LM Feature: Buncombe County Family Justice Center
If you have any experience working with domestic violence, you know the maze victims must navigate. A study of a typical victim experience in Buncombe County showed that a victim will talk with 21 people, fill out 61 forms, travel to 8 locations and receive over 30 referrals.
The Buncombe County Family Justice Center is seeking to change the victim experience.
We had an opportunity to speak with the Center’s coordinator, Julie Klipp Nicholson, about the Center’s work to help serve those impacted by domestic and sexual violence.
LM: What is the Family Justice Center?
JN: The Buncombe County Family Justice Center is a centralized location where people impacted by domestic or sexual violence can access coordinated support from several different partner agencies. The Family Justice Center is a collaborative effort of many community partners including law enforcement, non-profit service providers, health care providers and government services. Survivors began accessing services at the Family Justice Center location in July 2016. In general, Family Justice Centers are a smart, practical way for communities to come together to address a significant public safety concern.
LM: The FJC’s approach is based on the Alliance of Hope International model that was started in San Diego in 2002. What was it about this model that made its implementation ideal for Buncombe County?
JN: Before the FJC, a service mapping of one typical victim case study in Buncombe County showed that she talked with 21 different people, filled out 61 different forms, traveled to 8 different places and received over 30 referrals. Asking a victim to navigate a fragmented system while they are most vulnerable meant that some victims never got the help they needed. This national best practice model provides for a more supportive experience for victims, increases efficiency in service provision, reduces victim recantation, increases prosecution of offenders, and ultimately reduces crime. Being under one roof improves communication and coordination between our service providers, government agencies and law enforcement partners who are working every day to help keep victims and our community safe.
LM: What can you tell us about the impact domestic violence has in Buncombe County?
JN: In 2013, Buncombe County tied for the second highest number of domestic violence homicides in North Carolina. We lost 8 lives to domestic violence that year, 5 of which were intimate partner homicides. Our community leaders came together to identity ways to prevent domestic violence and improve public safety. Often times it’s the homicides associated with intimate partner violence and sexual violence that make the headlines. Sadly, we know that what gets reported or what we know about is just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to what’s really going on. There are an estimated 3,437 domestic violence incidents in Buncombe County at a financial cost to our county of $6.7 million.
LM: What services does the FJC provide?
JN: At the FJC, different agencies provide counseling, civil legal services, safety planning, sexual assault medical exams, education and criminal justice support- all under one roof.
LM: What agencies have partnered with the FJC?
JN: All services provided at the Family Justice Center are provided directly by partner agencies located at the FJC including: Asheville Police Department, Buncombe County Health and Human Services, Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office, Helpmate, Mission Health, Mountain Child Advocacy Center, OurVOICE and Pisgah Legal Services. Additional community partners including Goodwill, the YWCA Asheville and OnTrack Consumer Credit Counseling Services provide services for survivors at the FJC as well.
LM: Are there any other Family Justice Centers in North Carolina? If not, are you aware of any plans to bring more centers to the state?
JN: There are currently Family Justice Centers in Alamance and Guilford Counties (http://www.alamance-nc.com/fjc/ http://www.myguilford.com/family-justice-center/ ) and there are other communities with co-located services for victims of domestic and/or sexual violence. With the support from NC Governors Crime Commission, many more counties in North Carolina are evaluating the possibility of opening Family Justice Centers to serve their communities.
LM: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job as coordinator?
JN: I get to work every day with innovative and practical people who roll up their sleeves and work to help keep survivors safe and hold offenders accountable. It has been inspiring to see how a range of community members, service providers, and agencies have stepped up to find common sense solutions to the complicated challenges of domestic and sexual violence.
LM: If people are interested in getting involved, how can they do so?
JN: When community leaders from all sectors prioritize the safety and wellbeing of our homes, schools and workplaces it changes the conversation around domestic and sexual violence. Talk about what consent means and what healthy relationships look like. Support the organizations that serve survivors in their time of need. Ask these service providers to come educate your staff about what they do and who they serve. In particular, lawyers have the opportunity to partner with their local legal services organizations to offer pro bono services to victims of domestic violence in obtaining domestic violence protective orders, custody and divorce.
For more information about the Buncombe Family Justice Center visit their website here.