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Family justice center concept is topic of Cleveland conference

CLEVELAND — Judges and victim advocates envision a day when victims of violent crime can go to one place and receive all the help they need to move on with their lives.
For two days this week, dozens of potential stakeholders will convene to discuss how to make that vision a reality in Cuyahoga County.

Members of the San Diego-based Family Justice Center Alliance will lead nearly 100 representatives from at least 30 organizations -- including courts throughout the region, hospitals and numerous service providers -- in a discussion on launching a Family Justice Center in Cleveland.

The concept, which has been adopted by dozens of jurisdictions nationwide, pulls together under one roof resources that currently are offered by agencies spread across the county. Under the Family Justice Center model, victims can come to one location to talk to an advocate, get a restraining order, talk to a police officer, meet with a prosecutor, receive medical assistance and counseling, and obtain nutrition and pregnancy services.

The concept was spearheaded in San Diego in the 1990s as a one-stop domestic violence service center. Today the San Diego program occupies three floors of a downtown office building and houses the entire domestic violence units of the Police Department and the city prosecutor's office, as well as staff from about 20 other community nonprofit domestic violence and sexual assault agencies.

At this early planning stage, it is unclear how a similar program in Cleveland would be structured or how much it would cost, said Cleveland Municipal Court Presiding Judge Ronald Adrine.

But plenty of anecdotal evidence emphasizes the need for such a program in the community, the judge said. Often, a victim's needs go unidentified because he or she must rely fully on an advocate's assessment of the case and knowledge of available agencies.

One objective for this week's conference is to determine whether a Family Justice Center would require a brick and mortar facility or if the same goals can be achieved through a computer network and virtual connection between service providers, Adrine said.

"With so many political subdivisions in this county it makes it a little more challenging to try to come up with a plan that will avoid turf issues," the judge said.

The conference will take place today and Wednesday at The Center for Families and Children on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland.

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