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VOL. 122 | NO. 243 | Friday, December 21, 2007

New Safety Center Seeks Space, Further Funding

By Rosalind Guy

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Tennessee businesses lose about $10 million a year in paid work leave as victims of domestic violence take off because of their injuries. The state also spends about $15 million a year housing convicts who have killed their partners or spouses, according to a 2006 Tennessee Economic Council on Women report that explores the economic impact of domestic violence statewide.

The report highlights some of the reasons local agencies pooled their resources a year ago to study the feasibility of opening one central location to provide services and satisfy the needs of domestic violence victims. That's also why they've managed to create the beginnings of the Family Safety Center of Memphis and Shelby County.

"There's a big cost (related to domestic violence) and that will be impacted by the Family Safety Center," said its program director Connie Ross. "The more services that we can directly get to the victims and that they can access easily, the more safe (they will be) and (the) less likely it will be that the abuse will continue."

One-stop shop

The purpose of the center is to provide in one location civil, criminal, health and social services for victims of family violence. Based on the model of the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, the initiative first was promoted by the federal government a couple of years ago, then taken on by 28 local stakeholder organizations last year and aided by $105,000 public and private funding.

The Child Advocacy Center was one of the organizations to take the lead role in developing the Family Safety Center.

"Our role is in assisting and advising around the whole multi-disciplinary concept," said Nancy Williams, executive director of the child advocacy center. "That's why we're involved now. It has to do with the fact that the Child Advocacy Center model is the same model that will be used at the Family Safety Center and that involves co-location and strong teamwork among disciplines."

To better get a sense of what the child advocacy center model will look like in action, Ross also will become a staff member there.

Representatives from the Memphis Police Department, the Department of Children's Services as well as prosecutors from the Shelby County District Attorney's office work out of the child advocacy center. So having Ross at the center was an intentional move to put her in the middle of the action there while she works on developing the Family Safety Center.

In search of home base

Ross officially assumes her new leadership position Jan. 7 and for a time will be the only employee of the Family Safety Center. There isn't yet a physical space for the center, but Ross said the plan is to have it open by the end of 2008.

"It just depends on a number of factors such as finding a suitable location," Ross said. "But all that has already started, we've already started looking for the location and the funding."

Hiring Ross is just one phase in anticipation of the center's opening. The other is, of course, to raise capital to fund operations and establish operational protocols.

Ross is already engaged in raising money to help pay for a space - either to buy a building or lease one and design the workspace to be able to accommodate all the different agencies that will be a part of the Family Safety Center.

Ross is an attorney who has been teaching the domestic violence project at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS) clinic for 15 years.

"While I've been teaching, I have worked in the area of domestic violence," she said. "I have taught the domestic violence clinic and assisted legal services in raising money to support their domestic violence program and my students have represented victims of domestic violence in our civil court."

Toward ending the cycle

The staff of the Family Safety Center will be small because the bulk of the "employees" will be from social and government agencies.

"The staff of the Family Safety Center will be small, because all we're doing is running the program," Ross said. "It will be the partner agencies like Memphis Area Legal Services, the YWCA Abused Women's Services, the (Shelby County) Crime Victims Assistance (Center and others) that will be locating their employees at the Family Safety Center. They won't be staff members of the safety center; they'll continue to be with their agency and that includes government employees too."

District attorneys also will be able to meet with victims at the Family Safety Center about charges against alleged perpetrators.

Ross said the collaborative approach of all the agencies will increase the likelihood that all necessary steps will be taken to protect victims and their children.

"Without having all services in one place, a victim may not get all of her needs met," Ross said. "She may spend a lot of time and get very discouraged. But because it's easy to access the support, then the victim would be more likely to take all the steps that she needs to take to be safe and get out of that abusive relationship and to take her children out of it, because children, whether they're physically assaulted or abused as witnesses of domestic violence, they're also victims and it just continues the cycle of violence for the children to remain in that type of environment."

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