Family Justice Centers (FJCs) are a strategic approach to holistically address domestic violence and related gun violence through colocation of services. FJCs serve survivors of intimate partner violence, domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, elder abuse, and human trafficking, as well as the children and families of these survivors.1Casey Gwinn and Gael Strack, Hope for Hurting Families: Creating Family Justice Centers Across America (Volcano, CA: Volcano Press, 2006). FJCs bring together city and county agencies, uninformed.2Law enforcement staff out of uniform can create a more welcoming environment for survivors and their families. law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and social and legal service providers at one location to provide comprehensive, trauma-informed services to these survivors of crime. FJC staff and partners are trained to offer supportive services relevant to intersecting crimes,3Sarah Bastomski et al., “Evaluation of the Polyvictimization Initiative at the Queens Family Justice Center,” Urban Institute, September 2019, https://urbn.is/2YgMTmp. including gun violence crimes, and to identify lethality factors such as the presence of a gun in the home.4Diane Lance and Becky Bullard, “Metro Nashville Office of Family Safety: 2019 Annual Report,” 2020, https://bit.ly/2YhCdUE.
The FJC one-stop-shop model maximizes survivors’ access to services, reduces the amount of travel and time for survivors to go from one provider to another,5Casey Gwinn et al., “The Family Justice Center Collaborative Model,” Saint Louis University Public Law Review 27, no. 1 (2007): 79–120, https://scholarship.law.slu.edu/plr/vol27/iss1/6/. minimizes retraumatization by decreasing the number of times survivors must repeat the story of their victimization,6“About Family Justice Centers,” Alliance for Hope International, Family Justice Center Alliance, accessed October 5, 2021, https://bit.ly/3mofy0H; Gwinn et al., “Family Justice Center Model.”reduces incidents of domestic violence, and improves prosecution outcomes.7Glen Price Group, “Seattle Family Justice Center Feasibility Analysis,” September 2013, https://bit.ly/3FrtPma. While basic commonalities exist among FJCs, the structure, processes, and services offered by FJCs may vary based on location, population served, available resources, and community needs.
Given the inextricable link between domestic violence and firearms, FJCs can be a critical tool in combating gun violence and coordinating a comprehensive public safety response to violent crime.
While there is a lack of rigorous research on FJCs, several process and outcome evaluations show that they are a promising practice that can increase service provision to survivors, improve prosecution outcomes, enhance survivor safety and well-being, and reduce incidents of domestic violence.8Cynthia Fraga Rizo et al., “Systematic Review of Research on Co-Location Models for Serving Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survivors,” Journal of Family Violence, February 22, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-021-00257-6.
A main goal of the FJC model is to make access to services much easier for survivors; outcome evaluations show that FJCs have been successful at achieving that goal.9Gwinn et al., “Family Justice Center Model.” A study of four California FJCs found that 90 percent of survivors received one or more services and 56 percent of survivors surveyed received the information and services they needed during a single visit.10EMT Associates Inc., “Final Evaluation Results, Phase II California Family Justice Initiative, Statewide Evaluation,” July 2013, https://bit.ly/3uRih6Q. A survey of survivors served at the Milwaukee center found that 96 percent reported being extremely or quite satisfied with the services they received.11Erin Schubert, “Hope Lives Here: Impact of the Family Peace Center,” Family Justice Center Alliance, Spring 2018, https://bit.ly/3ms3oEd.
Among the strengths of the FJC model is the ability to adapt it to survivors’ needs, bring in new partners and services, and foster positive, complementary relationships among service providers.12Rizo et al., “Systematic Review of Co-Location Models.” As a result of co-location and shared mission, service providers working in FJCs report increased coordination, better communication, and more collaborative problem-solving, all of which contribute to more streamlined interactions with survivors.13Lisa Growette Bostaph, Andrew Giacomazzi, and Cynthia Sanders, “Process and Outcome Evaluation of the Nampa Family Justice Center and the Idaho Falls Domestic and Sexual Assault Center,” October 2011, https://bit.ly/3uKXotP; Rizo et al., “Systematic Review of Co-Location Models.” The FJC model can improve relationships and coordination between law enforcement and social service providers—which are sometimes at odds due to law enforcement’s focus on perpetrators and social service providers’ focus on survivor care—through more frequent communication and joint problem-solving.14Bostaph, Giacomazzi, and Sanders, “Process and Outcome Evaluation.”
Participation in the justice system also improves with FJCs. The Alameda County, California, district attorney’s office credited the support and services from the county’s FJC with increasing confidence in the court system, which has resulted in improved prosecution outcomes. The county saw the percentage of domestic violence cases increase that were charged with participation of the victim, with felony cases increasing from 69 percent in 2005 to 87 percent in 2010, and misdemeanor cases from 45 percent to 90 percent for the same years. Dismissals due to victim-related reasons steadily declined from 2006 to 2009, with felony dismissals falling from 31 percent to 19 percent—a 40 percent drop—and misdemeanor dismissals plummeting from 55 percent to 19 percent—a 65 percent decline.15Glen Price Group, “Seattle Family Justice Center.”
FJCs have helped survivors in several domains, including well-being, empowerment, and safety. For example, a survey of clients at seven California FJCs found statistically significant increases in life satisfaction, emotional well-being, hope, and flourishing.16Chan M. Hellman et al., “Survivor Defined Success, Hope, and Well-Being: An Assessment of the Impact of Family Justice Centers,” Family Justice Center Alliance, June 2017, https://bit.ly/3FqmkMj. At the Milwaukee FJC, clients’ feelings of hope and empowerment increased over a six-month follow-up.17Schubert, “Hope Lives Here.” Clients at the Nashville center reported feeling less fearful and nervous, more knowledgeable, and more supported following a visit to the FJC.18Lance and Bullard, “Nashville Office of Family Safety.” And among clients at the Nampa and Idaho Falls, Idaho, centers, 89 percent reported improved well-being, 90 percent felt safe always or the majority of the time, and 96 percent reported that domestic violence declined or ceased.19Bostaph, Giacomazzi, and Sanders, “Process and Outcome Evaluation.”
Safe, Accessible Space for Colocated Services
FJCs need a large space for providers to meet with survivors and their children. FJCs should have supervised children’s play areas and private rooms for confidential consultations and interviews. This space should be easily accessible by public transportation and clearly marked. While an FJC should incorporate security precautions to protect clients and children before, during, and after their visit, the physical space must also feel welcoming. FJCs are often in proximity to courthouses or municipal centers to facilitate easy access for all parties.
Diverse Network of Providers and Full-Time Staff
To be successful, FJCs need a network of social service providers and support, staffing, or both from local law enforcement, courts, and city government. Ideally, an FJC has a full-time director responsible for coordinating service provision and outreach and developing key relationships with law enforcement, social and legal services agencies, and city government. Essential on-site services may include case management, counseling for adults and children, legal services (e.g., family, housing, immigration, consumer protection, public benefits), economic empowerment advice, and public benefits assistance, in addition to ununiformed law enforcement officers and domestic violence prosecutors. Law enforcement officers at FJCs help survivors by filing police reports, providing copies of past police reports, arranging safety visits to survivors’ homes, and advising survivors of warrants or arrests related to their abusers. Domestic violence prosecutors help survivors by providing status updates for pending criminal cases, drafting criminal complaints, preparing survivors for any court testimony, and discussing how the survivor would like the criminal case resolved. The FJC can tailor the scope of provider partners based on the needs of the community served.20Rizo et al., “Systematic Review of Co-Location Models.” All partners and service providers should be trained in trauma-informed care. Service providers should provide culturally sensitive care, and interpreter services should be available on-site or by telephone.
FJCs must also have internal systems and processes for sharing information between social service agencies, prosecutors, law enforcement, and legal service providers. Online systems for information-sharing are beneficial for record-keeping, tracking the number of survivor visits and types of services provided, and screening for possible client conflicts such as cross complainants or perpetrators requesting services. Online records are also helpful to partner agency staff who are on-site part-time and need access to information from another office. Any forms a client must complete should be provided in a language the client can understand and translated into languages other than English.
Primary funding sources for FJCs include local, state, and federal funding. Many FJCs receive federal grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Office of Violence Against Women, and the Office for Victims of Crime, including Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grants.21Abt Associates, “Environmental Scan of Family Justice Centers, Final Report,” February 27, 2018, https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/251561.pdf. Other sources of funding include private funding and in-kind gifts from foundations, corporations, and individuals.
Strategy in Practice
The basic principles and best practices of an FJC, according to the President’s Family Justice Center Initiative (2004), include:22US Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, “The President’s Family Justice Center Initiative Best Practices,” February 2007, https://bit.ly/3AejhTF.
- Multidisciplinary services for survivors and their families
- Emphasis on survivor safety and advocacy
- Survivor confidentiality
- Offenders prohibited from services in the FJC
- Diverse community support
- Both long- and short-term strategic planning
- Support from local and state government officials
FJCs are active today across the country, including in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.23“Affiliated Centers,” Alliance for Hope International, Family Justice Center Alliance, accessed September 29, 2021, https://www.familyjusticecenter.org/affiliated-centers/; Abt Associates, “Environmental Scan.” New York City has a network of FJCs, one in each of the city’s five boroughs, that are coordinated by the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.24“Family Justice Centers,” NYC Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, accessed September 29, 2021, https://www1.nyc.gov/site/ocdv/programs/family-justice-centers.page.
A Family Justice Center can reside in an existing government agency (e.g., district attorney’s office, public service agency, or police department) or nonprofit organization (e.g., domestic violence shelter or community-based victim service provider). It can also be created in a new agency or nonprofit. Agencies or service providers commonly available through an FJC include: community victim advocates, law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, medical providers, domestic violence shelter representatives, victim-witness program personnel, social services and child welfare workers, health department personnel, public assistance workers, mental health professionals, and civil legal service providers. FJCs also have a centralized intake office for clients (survivors) and must follow HIPAA and federal grant program rules for information-sharing procedures that allow the participating FJC agencies to work and collaborate.25The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits health care providers and their business associates from disclosing protected health information (Pub.L. 104–191). FJC service providers may provide mental health counseling or psychiatric care and may collect medical records in the course of assisting survivors and so must be mindful of HIPAA rules. Recipients of federal funding like Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Family Violence Prevention Services Act (FVPSA), and Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grants must not share personal identifying information of survivors they serve (34 USC § 12291(b)(2); 42 USC § 10406(c)(5)). See also “About Family Justice Centers.”
Survivors commonly visit FJCs following a referral from law enforcement, court staff, or legal and social service providers, but may also visit in response to outreach materials distributed at community or city events. Upon entry to an FJC, survivors are greeted at a reception area where they present identification and are checked into an internal system. Survivors then meet with a screener or case manager who completes an intake form with the survivor. The intake can include gathering information about the survivor, abuser, children, pending criminal or civil court cases, and the survivor’s overall needs.
Danger and lethality assessment is a critical component of the intake process. These assessments identify risks, such as a history of abuse by threats with firearms or strangulation, to help inform law enforcement response, safety planning, education efforts, and service needs.26“Sexual Assault Response Team Toolkit, Secition Five: Lethality Assessment,” National Sexual Violence Resource Center, accessed March 5, 2021, https://www.nsvrc.org/sarts/toolkit/5-7. In Nashville during 2019, 41 percent of survivors who completed a lethality assessment reported their abuser owned or could easily obtain a firearm, and 30 percent of survivors reported their abuser had used a weapon or had threatened them with a weapon in the past. These assessments led to 37 percent of criminal defendants and protection order respondents (totaling 2.430) being flagged for firearm ownership and potentially requiring a dispossession response.27 “Domestic Violence & Firearms,” Metro Nashville Office of Family Safety, accessed October 5, 2021, https://bit.ly/3Bhso74. Collecting this data also helped inform training efforts undertaken by the Nashville FJC to educate partners, clients, and community members on the lethality of firearms in domestic violence cases.28Lance and Bullard, “Nashville Office of Family Safety.”
During intake, a screener or case manager also asks the survivor to sign information-sharing agreements and arrange appointments, ideally for the same day, with on-site service providers. Appointments and services are also entered into an internal system, allowing FJC staff to track any follow-up needs. Between appointments, survivors spend time in waiting rooms designed to feel warm and welcoming: some are designed to resemble living rooms and may include a pantry or kitchen and computer workstations.29Family Justice Center Alliance, “What Is an FJC? Two-Part Series,” 2021, https://www.familyjusticecenter.org/resources/what-is-an-fjc-two-part-series/ Children who accompany survivors to the FJC can stay in supervised child care centers while the survivor meets with service providers in private rooms. Some FJCs may have donated clothing, food pantry items, back-to-school supplies, and transit reimbursement they can offer to survivors.
Services provided on-site at an FJC may include advocacy, safety planning, legal assistance, shelter placement and transport, community education, translation services, food assistance, transportation aid, support groups, counseling for children and adults, housing support, life and employment skills programming, and psychiatric care.30Abt Associates. “Environmental Scan.”
Sustainable Funding and Partner Engagement
A strategic plan for sustainability is necessary as continuous support from leadership, partners and funding can be a challenge. To create a sustainable FJC, initial planning must include stakeholder and community engagement to properly determine the needs and an effective programming structure. Many FJCs begin with a planning committee to assess the need for an FJC and develop the initial structure, procedures, and processes for implementation and a funding plan.31Thomas K. Duncan et al., “American Association for the Surgery of Trauma Prevention Committee Review: Family Justice Centers—a Not-so-Novel, but Unknown Gem,” Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open 6, no. 1 (2021): e000725, https://doi.org/10.1136/tsaco-2021-000725. Core service providers, law enforcement, and city agencies should convene to discuss governance, facilities, funding, sustainability, service delivery, information-sharing, and outreach, among other topics. To ensure long-term funding, an FJC planning committee must familiarize itself with available funding sources at the local, state, and federal levels, local budgeting processes, and grant writing and grant management.
Key aspects that need to be in place prior to establishing an FJC include specialized police and prosecution responses to domestic violence, and strong working relationships between existing victim service providers, preferably a domestic violence court and city or county task force. All agencies participating in the FJC must be able to work cohesively. Developing strong working relationships can take time, but an existing infrastructure like a task force can help in the early stages of FJC creation.
Public Awareness and Outreach
Public awareness of an FJC and the services it provides is critical. FJC staff and service providers should periodically engage communities, courts, and government agencies to describe and disseminate the mission and services of the FJC. Many FJCs receive referrals from law enforcement, victim advocates embedded within law enforcement, or court systems. However, to expand the network of referrals, outreach at community events, salons or barber shops,32Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, “Domestic Violence Toolkit for Salon and Barbershop Professionals,” June 2019, https://on.nyc.gov/3iC4NGZ. college campuses,33Kenneth Mullinax, “Campus Safety Month Event on September 30 with ASU’s V.A.W.P.,” Alabama State University, September 30, 2021, https://bit.ly/3mv2UNq. medical offices, and hospitals are also beneficial.
Newsroom & Resources
Family Justice Center Alliance
What Is an FJC? (101) Webinar
What Is a Family Justice Center? Free Course (Alliance for Hope International)
San Diego Family Justice Center
The President’s Family Justice Center Initiative Best Practices (US Department of Justice)
Domestic Violence Toolkit for Salon and Barbershop Professionals (NYC, June 2019)
Family Justice Center Evaluation Toolkit (University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2018)
California Family Justice Centers Statute
Find a Family Justice Center (National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence)
National Outcomes (CharMeck Family Justice Center)