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Bringing Services for Domestic Violence Survivors Together

Family Justice Center Opens in Westchester

November 19, 2010

On May 17, 2010, Westchester County became the fifth county in New York State to house a Family Justice Center (FJC). 1  The idea behind the FJC model is to provide a one-stop center for victims of domestic violence. 2 The goal is to increase the effectiveness of service providers to break the cycle of violence by coordinating services to victims and increasing access to government and community resources. 3  The model’s effectiveness has been well recognized. 4

FJCs have been in existence since the early 2000s. 5  They were a response to the alarming  incidents of domestic violence throughout the country and what advocates identified as barriers faced by victims to services. 6  While services to victims were available, these services were often scattered throughout communities.  And victims, especially those with limited income and resources, were falling through the cracks because of the difficulty of finding the time and money to reach all of the needed agencies. 7  By housing the needed agencies under one roof, the FJC model aims to make the victim’s search for services easier. 

The symbolism of the center is also powerful. By offering a “network of hope” and services for survivors of domestic violence the community is showing that it takes the problem seriously and it is willing to address it. 8

Empire Justice is part of this growing national effort to provide and improve access to services for survivors of domestic violence.  We are one of several agencies, including government and community-based organizations, which have partnered with the Westchester Family Justice Center.  Westchester residents can now come to one location to talk with advocates, counselors and attorneys (bilingual staff is also present at the center).  They receive help with a range of issues, including information on shelters, counseling, public assistance, orders of protection, child custody, child support, divorce, and immigration.

The role of Empire Justice at the center is to screen potential clients for eligibility for immigration relief under the range of immigration remedies available to survivors of domestic violence.  In addition to strengthening ties with other community-based organizations, the center also provides the opportunity to collaborate with local police departments. 9  The potential to work law enforcement, by giving talks on concerns from the immigrant community in their dealings with law enforcement or providing trainings about specific immigration benefits, like the “U visa,” will improve our ability to be more effective advocates for our clients. 10

It is estimated that only 25 percent of cases of domestic violence are reported. 11 The difficulty of searching for assistance is but one of the many reasons why victims often fail to report incidents of domestic violence, but we are hopeful that Westchester’s new center, by removing that barrier, will reduce the number of victims that fall through the cracks.

Empire Justice currently has a staff attorney one day a week at the Westchester Family Justice Center to provide legal services to immigrant victims seeking assistance.  The FJC is located at: 110 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd/Room L-100, White Plains, NY 10601.  Phone: 914-995-3100. For more information about the Westchester Family Justice Center please visit: http://women.westchestergov.com/.  

Footnotes

1   The other New York State Family Justice Centers are located in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Buffalo, and Queens.
2   Family Justice Center, Frequently Asked Questions, available at http://www.familyjusticecenter.com/Tech-Assistance/frequently-asked-questions.html (last visited on Oct. 15, 2010).
3   The effectiveness of the FJC model has been recognized by the United States Department of Justice.  See Supra note 2.
4   The effectiveness in domestic violence intervention of FJC model has been recognized by the United States Department of Justice. See Supra note 2.
5   See Family Justice Center, History, available at http://www.familyjusticecenter.com/History/history.html (last visited on Oct. 15, 2010).
6   See Supra note 2.
7   Id.
8   The “Network of Hope” logo is used at the Westchester Family Justice Center.
9   For example, the Westchester FJC had a scheduled conference with local law enforcement this October to inform them about the role of the FJC.  There is the opportunity to build on this meeting and seek a more robust relationship with law enforcement.
10  For example, one of the requirements to qualify for a “U Visa” is a certification from a Federal, State or local law enforcement agency that the crime victim is being, has been or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. 8 CFR § 214.14(b) (3). Law enforcement could be particularly helpful if there is no prosecution of the crime.  By having more connections with local law enforcement we could try to avoid some of the difficulties with obtaining certification faced in other counties. See e.g. Evans, Heidi. NYPD bureaucracy thwarts U-Visa law giving immigrant victims legal status if they help prosecutors. NY Daily News, March 20, 2010, available at http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/03/21/2010-03-21_vics_cant_get_visas_say_nypd_not_aiding_immigs_using_new_law_for_protection.html.
11  See Supra note 2.

 





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