family Justice Center. Today, more than 60,000 unique users access the online resources of the Alliance each year from across the United States and around the world. The Alliance has created model best practices Toolkits for Focus Groups with Survivors, Client Intake Processes, Operating a Volunteer Program, Outreach and Engagement of Men, Awareness and Outreach to Teens, and How to Change the Ending to Telling Amy’s Story (the tragic story of a failed community response to a high risk domestic violence case).
Today, as we look back ten years later, we are so thankful for the local domestic violence and sexual assault agencies that came together with police and prosecutors to create the San Diego Family Justice Center. We are so appreciative of the Mayor, Police Chief, and City Council who supported the vision. Too many names to mention come to mind – courageous men and women – who set aside turf, ego, and personal agendas in order to create the San Diego Family Justice Center as Gael Strack and then Sgt. Monika Kaiser helped lead the planning process. And they are still coming together, reinventing the Center, working through challenges, and making sure that the Center is always there to meet the needs of women, men, and children in crisis. We never imagined what it would lead to across the United States and around the world, but it was all worth it.
On October 10, 2012, two former Family Justice Center clients Reena and Jenn will tell their stories at the 10th Anniversary of the San Diego Family Justice Center at The Prado Restaurant in San Diego. They will stand up to represent the thousands of victims who walked through the doors of the Center and left as survivors, ready to live safe and free from violence and abuse. They will say the Center saved their lives and they will call on others to come forward for help before it is too late. It will be a special night of celebration and remembrance. And we will all say…we never imagined where it all would lead when we started in 2002.