Family Justice Centers Essay

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Family justice centers (FJCs) reflect recent innovations that bring together several emerging trends over the last two decades in responding to domestic violence victims and their families. Victims of domestic violence and their children are often forced to travel from agency to agency in order to access the help they need to achieve safety in their lives. As a result, two emerging trends—greater community coordination and co-location of staff from multiple agencies—have driven the innovation that has resulted in FJCs. FJCs were established in the United States to respond to this fragmentation by co-locating a variety of services in one facility so that battered mothers and their children would find much of the help they need coordinated in just one location. The Web site for one of the earliest FJCs, the FJC in San Diego, states, “The premise was simple: Victims will have an easier time receiving needed services if all the necessary help is located under one roof.” Co-location also offered the opportunity to coordinate services so that one agency was not countering the work of another.

The origins of current FJCs can be found in early coordination efforts of the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, domestic violence programs, and others in the early 1990s. In 1989, then Deputy City Attorney Casey Gwinn proposed a one-stop location for battered women to receive help. The proposal was not approved, but his office pursued the idea by developing closer working relationships with domestic violence programs and others who were concerned about the fragmentation and often ineffectiveness of services for families experiencing domestic violence. In 1998 the San Diego Police Department joined the effort, and in 2001 the City of San Diego approved the creation of the first FJC. It officially opened in April 2002 with 20 agencies and over 100 professionals colocated in the San Diego Family Justice Center.

As the San Diego FJC Web site states, “Before the San Diego Family Justice Center opened, the criminal justice system made it difficult for victims to seek help; it unintentionally wore them down. Victims were required to travel from location to location to seek services that were scattered throughout the county. They had to tell their story over and over again. Needless to say, the criminal justice system made it easy for victims to become frustrated and ultimately give up.” It continues,

A collaborative effort provides more support to victims and children involved in domestic violence through improved case management and a more fluid exchange of information and resources. The entire process of reporting a domestic violence incident is much less overwhelming for the victims and children involved. This collaboration also dramatically improves the quality of police investigations and ultimately increases convictions of domestic violence perpetrators. The combination of this extensive counseling for perpetrators in conjunction with the empowerment and education of victims and children works in a synergistic fashion to reduce the rates of child abuse and domestic violence recidivism in San Diego.

Soon after San Diego’s long efforts formally emerged as the FJC, the U.S. government decided in 2003 to fund the replication of the FJCs in communities across the United States. Four hundred communities expressed interest in the President’s Family Justice Center Initiative and 15 were funded to develop centers. All of these centers were opened and operating by 2007. In addition, there are many other similarly configured sets of co-located services in other communities that have not received federal funding. Recently, all of these community-based FJCs have come together to form the National Family Justice Center Alliance.


  1. President’s Family Justice Center Initiative:
  2. San Diego Family Justice Center:

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