An effort is underway to launch a Lafayette center where victims of domestic violence will be able seek help and file police and legal paperwork in one location, helping to keep survivors safe from future violence.
The search is on for a site to open the Family Justice Center sometime next year, said Crystal Scrantz, program director at Faith House, a domestic violence shelter for women and children that provides counseling and support services.
The Family Justice Center would house under the same roof all of the services that a survivor of domestic violence might need: counseling, shelter information, legal representation and law enforcement.
Representatives of Faith House, the Lafayette Police Department, Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, Acadiana Legal Services and the 15th Judicial District Court and the District Attorney’s Office are part of the Lafayette Domestic Violence Council, whose mission is to develop and promote initiatives to reduce domestic violence.
Part of the council’s work has involved planning the opening of a Family Justice Center. Similar centers are now operating in New Orleans and Monroe, and Faith House plans to open the Central Louisiana Family Justice Center in Pineville later this year.
“What other areas have seen is whenever the legal services are on-site at the Family Justice Center, survivors of domestic violence are able to get representation easier and faster,” Scrantz said. “In New Orleans, they saw a reduction in domestic violence homicides.”
Initially, the center likely would be open two days a week and, pending additional funding for staffing, could be open five days a week. Projected annual expenses for a fully operational center is about $176,900, based on information Scrantz shared at a recent Lafayette Domestic Violence Council meeting.
Collaboration already exists among agencies that work with domestic violence survivors. However, the Family Justice Center is designed to make the process of reporting and seeking help easier on the survivor, said Amy Daigle, victims services advocate at the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“The Family Justice Center serves as a one-stop shop instead of sending someone who’s suffered through domestic violence to one person here, then there and then this other agency,” Daigle said.
“It umbrellas all those services under one roof,” she said. “If you can make it to where there’s the least amount of hardship on their part, they’ll be more likely to utilize those services and benefit from them.”
In some cases, someone trying to report or escape domestic violence may not have access to a vehicle or be unable to take off work to visit six or seven agencies, Daigle said.
“Sometimes, too, if they’re afraid the abuser will find out that they’re using these services, they may not make the additional trips to agencies,” Daigle said. “In one afternoon, at the Family Justice Center they can do what they need to get done and do it in one trip.”
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.