The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is considering creating a “family justice center” to assist children in the county who have been involved with the foster care and juvenile justice systems as well others affected by domestic, sexual and interpersonal violence.
According to a plan proposed by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, the new center would use vacant space at the Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center (LAC+USC) near Boyle Heights to provide an array of services for victims of abuse and trauma, including children in foster care system, sexually exploited children, transition-age youth, youth exiting the juvenile justice system and those affected by elder abuse, among others.
Located on the second floor of the general laboratory building on the LAC+USC Medical Campus, the space would house service providers from the county; the City of Los Angeles, including an area for members of the Los Angeles Police Department to receive and interview victims; the Violence Intervention Program; and additional community-based organizations to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to community members experiencing trauma and violence.
One community partner, the East Los Angeles Women’s Center, would provide a short-term trauma-informed emergency shelter to survivors of domestic, sexual and interpersonal violence and their families after discharge from the hospital.
“We are very excited to lay the foundation for only the second Family Justice Center in the County on the grounds of the LAC+USC campus,” Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said in an email statement to The Chronicle of Social Change. “By capitalizing on the successes of the evidence-based and integrated Family Justice Center model we will bring together law enforcement, forensics, legal, medical, mental health, and social services to the victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse.”
In 2015, the county helped open a family justice center in Van Nuys, one of about 120 such centers open across the nation. According to Casey Gwinn, the family justice center was created to help deal with the needs of victims of domestic abuse.
Then San Diego City Attorney Gwinn helped found the first family justice center in San Diego when he realized that victims of domestic abuse were less likely to seek assistance if they were required to travel to multiple locations to file police reports, obtain restraining orders, seek medical attention, and other related services — often reliving their trauma as they repeated their stories.
Gwinn said he believes that a multi-agency collaboration could provide a safe space with the added assistance of an advocate to navigate the complex system of services without re-victimizing people in need.
“Law enforcement work very differently when they work in a collaborative environment,” said Gwinn, who now serves as president and co-founder of the Family Justice Center Alliance, an organization that represents family justice centers across the country. “Prosecutors work very differently when they work in a collaborative environment. When they are in the same space, everyone begins to see themselves as a partner provider with an aligned mission to assist the survivor versus a single-agency agenda.”
The success of the model was recognized in 2003, under the George W. Bush Administration, when $20 million was appropriated in the 1995 Violence Against Women Act for the creation of 12 Family Justice Centers nationwide. Currently, $48 million in funding tied to the Violence Against Women’s Act (reauthorized in 2013) is administered through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women for Family Justice Centers across the country.
Several studies show the success of the Family Justice Center model to increase aid to survivors of abuse, including children. A 2016 report in Trauma, Violence and Abuse describes a high degree of client satisfaction given the low barriers to service delivery.
The Board of Supervisors will vote on the motion at its meeting on Tuesday.