“Nothing happens unless first a dream.”
– Carl Sandburg
When the Family Justice Center opened its doors on May 2, 2006, it was the culmination of a dream that began in 1995. That’s when the Erie County Coalition Against Family Violence and the Multidisciplinary Coordinating Council first came together to find a way to improve the response to incidents of domestic violence in Erie County. The result was the 1995 Erie County Long-Term Strategic Plan which received its final assessment in 2000.
As the next step, a Coordinated Community Response to Family Violence in Erie County planning conference was held at Buffalo State College in 2001. More than 100 individuals from various domestic violence agencies participated in the conference. The result of the conference was a long-term plan to streamline domestic violence services in hopes of ending family violence in Erie County. A two-year assessment and planning initiative completed in 2005 indicated that the general response to domestic violence was perceived as being fragmented, difficult to access, and often insensitive to the needs of victims.
A new, collaborative system of response would be borne out of a centralized family violence center. The center would act as a “one stop shop” for domestic violence services and would bring different domestic violence service providers together under one roof. The idea was to break down barriers to those services that at the time were spread out across many separate agencies offering uncoordinated programs. Victims seeking help were forced to travel from agency to agency, often with poor or no transportation, and frequently with young children in tow.
While Erie County was creating its own coordinated community response to family violence, the city of San Diego was working to establish the very first Family Justice Center. In 2002, the San Diego Family Justice Center (FJC) opened, paving the way for future Family Justice Centers across the country.
President George W. Bush was so impressed with the success of the San Diego FJC in its first year in operation that in October 2003 the Department of Justice announced the allocation of more than $20 million in grants to establish 15 FJCs in the United States. In July, 2004 Erie County bested more than 100 other applicants and was offered one of these grants. Diane M. Stuart, director of the federal Office on Violence Against Women said “Buffalo stood out” because of how the area’s domestic violence agencies had already begun working together to combat family violence.
On May 2, 2006, the Family Justice Center of Erie County celebrated its grand opening. Since that time, the FJC has helped thousands of clients deal with issues of domestic and family violence.
The FJC will continue bringing unity to a once fragmented system; holding abusers accountable for their actions; and providing a safe place for victims and their children to find hope and healing.