Family Justice Center

Domestic violence experts, county leaders begin talks

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Casey Gwinn (standing), president and co-founder of the Alliance for Hope International, facilitates a break-out discussion during strategic planning for Canadian County’s Family Justice Center: From left, Gwinn, Amanda Templeton of United Way of Central Oklahoma, director Dan Kern of the Canadian County Children’s Justice Center, and District 1 County Commissioner Marc Hader. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer

Canadian County leaders met this week for a two-day strategic planning session as a vision advances to start a center to help domestic violence survivors.

Consulting with Canadian County leaders during the workshop were a team from the Alliance for Hope International, led by president and co-founder Casey Gwinn.

Gwinn believes there is “very strong” momentum to bring a Family Justice Center to Canadian County.

“There is a lot engagement and the vision is big – as big a vision as we see anywhere in the country,” Gwinn said. “I am absolutely convinced that this is viable here.”

A Family Justice Center is a communitywide collaboration of public and private agencies within a centralized location that serves domestic violence victims and their families.
The concept is to provide one place where victims and their families can go to receive services to promote their safety and well-being. It is often called a “one-stop shop” for domestic violence and other victims of crime who may seek assistance.

Gwinn is the visionary behind the Family Justice Center movement, first proposing the concept in 1989.

About 50 Canadian County leaders and government officials participated in the strategic planning Tuesday and Wednesday inside Yukon’s Trinity Baptist Church, 620 N Cemetery.

Among attendees were Canadian County sheriff’s investigators and other law enforcement officers, Yukon City Council members, Canadian County Commissioners, Canadian County Children’s Justice Center officials, and representatives from child advocacy centers, local businesses, schools, civic clubs, health department, service agencies and the faith community.

Gwinn outlined challenges and issues facing Canadian County leaders as they move forward with plans for the new center.

“The questions are, ‘How is it going to get organized here? Who will be the lead agency? What will be the governance structure? And what partner agencies will want to get started immediately and what partner agencies will want to wait until the bigger dream down the road?

“You want agencies that want to work collaboratively; who want to work together and believe in this concept.”

Gwinn told the Canadian County leaders that developing a new Family Justice Center is hard work. And maintaining a positive momentum won’t be easy.

“Sustaining is the responsibility of everyone in this room,” Gwinn said.

The Family Justice Center model seeks to alleviate some of the obstacles met by domestic violence victims by locating services and providing assistance for the many challenges they may face.

Instead of them having to travel from one place to another, repeating their story over and over again, the Family Justice Center model brings services to families in one safe, convenient and family-friendly location.

WOULD BE FOURTH IN OKLAHOMA

Canadian County would be the fourth Family Justice Center in Oklahoma. Others are in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Shawnee.

District Attorney Mike Fields is helping spearhead the effort to bring the Family Justice Center to Canadian County. The center will address all types of family violence.

“It could be domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual assault, even elder abuse,” Field said.

“Family violence is an umbrella term that encompasses all sorts of violence that happens in a family context.

“This is extremely important.”

Domestic and family violence are problems everywhere and no place is immune, he added.

“However, I think Canadian County has some inherent advantages that other places don’t have that give us a great opportunity to put together a Family Justice Center that ultimately could be a model for other places in the nation.”

The DA is encouraged with the potential “interplay” between a new Family Justice Center and the county’s premier Children’s Justice Center.

“That could just be completely unique and a ‘game changer’ in terms of our community’s response to domestic violence,” Fields said.

“This is the next logical step. The synergy between the Children’s Justice Center and a Family Justice Center has the potential to be tremendous.”

A prosecutor for 23 years, Fields recognizes the way that domestic violence cases are handled and the need for improvement.

Fields was impressed with the participation at this week’s strategic planning session.

“It’s a lot to ask of busy community leaders to take a day or even parts of days away from their schedules to help us plan exactly what our Family Justice Center will look like,” Fields said.

A HEART FOR SERVICE
Canadian County Commission Chairman Dave Anderson was encouraged by the public-private partnership among many service providers.

Agencies and non-profits participating in the two-day strategic planning workshop “have a heart for service,” Anderson said.

“Bringing them together, giving them a common goal and creating a more efficient way to work together to meet the needs of victims is important.”

Canadian County’s proposed Family Justice Center will provide services to help victims cope with domestic violence and related issues like elder abuse and child abuse.

“We’re focusing on how we approach helping people who are victims of crime,” Anderson said. “And making them ‘survivors’, instead of victims.”

Having such a facility in Oklahoma’s fourth largest county is important, the District 2 county commissioner added.

“We set the bar for all counties in the state when it comes to the way we provide services to our kids through our juvenile justice center. This is just an extension of the heart to reach out and help.

“One of the many reasons Canadian County is the fastest growing county in the state is the heart of the people that live here and the compassion that we have. Our county is really blessed with that.”

IDEA SIMPLE, IMPLEMENTATION COMPLICATED

The Alliance for Hope now has centers in 40 states and 25 countries, all developed around the simple concept that survivors of domestic violence and abuse should be able to go to one place for all services.

“It is a simple idea that’s incredibly complicated to implement,” Gwinn said.

Former Canadian County District Judge Gary Miller’s original work around juvenile justice in Canadian County can be a foundation for expansion of the Family Justice Center framework, he added.

“Whether this is something that should be housed at the Juvenile Justice Center or somewhere else, I don’t know,” Gwinn said. “Whether it should be fully integrated or not, I don’t know.

“Canadian County has a history of innovation and the Juvenile Justice Center is a perfect example of that innovation.”

On the first day of this week’s strategic planning session in Yukon, participants articulated their vision and mission and identified ways to overcome barriers to them.

Domestic violence survivor Erin Rice talked about “bouncing around” in the criminal justice system having to repeatedly tell her traumatic story.

“We know survivors want to go one place,” Gwinn said. “Now the agencies have to figure out how to make that happen. Sometimes they have to set aside turf and ego to make it happen because everybody has their own view of their own work and think it’s more important than everyone else’s.

The Family Justice Center model is not only best for domestic violence survivors, but Gwinn said it’s the best way to hold offenders accountable.

On Wednesday, the Alliance for Hope team led the Canadian County leaders to develop goals and objectives in four “work groups”: Governance and Facility, Service Delivery and Operations, Funding and Sustainability; and Community Engagement, Outreach and Volunteers.

Citizens are invited to be part of watching the Family Justice Center vision became reality by joining newly created subcommittees.

“The more voices that we can get involved in the planning process, the better the chances our product will end up being really good,” DA Fields said. “Citizens are welcome to get involved and help us get this off the ground.”