Family Justice Center: Breaking chains of domestic abuse and removing barriers to service

A place where "hope is stronger then fear."

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Visitors to the Manchester Family Justice Center’s community open house pass by the handwriting on the wall, a beacon for those victims of abuse who enter here: “Hope is stronger than fear.”

MANCHESTER, NH – Domestic violence is prevalent in our city. It’s a crime that not only indicates physical violence, but its victims carry with them lasting emotional scars, including the weight of shame and hopelessness.

Last year Manchester police officers responded to 434 cases of aggravated assault; 40 percent of those involved domestic violence. Predominantly, the victims are women and children.

Until now, the process of undoing residual damage – physical, emotional and financial – has been part of the problem. Many of the barriers are insurmountable for victims who are low on resources, and hope. On Wednesday, a new initiative was announced, a direct response to the need for open doors and pathways to healing.

The Manchester Family Justice Center, housed at the YWCA on Concord Street, is a federal grant-funded collaborative bringing together five provider agencies under one roof – YMCA staff, Manchester Police, the Manchester Community Health Center, Manchester Community Resource Center, and Easter Seals NH. Their outreach is exclusively to victims of domestic and sexual violence, stalking and human trafficking will find an array of comprehensive services.

Manchester Police Department victim advocate Rashida Mohamed, left, and Lt. Paul Thompson, right, explain how victims are identified and aided through the new collaborative.

Anyone in need is welcome. Services are provided on either a per diem basis, or free, says Lt. Paul Thompson, a Manchester Police detective who helps lead the domestic violence unit.

Wednesday’s official launch signals that most of the “new program” kinks have been smoothed out, Thompson says.

“Now we’re actually going to have domestic violence unit detectives here during the day, so we’ll be expanding out slowly. We’re just starting, and we’re a limited resource organization at this point. We have to learn to walk before we can run, and that’s become my new mantra, because I want to run,” says Thompson.

The program was made possible by a three-year $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Securing funding streams over the next three years so that the program can be sustainable is also part of the work ahead.

It’s a matter of bringing people into the consortium of care and investing valuable resources in them, before their lives are irreparably shattered – or lost.

A welcoming space for children who have been victims of domestic violence.

The Family Justice Center is a proven model, one which has been in place in Strafford County for several years. Thompson says it has tangibly reduced the trauma victims of domestic violence suffer by simplifying the process. Often those who seek help have been victims for much of their lives, caught up in the cycle of abuse at an early age as silent witnesses.

Providing holistic support and services to survivors of domestic abuse is a key that has the potential to not only break those cycles, but redirect some of the other trending problems our city faces – like more children than the foster care system can manage, over-crowded prisons, waiting lists for affordable safe housing alternatives, and the unmet need for addiction and anger management counseling.

Although the participating community-based service providers have been dealing with the individual need, the innovation here is that a victim in crisis does not need to figure out how to navigate those services. Instead, they can begin receiving the help they need from the moment they walk through the door.

Jessica Vaughn-Martin, Director of the Manchester Family Justice Center, flashes a smile during the June 21 open house tour.

The YWCA’s crisis services, which include confidential advocacy, medical and legal accompaniment, emergency shelter, education and outreach will be able to provide seamless referrals to any of the other agencies – Manchester Police will be available on site through its domestic violence unit; Manchester Community Health Center can offer behavioral health assessments and referrals; the Manchester Community Resource Center will shepherd those identified as in need of employment, training or educational needs, with a goal of financial stability; and EastersealsNH will be able to work directly with children who have seen and heard too much.

Thompson spoke about the barriers the program aims to break down.

“We believe a collaborative and coordinated response to domestic violence will increase assisting victims to move forward with their lives. Our goal is to have greater offender accountability while recognizing that a trauma-informed victim center approach where prosecution is not the only remedy will provide a positive outcome which will help survivors advance to a position where they are on solid ground,” Thompson said, during the official launch, which took place on the front steps of the YWCA.

Justice Susan Carbon, who presides over family court proceedings in Manchester District Court, also spoke about the effort put forth to secure the federal grant for the program’s launch, noting that there was only one other such grant awarded in New Hampshire, and few others around the country.

“I know first-hand how challenging it is to get one of these awards. They are incredibly competitive. To go through the process, and be selected by a national peer review board means this community came together and worked incredibly hard on a difficult application to bring the family justice center to Manchester,” Carbon said.

The Manchester Family Justice Center is located on the second floor of the YWCA, 72 Concord St., Manchester. Call 603-792-0917 for more information. You can also follow the Manchester NHFJC on Facebook.

About Carol Robidoux 6555 Articles
Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!