Union County Family Justice Center marks one year of service to community

Local government, law enforcement, judiciary, and social service officials plan to gather at the Union County Courthouse’s Cherry Street Annex this afternoon to mark the one-year anniversary of the grand opening of the Union County Family Justice Center, where a wide range of services are continually provided to victims of domestic violence, acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan and YWCA Union County Chief Executive Officer Janice C. Lilien jointly announced Thursday.

The ceremony, which is open to the media and public, will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Courtroom 302C, on the Cherry Street Annex’s third floor.

A joint venture of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, 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 Cherry Street Annex, which also opened its doors last year. 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 was the third to open in New Jersey, as the Essex County FJC opened in 2010 and Morris County opened its Center in 2016. A fourth New Jersey FJC opened in Monmouth County in October 2017. There are more than 130 FJCs currently in operation nationwide, with in excess of 100 more planned, according to the San Diego-based Family Justice Center Alliance.

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 in 2016, as the County contracted with the YWCA for it to manage and coordinate the Center’s day-to-day operations, which are overseen by FJC Director Adela Caceres. Additional partial funding for safety enhancements was provided by a grant awarded by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, and partial funding for furnishing, equipment, and staff was secured through the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA).

Services 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 assistance, immigration services, and more. On-site partner organizations at the Center 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, the Union County Sheriff’s Office, and the YWCA, while off-site partners will include HomeFirst Interfaith Housing & Family Services and Trinitas Regional Medical Center.

In its first full year of operation, the FJC assisted 456 clients receiving one-time services and 179 returning clients for a total of 635 aid recipients in all.

“The primary responsibility of law enforcement everywhere is to protect and serve citizens,” acting Prosecutor Monahan said. “The Union County Family Justice Center is emblematic of this commitment – it not only protects some of our most vulnerable victims of crime from further harm, but it serves them with many of the tools necessary to guide them through one of the most difficult and dangerous times of their lives.”

“In the short time that the FJC has been open, we have seen firsthand the power of partnership and collaboration, and how this multiplies and expands each agency’s individual efforts. We are already seeing clear examples of how this program – by bringing partners together in a single site – has literally saved victims’ lives,” Lilien added. “Union County has provided a service to its people that is beyond measure.”

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 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.

For more information about the Union County FJC, or to inquire about its services, please go online to http://unioncountyfjc.orgor call 908-527-4980. To reach the County’s 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline, call 908-355-4357.