Co-located domestic violence, child abuse center coming to WashCo
It's a common story at the Family Justice Center of Washington County.
A victim of domestic violence comes into the resource center in Beaverton seeking help and has her children in tow. The victim — usually female — receives counseling, legal assistance and support for temporary housing, among other services, says Judy Willey, president of the FJC board.
But what about the children?
Oftentimes, during the process, the reality sets in that the kids — who in many cases have witnessed the abuse or were victims themselves — also need support, Willey notes.
Since the FJC opened its doors in 2018, underage victims have had to travel to Legacy Emanuel Health Center in North Portland, where the hospital houses CARES Northwest, the largest child abuse assessment and treatment center in the region.
For these survivors, who often don't have cars or went to the FJC in secret out of fear of their abuser, the separation between the services is a substantial barrier, Willey said.
But that barrier is about to be overcome.
In early August, Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill allocating $6.25 million for the creation of a new facility that will house the FJC and child abuse resources through CARES Northwest in one location in Washington County.
The funding was contained in Senate Bill 5534, which appropriated state lottery revenue for various projects in Oregon.
The Family Peace Center, as project partners call it, has gained support from law enforcement, advocates, service providers, school administrators and public officials at all levels of government.
Spearheading a years-long effort to bring a co-located domestic violence and child abuse resource center to Washington County is District Attorney Kevin Barton, who says the county's growing population and a better understanding of how best to address such issues prompted the project.
"You can't always stop the trauma from happening," said Barton, who prosecuted child abuse cases before becoming district attorney and currently serves on the FJC board. "But what we can control is what we do after that. This addresses some big holes in Washington County's system."
An estimated 30-60% of families that experience either domestic violence or child abuse also experience the other form of violence, according to the Resource Center on Domestic Violence: Child Protection and Custody.
While CARES Northwest has long served kids in Washington County, the organization was established in 1987 primarily to serve Multnomah County, Barton said.
Reversing a 30-year precedent, CARES Northwest started serving more kids in Washington County than Multnomah County in 2018.
With fast-growing Washington County projected to have the largest population of children of any county in Oregon within the next two decades, Barton expects the need to only get bigger with time.
To further illustrate the need, Barton and Willey point to data showing that one in four women, and one in 10 men, experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, while one in seven children experience child abuse or neglect annually.
Barton says the Family Peace Center will address a root cause of how people wind up in the criminal justice system: Victims of abuse sometimes go on to be perpetrators of abuse themselves.
"I've been doing this long enough that I've had children I've dealt with as victims, and then later in my career, I've seen them come back in as defendants," Barton said.
The pandemic has exacerbated the problems.
In 2020, Washington County saw reports of child abuse drop by more than half as schools closed and staff had less contact with students, according to data compiled by the District Attorney's Office.
Officials believe it's virtually certain that doesn't reflect an actual drop in instances of abuse — just fewer opportunities for children to report that someone is hurting them, or for teachers or counselors to notice signs they are in danger.
Overall, reports of domestic violence increased in 2020, along with stress and social isolation caused by the pandemic, according to the District Attorney's Office.
Barton says the ability to offer resources for both domestic violence and child abuse in one location is part of a larger trend in how our society treats seemingly distinct, but often connected, problems.
Another example of the new approach is Washington County's planned ??Center for Addictions Triage and Treatment, which will offer treatment for both addiction and mental health issues. The Washington County Board of Commissioners approved funding for the center in July.
Willey says the Family Peace Center brings a crucial addition to the FJC's approach to combining a wide range of service providers in one place. The FJC currently partners with multiple organizations on-site, including the Domestic Violence Resource Center, Community Action and the Sexual Assault Resource Center.
She says the approach is important because oftentimes victims come into the FJC only hoping for help getting a restraining order against their abuser.
"A lot of the time, people don't know what they need or what's available," Willey said. "They need a restraining order, that's all they think of. Within an hour, there's an advocate who talks to them, they create a safety plan for when they do go back home, they end up getting counseling appointments, they talk to Legal Aid, they get temporary housing.
"Now, help for their kids will be there too."
Project partners are currently looking for an existing building that could be renovated to accommodate services, said Stephen Mayer, a spokesperson for the District Attorney's Office. He said partners are looking for a place centrally located within Washington County, potentially in Beaverton.
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