Bar News - July 19, 2017
Family Justice Center Opens in Manchester
By: Carol Robidoux
NH Circuit Court Judge Susan Carbon speaks at the center’s opening, while Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas looks on. The DOVE Project at the NH Bar Association is a partner in the effort.
Domestic violence permeates court dockets and attorney client rolls across New Hampshire, complicating all kinds of cases and putting the safety and wellbeing of victims – primarily women and children – at risk.
Victims struggling to break free from such abuse oftentimes encounter logistical, financial and legal barriers that make reaching independence – and ultimately, beginning the healing process – extremely difficult.
The opening of the Manchester Family Justice Center last month signifies the further development of a
nd increased commitment to the collaborative approach to assisting victims of domestic violence that the Domestic Violence Emergency (DOVE) Project helped pioneer 25 years ago. An offsite partner in the effort to concentrate victim assistance at the Manchester Family Justice Center, the DOVE Project at the NH Bar Association coordinates with crisis centers across the state to ensure that victims have access to free legal representation at emergency protective order hearings.
The Manchester Family Justice Center, housed at the YWCA on Concord Street, is a federally 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. Services are provided to victims of domestic and sexual violence, as well as stalking and human trafficking, at no cost.
The program was made possible by a three-year $450,000 grant from the US 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.
NH Circuit Court Justice Susan Carbon, who presides over family court proceedings in Manchester, is also the former director of the US DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women. She spoke at the center’s opening last month, congratulating those involved on securing the federal grant. “I know first-hand how challenging it is to get one of these awards,” she said. “They are incredibly competitive.”
The Justice Center will work with DOVE, which also coordinates the recruitment, training and mentoring of volunteer attorneys. Carbon worked with DOVE Coordinator Pamela Dodge to help connect the New Hampshire Bar Foundation with the Justice Center, creating a resource not only for victims, but for attorneys, as well.
“What this will do for the bar is give lawyers another resource for their clients. And one of the biggest benefits to the Family Justice Center, from a victim’s standpoint, is that they don’t have to go from place to place to place. Every time you move, that’s another barrier,” Carbon said.
For 25 years, crisis center advocates have been the conduit to link victims of domestic abuse to volunteers of the Pro Bono Program’s DOVE Project. Typically, by the time victims connect with crisis advocacy they are hampered by a host of legal problems. Often, victims are unable to focus on their legal issues in a strategic manner. Pro Bono frequently links eligible applicants with lawyers for consultations, limited-scope assistance, or full representation.
“Volunteers use their expertise to address an array of civil legal problems that reach beyond protection from abuse and divorce or parenting matters,” says Dodge. “Using the collaborative model, Pro Bono embraces the holistic approach implemented by a family justice center to offer an analysis of the clients’ legal needs that could include issues such as looming evictions, relief from consumer or debt collection harassment, federal tax controversies and more. Helping the clients attain financial stability is often key to securing their independence.”
Whether a victim is in need of law enforcement or legal help, housing, or mental health counseling, the Manchester Family Justice Center becomes a one-stop access point.
“The more we can educate the bar about asking questions and proper screening, and being aware that so many of the people they’re dealing with may be victims and may not know it, the better we can serve those who seek our help,” Carbon says.
The Family Justice Center is a proven model, one that has been in place in Strafford County for several years. By simplifying the process of seeking help, the justice center model reduces victim trauma and helps victims, many of whom witnessed domestic violence at a young age before becoming victims themselves, begin to heal.
Providing holistic support and services to survivors of domestic abuse has the potential to not only break those cycles, but also to redirect associated problems – increased demand for foster care, overcrowded prisons, waiting lists for affordable safe housing, and the unmet need for addiction and anger management counseling, Carbon says.
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.
“This is a huge step for New Hampshire,” Carbon says. “Based on the effectiveness of the program in Strafford County, this will change lives. “But it takes a willingness for people to work together, and the collaboration between law enforcement, social services and the NH Bar Association is key.”
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 the police department’s 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. Easter Seals NH will work directly with children.
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 at www.fb.com/ManchesterNHFJC.
Editor’s Note: The DOVE Project will celebrate its 25th anniversary at a reception Sept. 12. See related story.