ELIZABETH, NJ - Marking what Union County officials are calling the beginning of "a new era in how services are provided to victims of domestic violence in Union County," the Union County Family Justice Center (FJC) has opened, done so in a grand opening event September 13 attended by New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino, Acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park, Park's now successor Thomas K. Isenhour, and eight members of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
A joint venture of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, YWCA Union County, and other partner organizations, the approximately 2,000 square-foot Center is located on the second floor of the newly constructed Union County Courthouse Cherry Street Annex in downtown Elizabeth.
Services to be offered at the Center include counseling, case management, court advocacy, and legal assistance, as well as referrals to a range of additional services in areas such as medical care, mental health, housing, rental aid, employment, immigration services, and more. On-site partner organizations at the Center will include Central Jersey Legal Services, Partners for Women and Justice, PROCEED Inc., the Prosecutor’s Office’s Domestic Violence Unit and Office of Victim/Witness Advocacy, and the YWCA, while off-site partners will include HomeFirst Interfaith Housing & Family Services and Trinitas Regional Medical Center.
The federally-endorsed FJC model provides for a one-stop, community-based approach to enhance the safety and welfare of domestic violence victims while ensuring that they also receive the maximum protections available under the law. The Union County FJC is the third to open in New Jersey, as the Essex County FJC opened in 2010 and Morris County opened its Center last year. There are more than 75 FJCs currently in operation nationwide.
“The County of Union and the Freeholder Board has an established record of providing critical assistance to victims of domestic violence through programs such as our Rape Crisis Center and to children in need through the Prosecutor’s Child Advocacy Center,” said Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders Chairman Bruce H. Bergen. “With the advent of the Family Justice Center, we are proud to join in the effort to create an innovative, one-stop location that will provide a comprehensive response and place to access services for victims of violence and their families.”
Funding for the creation of the Union County FJC and the provision of physical space in the Cherry Street Annex were approved by the Freeholder Board last year, as the County contracted with the YWCA for it to manage and coordinate the Center’s day-to-day operations.
“Family Justice Centers are a best practice in the field of domestic violence. For the YWCA Union County, as we approach our 40th consecutive year of providing services to victims, the opening of this Family Justice Center is truly a significant milestone,” said YWCA Union County Chief Executive Officer Janice C. Lilien. “We are extremely happy to be able to provide this next level of comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence in Union County, and to partner with the County, the Prosecutor’s Office, and other community agencies in doing so, and we hope that this program will strengthen the safety net for victims and help reduce domestic violence in Union County.”
Municipal police departments in Union County handle several thousand domestic violence calls annually, making for an average of about 10 every day. But only a fraction of those cases make their way through the criminal justice system, as victims often are financially dependent on their abusers and hesitant to participate in the legal process.
According to the San Diego-based Family Justice Center Alliance, jurisdictions in which FJCs are introduced have gone on to report reductions in domestic violence-related homicides ranging from about 45 to 95 percent. Nearly 20 percent of homicides that took place in Union County during the last five full calendar years were related to domestic violence – including several cases in which victims had previously obtained temporary restraining orders against their killers.
“Today’s ceremony marks the culmination of a vision through which many people and organizations came together to embrace the goal of making a terrible situation easier for some of our most vulnerable victims of crime,” said acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park. “It is my expectation and hope that the Union County Family Justice Center will come to be seen as a sanctuary that can help create a better life for these victims.”
For more information about the Union County FJC, or to inquire about its services, call 908-527-4980.