Safe Families Resource Center provides safe area for court users
Allegheny County and the Family Court Division of the Fifth Judicial District of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania today celebrated the opening of the new Safe Families Resource Center in the Family Courthouse. A gift from Child Watch of Pittsburgh, Allies for Children and the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation, the Center is a space provided in the Family Division to help reduce the trauma that Court users may experience.
“Our community is successful when we work together, and the Safe Families Resource Center is just one more example of seeing a need, and working cooperatively to find a way to address that need,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “We are grateful to the Courts, Child Watch of Pittsburgh, Allies for Children and the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation for working cooperatively to provide this much needed space in our Family Courthouse.”
The newly renovated space provides confidential areas for victims of abuse to confer with advocates and attorneys, complete lethality assessments and provide referrals for needed services. Additional improvements include a self-contained, private, play space for children and youth, separate waiting and check-in areas for plaintiffs and defendants, and secure doors – all to increase the sense and reality of safety in the Court setting.
“The reasons that people enter the Family Division are generally triggered by a traumatic event such as a divorce, a custody dispute, child abuse and neglect, crime, and domestic violence. The need to recognize the trauma that our court users are experiencing, and to make them feel safe, has become a major part of the mission of the Allegheny County Family Division,” said Judge Kim Berkeley Clark, Administrative Judge of the Family Division. “Thanks to the generosity of these partner organizations, we are well on our way to realizing this mission through the Safe Families Resource Center.”
The Safe Families Resource Center is a legacy project celebrating 24 years in child advocacy by Child Watch of Pittsburgh. Established in 1992 to educate the community about the problems of children, the organization also mobilized citizens to achieve collaborative and innovative solutions that remove barriers to the healthy development and well-being of all children. Child Watch began as a project of the Children’s Home of Pittsburgh, Inc. in the mid-90’s with a Children’s Home board member, Judy Horgan, dedicated to support a group of community volunteers. In 2002, Child Watch became its own non-profit organization.
“We created a coalition of agencies and individuals who focused on advocacy. We brought people together to give children a voice,” said Judy Horgan, Child Watch of Pittsburgh Founder. “We then learned from each other, gained from each other and helped each other. And in the end, we helped children.”
For years, Child Watch of Pittsburgh paved a path for the region’s child advocacy and service agencies to improve the lives of children and youth. This legacy of the organization can be seen in the Center, a project which creates a confidential, secure area for mothers and their children who are victims of domestic violence and seeking services from the Protection from Abuse (PFA) Unit of the Court. The project illustrates how strong public-private partnerships are formed and how the work is reinventing the way the Court system serves children and families. The Center creates a lasting and permanent environment where victims, children, advocates, Court staff and others can address domestic violence issues while ensuring confidentiality and case integrity and reducing trauma.
“The Safe Families Resource Center is a perfect capstone project for Child Watch of Pittsburgh. For years, Child Watch brought people in the community together, built coalitions and solved problems collectively,” said Patrick Dowd, Executive Director of Allies for Children. “They made important short- and long-term changes for children. That kind of activity is the foundation of democracy. It’s clearly the foundation of Child Watch, and that’s the foundation on which we’re building Allies for Children – Child Watch’s successor organization.”
The Center, located on the third floor of the Family Courthouse, includes the following features:
• A specially designated waiting area for victims and their children that is staffed with an advocate who can direct them to services
• A safer space for reception and intake and a children’s play area
• A separate space for defendants/respondents/offenders to check in, in order to avoid contact with victims, including separate waiting and attorney conference areas
• Private conference and interview rooms for domestic violence intake with Court staff
• Private conference and interview rooms for PFA petitioners to meet with domestic violence advocates who will administer lethality assessment screens, provide safety planning and other services
• Office technical equipment, including computers, printers and telephones
• Security call “panic” button which alert security personnel
• Television monitor for the waiting room area for community resources
The space also includes a Children’s Room in the space, supported by the National Council of Jewish Women. The ceremony celebrating the opening of the Center was followed by a ribbon cutting and unveiling of a plaque recognizing the contributions made to the project.