Family Justice Center sees 50% rise in victim intake, commissioners expand preschool offerings

ADVOCATING FOR THE ABUSED: Staff from the Buncombe County Family Justice Center gave commissioners an update on its first year.
ADVOCATING FOR THE ABUSED: Staff from the Buncombe County Family Justice Center gave commissioners an update on its first year. Graphic courtesy of Buncombe County

More than one year after opening, county staff is touting the success of the Buncombe County Family Justice Center, but keeping an eye on improvement. Julie Klipp Nicholson, coordinator of the center, told commissioners during their Oct. 3 meeting that the facility processed 417 people during its first year.

The FJC is a one-stop location for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, featuring agencies like the county Sheriff’s Department, Mission Health, Helpmate, Pisgah Legal Services and other organizations that aim to help survivors move away from abusers. “Before the FJC, a survivor had to go to eight different locations to access services. Our mission is building a resilient community free from domestic and sexual violence,” said Klipp Nicholson.

Of the 417 people using the center, Klipp Nicholson said more than half accessed more than one organization, buttressing its mission of offering an array of services from counseling to health checkups. “We had 84 clients served by Mission Health Forensics at the FJC for sexual assault exams. They did not have to go to the emergency department,” she said.

And those services are needed by county residents, as Klipp Nicholson said there has been a 50 percent increase in victims seeking FJC resources in the first quarter of the current fiscal year (July-September). Last fiscal year, Buncombe County had 568 people charged with partner domestic crimes and 59 charged with sexual crimes, according to numbers provided by the center.

Sheriff Van Duncan said, “Even though we are doing very well, a lot of times justice can’t be reflected in numbers. Survivors that come to the FJC leave with the sense that their voice is being heard. Even though we are successful, we are looking for ways to assess ourselves. I’m proud to be part of this,” he said.

April Burgess-Johnson, executive director of the domestic violence awareness nonprofit Helpmate, added that a new campaign will be sharing stories of county survivors of abuse. “I’ve never been more excited about my work than at this moment and in this place, thanks to leadership in supporting these initiatives to improve the community’s response to domestic violence,” she said. Burgess-Johnson then showed a brief video from the new campaign called “Still Standing,” which you can view here.

Klipp Nicholson said the future of the FJC includes sharing its template with other municipalities across North Carolina while better working with other community organizations to identify domestic violence trends and continuing to raise awareness of the FJC’s available resources.

No action regarding the FJC was taken during the meeting, as the information was an update for commissioners.

Those who are victims of domestic abuse or know someone who is can visit the Family Justice Center at 35 Woodfin St. in downtown Asheville, call the center at 828-250-6900 or find it online here.

You can read more about the FJC from last year’s Xpress article “Family Justice Center provides one-stop resource for domestic and sexual abuse victims” here.

More preschool slots

On the heels of last week’s work session concerning the struggle to expand preschool offerings across Buncombe County, the commissioners were able to keep chipping away at the issue.

“How do we take these children at risk and help them? We can make a difference in the community with one, 10 or 1,000 [children], and it will multiply,” said Commissioner Joe Belcher.

“There is a dire need for early learning and having children ready for kindergarten,” said Commissioner Ellen Frost. “The number of children that don’t have it is staggering. It’s overwhelming, the need. We can sit and be paralyzed, or we can be creative. I’m grateful for the creativity.”

That “creativity” Frost referred to is a partnership between Asheville City Schools and The Christine Avery Learning Center to provide 12 new preschool spots. Avery will provide the space, ACS will provide the teacher, and Buncombe County is footing the $63,000 cost with matching money coming from the state’s NC Pre-K initiative, according to county staff.

Sheriff Duncan shared his excitement for the additional space and movement at-large to expand preschool. “We know that the initial five years of life is so essential to how young people enter schools, their ability to learn, to be receptive to group learning. We’ve seen this as a need in our community for quite some time,” he told commissioners.

“For somebody who really believes in prevention and deals a whole lot with the other end of lack of prevention and trying to fix folks who have issues and are broken in some ways, to see commissioners move in this direction is very good for me.”

Commissioners unanimously approved the funding. County staff told Xpress the 12 slots will become available later this school year.

 

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About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at dhesse@mountainx.com.

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