Journal Record: Family Justice Center Opens

By Sarah Terry-Cobo
Published: February 2, 2017


OKLAHOMA CITY – There’s such high demand for Oklahoma City’s Family Justice Center, Kim Garrett’s staff started helping domestic violence survivors before the building was open. There were no signs. She hadn’t done any advertising. There were no phones. And there was no furniture in the building.

The Family Justice Center officially opened on Thursday, but its staff has already helped 50 people, including men, Muslim women, Hispanic women, senior citizens and an undocumented immigrant.

“It was a testament to our inclusiveness,” she said. “I’m proud they feel welcome there.”

Palomar, Oklahoma City’s Family Justice Center, is a one-stop shop of sorts for domestic violence survivors and their children. They can file a police report, start divorce proceedings, get legal help, get clothing for children, and get connected with social workers, among other things.

There were about 35,000 domestic-violence-related 911 calls to the Oklahoma City Police Department in 2016, said Palomar board President Tricia Everest. The city’s residents are the most traumatized among 120 cities around the U.S and cities in Mexico, Jordan, and Belgium, according to the national justice center’s focus group results.

Oklahoma’s expansive city limits and lengthy time it takes to visit all the necessary resources by car or by bus contribute to that, Everest said. It would take three hours by car or 14 hours by bus to travel to all the partner agencies now located within Palomar.

On Wednesday, a client walked into Palomar and accomplished in a few hours what could have taken weeks. The spouse of the client had not returned the client’s child at the designated time specified on the client’s protective order. Palomar staff members brought in the domestic violence unit of the police department, which put out a kidnapping alert for the child and located the child by that evening.

“That just shows how efficient this system is,” Everest said. “We hadn’t even opened the door.”

Palomar partner agencies can learn from the state’s first family justice center, which opened in Tulsa in 2006. Tulsa was chosen as one of 15 sites to receive a federal grant in 2004. Family Safety Center of Tulsa opened in 2006 and moved from 31st and Harvard Avenue to downtown in 2015. About 86 percent of referrals come from law enforcement agencies in the Tulsa region. The justice center increased the number of clients it served from 5,000 adults in 2015 to 5,500 adults in 2016.

Executive Director Suzann Stewart said one of the reasons for the increase was the closer proximity to the Tulsa County courthouse. Another reason is a 2015 law change that requires law enforcement agencies to conduct a danger assessment when officers respond to domestic violence incidents. Stewart said the key to success is about relationships. All the partner agencies have to learn how to work together in order to make sure survivors can get all the social services they need.

“We don’t deliver services, per se, but it is our responsibility to make sure all the partners agree on procedures and we produce the desired end results,” Stewart said.

One thing that didn’t work as expected was bringing in a physician one day per week. It worked great when the doctor was in, but clients didn’t return to see the medical provider on the other four days. So now the Family Safety Center has a physician assistant on site five days per week.

Everest said it was important to have a board of business executives who aren’t related to the social services that Palomar provides. Neutrality is important because they can bring fresh perspectives and the business sense needed to run a nonprofit well. Board member Frank Merrick previously did work with the Homeless Alliance, which also provides multiple social services in a single location. Those providers must work together.

“Like homelessness, domestic violence isn’t just one thing,” he said. “They need children’s services, the criminal justice system is involved, the district attorney’s office is involved. Having all those involved in one spot is extremely helpful.”

Garrett said her goal is to add more services for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Those within the LGBT community are at a higher risk for violent crimes than the general population. Domestic violence within that community is under-reported.

“So if you know someone is at a higher risk, like seniors, undocumented immigrants, and LGBT folks, we have a duty to get these people services,” Garrett said.